More than just words: how Theresa May’s social housing speech is being realised on the front-line

More than just words: how Theresa May’s social housing speech is being realised on the front-line

Theresa May understands the social housing sector. It’s probably why she’s the first prime minister in history to turn up to a major social housing conference. In a landmark speech at the National Housing Summit in London, she threw her backing behind the sector, praising housing associations and pledging £2bn of funding for the affordable homes programme over the next decade. Her praise and promises are a continuation of the commitment the Prime Minister has shown towards the sector; words that are being reflected in the evolving social housing landscape. 

Importantly, Theresa May addressed the stigma attached to social housing and the lack of support the sector had received under previous governments. She’s not wrong of course; the former cabinet promoted home ownership to the detriment of social housing, openly attacked the sector, and arguably, undermined it with a rent reduction policy that sucked £130 million out of associations. 

It was a state of affairs felt all too keenly on the front-line. Housing associations were cutting numbers to make ends meet and the types of people they were putting into place were helping to downsize organisations and deliver constrained programmes. Efficiency was the order of the day.

During the course of the last 2 to 3 years however, instead of keeping their hands tied, the government has put social housing associations in the driving seat. Giving them the means with which to increase development and stabilising the rent settlement so they have more security and certainty to plan for the future. There’s now more synergy between the government and the sector, with organisations looking at a future of sustained growth.

Over the last year and a half we’ve seen the most significant change in direction. Teams are ramping up development, reaching out for more funding and investing in the customer journey from a digital perspective. You need the right people to achieve this and social housing providers are expanding their workforces to enable growth; bringing on board people who can help secure investment, build more homes and improve customer service for those living in them.

A point in her speech worth mentioning is the unique position she believed social housing associations hold: “as public interested, non-profit private institutions allows you to attract patient investment and deploy it to secure long-term returns on quality”. It’s already happening. Housing associations are doubling down on their finance functions and treasury roles so that they are in a strong position to go out to the banks and secure funding for increased development. 

This is critical as the government wants the social housing sector to increase the number of homes it builds. With policy now enabling and not hindering the growth of the social housing sector, this is achievable.  However the challenge now will be to find the land to develop on. Increasingly we’re seeing London teams extending their search outside of the capital to meet land acquisition needs and bringing on board people who can help them with this.  

Customer engagement is another area of focus for social housing associations. Changing the perception of those who live in them from that of tenants to customers reflects the prime minister’s commitment to tackling the stigma that still clings to social housing. Associations are seeing themselves as not merely landlords but as place shapers and part of the social fabric of the community. It means they’re implementing customer engagement strategies to improve the services they provide. This is being achieved through digital transformation with a growth in roles dedicated to mapping the customer journey and bringing services online; skills that are often being sourced from the retail and IT industries.

The people organisations hire are generally a good measure of the direction in which a sector, as a whole, is moving, and the human resourcing picture from the front-line of the social housing sector indicates growth and expansion; reflecting how the government has now committed to working with associations and providers. 

For further information please contact Suresh Lal.

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