Housing associations must learn to change as local community's aspirations change, says David Cowans
The days when people aspired to rent a council house are gone. A recent MORI poll found 80% of the population would not choose social housing.
In this context, housing associations must adapt. For many, their future no longer lies in the business of providing social housing.
The new breed of housing association is a competitive, professional organisation that nevertheless retains social objectives and operates on a not-for-profit basis. Surpluses generated are recycled, sometimes to build more affordable housing, but often to subsidise non-housing facilities and services to enhance the viability of the neighbourhoods where they operate.
Council planning departments may welcome partnerships with organisations, like housing associations, that are willing to work for sustainable communities and are not just focused on short-term profit.
Regeneration-orientated housing associations have for some time added value to their landlord role by providing community facilities - halls, crèches, play areas - employment initiatives, support for local businesses, healthy eating/living initiatives, wired communities and much more. But what used to be extras have become mainstream activities.
With a history of failed attempts to revive the private rented sector demonstrating a deep-rooted reluctance on the part of the market to invest, could housing associations provide a solution?
Places for People is engaged in investing£100m in private rental through our subsidiary, Blueroom Properties. We are not the only housing association branching out into this market. Home Housing Group, for example, is helping to regenerate Newcastle with its Paramount Homes private rental arm.
Meanwhile, with a growing interest in working from home, housing associations are showing increased interest in developing live/work schemes for young entrepreneurs - another regeneration tool and a useful contribution to cutting pollution by reducing the need to travel.
Housing associations have over a decade of experience at the forefront of public/private partnerships. They have raised over£11bn of private finance since 1989. Like the private sector at its best, many are entrepreneurial, flexible and dynamic. Yet they retain their social objectives with a long-term interest in communities. It is a dual role, which leaves associations well placed to lead the creation of new settlements and carry out community renewal.
Chief executive, Places for People