The changing face of social housing

16 October 2014
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Trevor Hampton, Director of Housing and Local Government

Government policy is to stimulate housing supply as a means to create more affordable homes – either to buy or rent – and it’s a mammoth task. 

Take London. The capital’s story is one of high rise developments and sky high prices. Other than a few purpose-built 60s tower blocks, it’s hard to see where affordable housing fits in. Yet the amount of affordable housing is increasing – it’s just not as easy to spot.

Across the UK, there is no longer a typical social housing unit. Or a typical provider. 

A combination of Right to Buy, stock transfers, shared ownership schemes and the need to pursue privately-funded developments, mean that very few new-builds are affordable housing alone. Mixed income schemes are increasingly the norm.

Today you will find registered providers offering social care and community regeneration services and others developing penthouse apartments – some will even do both. And they are well-placed to do it, with decades of experience building sustainable communities.  

Housing providers are also skilled in managing change, engaging and supporting their residents and planning investment; expertise that benefits those looking for their first step on the housing ladder as much as those in need of affordable rents or supported living.

All kinds of providers are looking to become more efficient as a way of delivering the best service to an increasingly broad range of residents and getting the highest return from their assets.

Whether reducing the time that units are vacant, understanding patterns in rent arrears or building strong business cases for new homes, efficiency is increasingly boosting the performance of the sector as a whole, improving lives and creating sustainable mixed-income developments.

Stockport Homes, for example, made a big improvement to its repairs service. This not only lead to higher rates of customer satisfaction, but also enabled it to win repairs contracts from schools and private landlords, therefore boosting its income.

The government’s review of the role of local authorities in housing supply, led by Natalie Elphicke and Keith Rose and due to report to ministers at the end of 2014, will be exploring issues of asset management and efficiency further. 

By creating new income streams and becoming more efficient, housing providers are helping to both shape the economy and improve housing and support services for people on lower incomes. 

When we have a pressing need for more homes within sustainable and well-planned communities, this is a welcome development.