Balancing the right to buy and the right to a vibrant and a prosperous future

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

I tweet @itsmm_various

Balancing the right to buy and the right to a vibrant and a prosperous future

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 the future of social housing.

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.

Also Housing Associations, like all other organisations, 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.

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 outcomes 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.

In a increasingly digital world, you can’t afford to remain analogue?

The pace of technology is phenomenal. A recent research has projected that about 35% of current jobs will no longer exist within the next two decades, because they will be replaced by automation.

Robotics technology is moving at lightning speed, and AI is picking up pace.  Google has recently patented an idea about downloading personalities from the ‘cloud’ onto a robot to “…provide states or moods representing transitory conditions of happiness, fear, surprise, perplexion, thoughtfulness, derision and so forth”!

This not only has massive implications for the economy, but highlights how critical digital skills are for the future. Taking into consideration the already disproportionally high levels of economic inactivity within the social housing sector tenant base, the emerging digital economy presents challenges, but with it fresh opportunities for us and our customers, to effectively prepare for the digital world; A digital world in which majority of the everyday transactions, if not all, will increasingly be done digitally and online.

To some degree or another every generation in the past has inherited social and economic inequalities, but this time we can change the course of history. We can change the course of history by ensuring that digital inequality will not be something that will be inherited from us; The power to make that happen is truly in our own hands!

To lead or not to lead that is the question!

I have just had an exciting opportunity to complete a course on leadership, as well as great privilege speaking to and work shadowing a number of some fantastic people. The experience of which has got me thinking, and thinking very profoundly, mainly on the core underlying qualities of effective leadership. Everyone has their own view about what an effective leadership is all about, but here is what sticks out for me as the core qualities of an effective leader.

It’s more than just a title or a position….

Effective leaders know they don’t get their mandate from their position; they work at obtaining it from those they are leading. They first put the investment in before they can expect to have it back. They don’t command trust, they earn it. Effective leaders know that leading is not a science, but a delicate art of the heart.

Effective leaders know that leading is an honour, and its honour that they realise needs to be discharged with humility and courage.

Challenging the status quo

Effective Leaders doesn’t accept the status quo. They want to change it for the better. They have the courage and with it the consideration to be able to deliver through consensus. They not only have the vision, but the passion to sell and enable that vision to be shared by others.

Change can be scary for many people; it disrupts the peace and tranquillity of the present, but effective leaders know that only by brining others with them can that change be realised in the manner they have envisioned. They are considerate and responsive to needs and concerns of others because they realise that the best and most fruitful resource they have is the ingenuity and creativity of the people they are leading.

For them innovation is bread and butter stuff; they seek out diversity of opinion, encourage challenge and have the ability to look at things in a way when others are collectively looking at it from another.

It’s me not you…

When things don’t go to plan, effective leaders start by asking “what could I have done better”. They look at themselves before they look at anyone else. They see the solution to the problem coming from within, and starting with them. If they want to see things changing, they change themselves first.

They instil confidence in others so much so that those individuals didn’t even know they had possessed that much confidence themselves; they help others to achieve things that they thought they could never have done themselves, or ever have imagined. They put their trust in others, and inspire them with confidence to fulfil their potential and exceed expectations.

Success is not what I do, but what you go on to achieve…..

Effective leaders don’t measure success by what they have achieved, but by the accomplishments of those they have had an opportunity of leading. They recognise that leadership is no longer about command and control, but about emancipating people to maximise their ingenuity and creativity.

Effective leaders do not motivate others to become good followers, they do so to enable and empower them to become leaders in their own right!

So what do you think….?

When you think of effective leaders you are most likely to think of people like Winston Churchill, Ghandi or Martin Luther King, but effective leadership isn’t limited to the confines of history. We see effective leaders every day quietly getting on with changing the world, one little bit at a time in their own little way.

The revolution won’t be televised; it will be served up digitally through your nearest internet enabled device!

One thing that human ingenuity and the course of history have told is human progress is always onward, and it is always constant. Take the example of the industrial revolution

Lessons from the industrial revolution

The increase in mechanisation ignited the onset of the industrial revolution. Increased mechanisation changed how things were produced and how people thought about production. For example, despite resistance from some quarters, mass production became order of the day and factories became the prevailing system of production, and with it redefining social, economic and political relationships. The factory system provided mass and regular employment for many people, and of course as well as the benefits, transformation also created new challenges, but on the whole human ingenuity enabled us to tackle and overcome these problems.

Big things don’t just happen in a void. For big things to happen they need big thinking to precede it. The industrial revolution needed people to dream big about what mechanisation could do, and  that propelled them go on to produce it. It took some other people to dream big to see how the technology could be put to good use, and then they made that happen.

