How can housing associations build even more homes? That was the question we asked ourselves at a series of events in the spring called the Supply Conversation.
Clare Paredes is Head of Communications and Marketing at the National Housing Federation
10 June 2019
While housing associations were working hard to keep delivering new homes in a tough environment, the data showed that – despite our ambition and focus – the numbers of new homes weren’t increasing as much as we wanted.
This is, of course, largely because of the substantial external challenges we face. The price of land, limited government grant, and the flattening housing market all make building new affordable homes more difficult. And the biggest single thing that will help us get more homes built is large scale, long term government investment in social rent. That’s what we’ll be calling for in any future government spending review.
But in the Supply Conversation we asked ourselves: what can the sector do beyond this? Can we do more with what we’ve already got? Are there any factors within our control that, if we worked together, would help us build more homes?
The answer we came to was yes.
The 300+ housing association experts who debated these questions identified four areas that can hold back development where the sector could, if it works together, make a real difference.
What are they?
There’s a shortage of skilled development people in the sector. Housing associations talked about experienced people being poached by the private sector and the challenge of attracting and retaining young talent. Land acquisition was a particular skills gap for many. There’s also no recognized qualification or accreditation for development professionals, which means it’s hard to identify the core skillset and ensure our people have everything they need to be able to deliver.
Working in partnership – with other housing associations, local authorities or the private sector – can be such a powerful way to get more homes built. Partnering with another organization can give you access to skills, funding or relationships you don’t have yourself. But the people we spoke to at our events said that it’s not always easy to find the right partners, that it can be hard to agree the parameters for a joint project, and that relationships and trust are key.
Every single housing association we spoke to was ambitious to do their part to end the housing crisis. Everyone sees housing need, whether that’s affordability in the south or the need for regeneration in the north, and we saw a real willingness to try new things, do things differently, to get more great quality homes built. But there’s an opportunity to share and celebrate these new approaches more widely, to talk about what’s worked and why, and inspire each other to try different things.
Many housing association boards are now experienced at managing development risk in today’s complex financial environment. But they can also understandably be cautious, conscious of their primary role to safeguard their organisation’s stability and aware of other social priorities for the organisation. There was an appetite to set up forums for boards to explore these issues and talk more about how to balance the risks inherent to development.
So where do we go next?
There are lots opportunities for the Federation and the sector to work on these four areas. But we need to understand what activities would have the biggest impact on the challenges we’ve identified. So the next phase of this work will be exploring the options, with members and with stakeholders, and developing a concrete plan of action.
We’ll be publishing a short report in early July which gives more detail on the findings of the conversation and sets out our initial thinking on the options for a future plan. We’re then holding three roundtables in July on skills, local authority partnerships and housing association partnerships to explore these options further, as well as talking to national and regional member groups.
There’s a real opportunity here to work together to overcome some of the challenges we face in building more homes. Yes, we need serious government investment to really scale up to meet housing need. But if we can do anything more ourselves to build on the big contribution we’re already making, let’s go ahead and do it.
If you’d like to know more or get involved, please do sign up to an event or get in touch.