Why social housing is more than a housing service

21 Jan 2015
Why social housing is more than a housing service

A look at the range of jobs in social housing may give some insight into exactly the type of services now provided by social housing.

Non-core activity is fundamental to how housing associations serve their communities. This may not come with full support from all quarters as debates continue around limiting what is provided with affordable housing such as; housing with care and support, community investment, student and key worker housing.  

The country is in the grip of a housing shortage and the lack of affordable homes is affecting many families on low income a situation for some that is long term and will never change. Many housing associations are concerned that any limiting of what they can offer as part of their housing provision could affect their ability to meet government demands and also demands of a whole community of people.

Diversification from non-core activity in the housing association sector is not new, it has been the raison d’etre for some Registered Providers from their inception; working as charitable trusts to house the homeless alongside providing other services that complement their missions, but the question being raised is where do you draw the line.

Setting aside the affordable housing debate and what might or might not be provided within that bundle for one moment; a core part of running a housing association is that of managing very large portfolios of housing stock, for want of another word, property assets. As with all asset classes these carry risk, the values go up and they go down; there are many ways to structure finance which carries a fair degree of risk especially if they’re derivatives based, maintenance, and disposal of assets for asset swapping are all part of the rich commercial picture core to being a social housing provider. A reason for mentioning risk is that the government and regulators want a risk free affordable housing solution to protect the most vulnerable in society. Not possible, life itself carries risk.

Alongside this core activity comes job creation in finance; asset management, property management, care, business improvement, income recovery, project management, in fact a full administration of core and allied functions; not entirely publicly funded or directly funded by the tax payer. Typically for every pound of public subsidy housing associations are raising six pounds of private finance. This is wealth creation in itself but reinvested in a social cause.

Low cost rent or ‘affordable rent’ is rent that is offered at below market rate for those whose needs cannot be met adequately in the private rented sector. This group of people are more likely to have other social needs like care, or key worker support and any other commercial activity engaged in by the housing association helps to fund the core housing service to meet those needs. Also rents are not entirely covered by income support. How much diversification to meet such needs is at the heart of the debate but one cannot argue that many other families’ incomes are also dependent on housing associations through the myriad of jobs created which provide to these groups of workers far more job satisfaction than their commercial equivalents.

Let’s hope the regulators come to some sensible conclusion and don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

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