The digital revolution- a new kind of a revolution

For many people the digital revolution has started. Just like the industrial revolution, the digital revolution will also bring new challenges and with it disrupt social, political and economic traditions. For some this may be a cause of fear, but for others an opportunity.

Not long ago to watch a movie at home we went to our local DVD rental place, bought a DVD, watched it, and then returned it and then perhaps got another one (however, if you were anything like me you probably forgot all about returning the DVD!). This business model worked for a long time, but the advent of internet, and then later of faster speeds through broadband, changed all this. Some people saw this as an opportunity to revolutionise how people watched films. They had big ideas! They thought about the potential of enabling people to stream movies on-demand online, and built a new business model around this. This model obviously caught on. However, those businesses that fundamentally worked on the back of the the old model are now finding it difficult to compete in this new market.

One company, back in its heyday, thought their traditional model was robust enough for the future, and dismissed the potential of online streaming as unworkable! They missed this opportunity to adapt their business to future consumer needs, and for whatever reason didn’t see the full potential of the technological advancement.

The shifting dynamics for the Social housing sector

Technological advancement, particularly one that is revolutionary, affects all spheres of life, and social housing isn’t immune to it. Digital technology presents a number of opportunities to social housing providers, such as creating ‘smart homes’. The potential for smart sensors could help regulate heating and lighting controls automatically based on tracking moments within the home and thereby save money on heating and lighting bills, whilst others could help people with particular disabilities to stay independently within their homes.

Technology presents a real opportunity to make our services proactive. Imagine if we could know when parts in a boiler needed replacing before they actually broke! Instead of the customer ringing us and going without hot water/ heating until we were able to get someone around to fix it, we could deal with the risk before it become an issue and thereby ensure customers have a working boiler all the time, 24 hours of the day and every day. Its encouraging to see people exploring the impact of technology like Unmanned Aerial vehicles (Drones to me and you) and 3D printers, and evaluating how they could be used within social housing sector; They have started to think big!

So guess one of the profound lesson of history is that the most successful organisations are not the ones with the biggest financial power, but those that are able to adapt to the situation and turn opportunities into an advantage. Perhaps the biggest opportunity now is the one presented by the advent of digital technology, and it is important that social housing sector keeps apace with the technological change and adapt its business model in order to continue to deliver services that our customers want, and are fit for purpose in the 21st century.

Digital technology presents challenges but also opportunities. For real transformation to happen, perhaps we first need to transform our thinking. As Einstein said:

The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”

If this does really morphs in to a digital revolution as some people are saying, would we want to look back and see ourselves as an active contributor to the revolution or a passive bystander?

Is there a secret to delivering digitally?

…..here are my initial observations as part of my research around digital service delivery

————————–

Have you ever wondered what Christopher Columbus must have felt like when he set out on his voyage of “discovery”? Ok, it must be just me then!

Over the course of the last few weeks I had set myself a task to figure out, or “discover”, how housing organisations have taken on the mantle of delivering digitally.

I’d like to think that Christopher Columbus and others like him didn’t’ really discover anything new; because whatever it was they “discovered” had already existed, they just made people look at things in a different way. In a much the same way there is no secret to digital delivery, it’s just about how an organisation can meaningfully weave and integrate this line on work into its corporate purpose and fabric.

So here is what else I’m sensing thus far:

All organisations are taking steps to embrace technology and to continue to deliver services that customers demand and deserve in the 21st century. But leading organisations on this agenda have given this new strand of work a much more meaningful purpose to what they are doing, and how they are going about doing it.

A:       I can see clearly now….

A well defined vision and commitment over what the digital agenda means for an organisation provides a impetus and a focus.   A vision without a plan is just a vision. It needs to be translated into a reality.

Leading organisations have made digital critical in their business plans, and instead of treating it as a ‘patch-on’ they have allowed it to take centre stage. This gives the digital agenda the priority it needs, resulting in release of resource to support the delivery of the work; when people realise how important the work is, they will also allow resources to back their commitment.

As Oliver Morley, Chief Executive at DVLA, recently commented on DVLAs approach to digital transformation, there is no need for a separate digital strategy to drive the digital agenda; what is needed is a business strategy with digital throughout.

 

Key observation: deliver digital through the business strategy. Make it clear, make it focused, and make it a priority.

B:        Who’s the champion?

A single, clear purpose unites an organisation. However, you still need a dedicated person, together with a team, virtual or otherwise, with the responsibility for oversight of the progress being made, and to champion the digital agenda. This goes without saying- but I better say it just in case- it’s always good to have someone as high as possible in the organisation in this role. If you have your CEO as the champion then I guess that’s an icing on the cake.

