Insights

The agility of housing associations

The mission of housing associations feels, and is, fundamental to the social fabric: to wake up every day feeling able, whether to tackle challenges or have the presence of mind to enjoy downtime, is dependent upon on the stability and safety of a home that is always going to be there tomorrow.

Resilient and commercially minded

On top of associations’ responsibility to vulnerable tenants, low-income families and the elderly – by supporting whom they lift all of society up – Emma Cariaga of British Land tells Property Week that the vagaries of legislation have forced housing associations to secure a more commercial footing:

‘More commercially minded housing associations are a good thing for society and they can play a crucial parallel role working alongside listed developers and build-to-rent investors in fulfilling not just the UK’s housing need, but the many ancillary services that support communities in a multitude of ways …’

Which is to say that beyond the prudence of an increasingly secure financial position (Inside Housing illustrates a renewed focus on liquidity and plans to weather the post-Brexit storms here), a sort of agility has arisen among housing associations in the form of innovation (e.g. shared ownership, social rented housing, extra-care), higher standards, and moving outside their standard remit to promote the greater good.

A better workforce

As merely one example, by going beyond its call to provide accessible, affordable homes across Staffordshire and Shropshire, Housing Plus Group has got itself shortlisted for Most Inspiring Employer at the Inspire Awards as it finds ways to bring less traditional workers into the fold, pushing against the societal limitations of gender, disability and difference to create a happier, more diverse workforce. ‘Promoting equality in the workplace is about much more than ticking boxes for us,’ insists chief executive Sarah Boden.

Agility as innovation

On a more macro level, pressure continues to mount as the government’s target of three hundred thousand new homes looms larger. Here, too, progressive councils are making a mark.

The adoption of offsite manufacturing technology is paving the way for fast housing installation at affordable levels – good news for the likes of Lewes District Council who is anxious to avoid the expense and unsuitability of B&Bs and private-sector options for addressing short-term housing crunches. Meanwhile, Metropolitan Thames Valley is lowering barriers by increasing clarity around shared ownership and supplying a simple online interface with a view to getting more people into homes under their So Resi brand.

The mission and government support

Returning to Property Week, we can consider Andrew Teacher’s important context: ‘What the wider public doesn’t appreciate is the degree to which housing associations run the country …’. He asks us to consider their role in supporting citizens where the government can’t or won’t. ‘It’s this grand scope – and their social mission – that should give housing associations a leg-up when it comes to renegotiating government support.’

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