New Institutions, New Leaders, Same Challenges

As we gather at the CIH’s annual dinner this week, there is an air of trepidation about what comes next for the housing sector.

In England, we have a new regulator, a new investor of social and affordable housing, and a new ministry, with housing in the title. We’ve also lost a housing minister at the latter stages of a national tour, gathering tenants’ views on social housing. And we’ve lost the widely respected Chair of the HCA Regulation Committee, who has stepped down, as his term of office ends and he’s joined a housing association board.

That we can only speculate on what the sector’s tenants might have told the Housing Minister and only muse on what the focus of the Green Paper might hold, should remind us all that we need to ensure that we are connected to our communities.

In my view, at the heart of what we do, our purpose is simple. It’s to manage and maintain homes; to provide services, that may range from housing related, through to care, and beyond; and to build or commission the building of new homes. There should be no question over these principles.

For me, the big questions are therefore – For whom? At what price or prices? And how well?

A new Housing Minister, in my experience, will ask these same questions, but through a political lens. That lens, will determine the tone of the discussion and how he sees the sector. He, like us, has a full in-tray.

Demand continues to far outstrip supply. We do have a housing crisis. The new target of 300,000 homes per year announced as part of the November 2017 budget has Prime Ministerial endorsement and must be a priority.

We have a White Paper that had a raft of sensible suggestions to tackle the crisis. These must be taken forward.

Brexit casts a cloud of uncertainty on economic prospects and therefore confidence in the housing market is less strong. A strong but ‘co-regulatory’ regulatory framework gives lenders confidence. We as a sector must ensure that confidence is retained.

The various Inquiries into the Grenfell tragedy are due to report in the summer, and are expected to have implications for both our management of existing stock and where it sits on our list of priorities.

And the Green Paper on the future of social housing may go the heart of the purpose of social housing. But we should already know our purpose, and we should be articulating how and why it is, and can be, a force for good.

Top of the in-tray is to create our own future, but in doing so, we must know and acknowledge our own present.

The challenge for Boards and sector leaders, is that if you don’t know what your residents, leaseholders and your varied stakeholders, including politicians, think about you, then 2018 could indeed be a watershed year.

We should always be a key part of the housing solution, and we must ensure that any new Minister should know and believe this.

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Steve Douglas is Co-Executive of Altair, part of the Aquila group.

He is also a member of the Future Shape the Sector Housing Commission and was a member of the Northern Housing Commission on housing in the north.

Steve can be contacted on 07810-152840 or steve.douglas@nullaltairltd.co.uk