The debate around RTB has grown in recent times. As members of the NHF vote on the proposal, one can’t be fully sure just yet about what the result of that ballot maybe, but what’s for sure is that whatever the result it will have an immense impact on shaping not only the future of housing associations, but social housing sector and housing policy as a whole.
The mismatch between housing supply and need, together with the nature of the way wealth is often distributed in society, means social housing for some people not only serves as somewhere to live, but it’s one and their only social ‘life line’. It also means varied tenures are essential to a vibrant and a balanced housing market that is able to adequately overcome challenges and meet housing need.
Overall average house prices have been on an upwards trajectory, pricing out many low income families who aspire to home ownership. We are still building less homes than the rate at which we need to keep up with demand, and this is having a profound knock-on effect on dynamics of the housing market.
When taking a step back and on reflection, housing has come a long way from being all about bricks and mortar, to incorporating a much wider remit that is as much about enabling people to reach their fulfil potential as it is about providing somewhere warm, safe and comfortable to stay. As the business model of housing organisations adapts to the changing internal and external business drivers, needs and environment- as it has done so in the past, housing organisations are facing new set of challenges:
Housing supply and need
Almost half a million properties have been sold under RTB since 1998 and house prices overall have increased exponentially during the same time, significantly more than the pace of increase in household incomes. The fact that new homes built have not been on par with the rate of homes sold under RTB compounds the issue, and with diminishing stock, some would say, reduces choice and flexibility to some extent in the social housing sector. For stability and continuity, a one-to-one replacement ratio is therefore appears to be a fundamental starting point.
Latest snapshot data shows that around 27,000 people present to local authorities as homeless, but only half of these are accepted as statutorily homeless and given the full duty to be rehoused. 8% of those are found to be ‘intentionally’ homeless. Although number of people owing full home homelessness duty has decreased over time, the number of people staying in temporary accommodation has in fact shown a corresponding and parallel increase, particularly over the last four years. Increasing usage of temporary accommodation is perhaps a reflection of the pressing housing need.
For transformational change, the long term challenge will be to shift focus away from reacting to the symptoms of housing need, to dealing proactively with the causes of it.
Universal Credit and delivering efficiency
The wider reform of welfare benefits system, in particular the implementation of Universal Credit, is another major area of challenge. Housing providers will have to get to grips with the idea that by default potentially a very significant amount of their rental income stream will no longer be guaranteed through direct benefit payment to them.
The massive leap in technology also adds another dimension to the new challenges facing housing providers, and the progress of technology will no doubt increase the spotlight on housing providers to deliver increased efficiency, especially by digital transformation through utilising new technology.
Like other organisations, housing associations operate in an increasingly changing and evolving market, regulatory demands, and the wider business drivers and constraints are increasingly shaping how they operate. Delivering value for money is a central component of their function, so is the working in partnerships with others in localities and adding value.
No doubt the Boards of housing associations up and down the country will be balancing these, and numbers of other factors, to decide how they will vote. But the outcome of the ballot, whichever way it goes, will not only affect NHF members, it will have a knock on effect on housing policy as a whole.
It is inevitable that different people will see things from different angles, and where some see a challenge others will see an opportunity. But collaboration and establishing a common purpose within the housing sector, as a whole, will be instrumental in enabling it to meet the unprecedented challenges that it now faces.
The views expressed in this piece are my own personal views
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