Much of the stuff around embracing digital is isn’t just about systems and processes, software and hardware, but about people, their apprehensions and feelings. Leadership qualities are needed to guide and support others through the change. The pace of digital technology is phenomenal and the need to help manage the impacts of change, both for customers and colleagues, becomes paramount.

 

Key observation: have the vision, but make sure there is the infrastructure to deliver the vision.

C:        Data, data, data

It’s easier to sometimes fall into the trap of presuming what the needs and aspirations of customers are in the pursuit of delivering outcomes. Perceptions alone about digital needs of customers can often become a basis upon which solutions are then redesigned and implemented. This can inevitably lead to a situation where the devised solution does not meet with the need in the way anticipated, and then the actual need becomes apparent! Of course, by then a lot of resources have been spent.

Organisations are sitting on a goldmine of data about its customers. The potential to turn that data into something meaningful and intelligent is enormous. As the saying goes:

A ship is safe in the harbour – but that’s not what ships are for

In a kind of the same way data is safe sitting on a server, but that’s not what data is for.

Leading organisation are using dormant data in their possession and asking how they can bring the data together from a network of repositories, and interrogate it in a way to gain a much deeper, and richer insight into the needs of their customers. They also continuously engage with customers to keep up-to-date with the evolving needs and aspirations..

Key observation: don’t assume, find out and ask! Allow data to drive decisions

Not everyone may see digital as real game changing opportunity, but here is what the Select Committee on Digital Skills had to say recently:

The world is being transformed by a series of profound technological changes dominated by digital…..No one is certain where this transformation leads or ends…”

Bear in mind that it’s predicted that 35% of jobs will be lost through digital automation within the next two decades! That will not only have massive implications for the labour market, but also will shift the spotlight on organisations in terms of how efficient they are in their service delivery!

This digital age we are in now is being billed as the digital revolution by some and as the second age of the machine by others! This appears to be a once in a lifetime opportunity to embrace the digital agenda and secure the best outcomes for people that really matter most for us, our customers.

The future is ours to shape, but equally forthcoming generations deserve to inherit a future that they can be proud of!

A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step…

What does it mean to lead, not just lead but do so effectively? What do I want to be doing in 10 to 15 years’ time and beyond? What are the future challenges for housing? What can I do to prepare by developing myself and my career to be ready to embrace those challenges? These were some of the thought-provoking questions that preoccupied my conscious at those moments of career self-reflection. But how do I go about formulating the answers to these questions? Then suddenly something changed, and something clicked.

At a conference in Manchester on digital inclusion, I heard someone set the pitch for the digital agenda in housing. I sensed the passion, the commitment and the ability of someone to see further afield for the housing sector as a whole. Transformational change was inevitable for housing; It was on its way and it was matter of time, and we had to prepare for it. Digitalisation was one opportunity for that preparation that needed to be made. It all made perfect sense to me, and I’m sure for the rest of the delegates at the conference.

Boom! That’s it, I thought. It was one of those “ah ha” moments. That’s the style of doing things I’m sure most people would love to possess; that ability to inspire with passion and lead from the front. To say I came out of the conference with increased vigour and enthusiasm would be an understatement; I was excited (like a child in a sweet shop!) at the prospect of what the challenges and the opportunities lay ahead, and how those opportunities could be maximised for the benefit of those who live in social housing and call it their home. But one thing I knew for sure: if I wanted to be an active contributor to that transformation in the way I wanted to, then I had to work at things and be at the right place, but how?

That question replaced all those other burning questions that I had before. I knew the journey of further development may be on a long winding road, but I had to start from somewhere. What I resolved was that I would start by trying to get to know more about this guy who had shared his vision in such an inspiring way, and see what I could learn from him. But then it was back down to that question of how? That question again! I had never met this guy and from what I knew he was a CEO of a housing organisation. And besides, why would a CEO give up their time for someone like me. The pondering went on for a bit longer making the task appear more and more difficult, but then I came across an ancient proverb whilst scrolling down my twitter feed:

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now”

That’s it. That was enough to propel me to make things happen, and you know what they say? The rest is history!

I got to admit, I was feeling nervous meeting Nick knowing that he must have had to take time out of his busy schedule to meet with me, but he is such a humble character. He was willing to give up his time to help me out with my development, and welcomed me to spend some time at Halton Housing Trust to get to know the mechanics of running an organisation- the challenges, the opportunities, and the rewards. With thanks to the superfast behind the scene magic, everything was all set up like a flash by Vikki!

I’m really looking forward to making the best of this opportunity and experience, and I’m really excited about the things that I will learn. Thank you Nick and the rest of the Halton Housing team!