What I’ve learned about development as a housing association board member

As a smaller housing association, delivering on our ambition to build more homes and meet housing need has been easier with the right preparation and partnerships in place, as well as a strong board with robust systems.

Jessica Sellick, Board Member at LACE Housing Association

Jessica Sellick, Board Member at LACE Housing Association

14 October 2019

LACE is a voluntary, not-for-profit smaller housing association specialising in affordable housing and support services for older and vulnerable people in Greater Lincolnshire. We built 82 new homes during 2019 and are developing a further 200 new homes over the next three years.

At LACE, we're embedding development in what we do – it’s not separate or standalone, but integral to our strategic business plan and everyday operation. 

I joined the board in June 2016, became Vice Chair in June 2018 and Chair of the Audit and Compliance Sub-committee in September 2019. As someone not from a housing background, these are some of the things I have learned about development, and implemented into our development programmes, since joining LACE:  

  • The scale of housing need: the proportion of Greater Lincolnshire that is 55 years old and above is increasing and projected to increase further to 2035. There is a need for all tenures of housing with care including at least 2,000 units for rent and 1,800 units for sale. At LACE we want to do all that we can to help address this need.  
  • Putting people at the heart of everything you do: development is not just about bricks and mortar but about making older people’s lives better and supporting them to live in safe and affordable housing. We draw on our social purpose; the knowledge, skills, experience and passion of our executive and staff team, and work with our tenants to develop new schemes.
  • Having robust internal controls and systems in place: as a board we are clear on our risk appetite, and we fully understand the level of risk involved with development and how we will manage that – so we have clear reporting mechanisms, trigger points and mitigations in place (i.e., what will we do if we don’t sell shared ownership properties?) We undertake stress tests, scenario planning and use key performance data to set our KPIs and to benchmark what we are doing with other housing associations.
  • Time: it can take 2-3 years to make an actual start on site. There are lots of things that can change and some schemes come forward earlier than expected and others take a bit longer. While we fondly describe development as “lumpy”, it is crucial that we understand what our funding requirements are going to be and when. The board has established a treasury task and finish group to ensure we will meet our financing requirements well into the future.
  • High quality design and build standards: we want to provide homes that offer flexible, practical and attractive spaces and which can respond to changing care and support needs. We have worked with the University of Lincoln and our staff and tenants to produce a new design guide for our extra care schemes. We also install sprinkler systems throughout our schemes and want them to be as energy efficient as possible.
  • Drawing on external expertise: as a small, specialist provider we do not have an in-house development team. We work with the Blue Skies Consortium and Pitch Development Services to support us in supervising the construction of schemes and to ensure they adhere to pre-agreed design / quality standards, specification, budget costs and fit with our approved developed programme.
  • Working in partnership: collaborating with local authorities, parish councils, landowners and Homes England helps us to identify and deliver our schemes, and there are other partners that we work with to deliver support services. We are one of five local charitable organisations that established Lincs Independent Living Partnership in 2013; and we have worked with the University of Lincoln on an ENRICHME robotics project (2016-2017).

    Our partnerships work because we only collaborate with organisations that share our social purpose and core values. We can have a greater impact, in increasing the social value we deliver and the value for money we offer, by working together. It also means we can provide additional services or activities that support older people to maintain their independence and wellbeing:
    • offering a telecare/lifeline service for our tenants (provided by Lincoln Housing Partnership)
    • running a hospital transport service (with Age UK Lincoln and South Lincolnshire)
    • providing St Barnabas Hospice with office space at our scheme in Skegness.

We feel that the success of LACE is a result of our focus on people, places and partnerships. And as a smaller organisation, we’ve learned that rising to the challenge to build more new homes and meet housing need has been easier with the right preparation and partnerships in place.

Establishing a strong board with robust internal systems has been vital in this process, and we feel well placed to continue to deliver on our ambition.

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