Preparing the ground
After years of policy turmoil the housing sector is now coming to terms with the new landscape, as Rhiannon Bury discovers
Housing is not having an easy time. Changes to regulation, funding and policy are forcing housing providers to radically alter the way they do business. But if the fighting talk at a breakfast briefing at the Chartered Institute of Housing conference in Manchester is anything to go by, no one has given up yet.
The event, which was organised by Inside Housing and Wates Living Space, saw over 40 housing sector leaders turn out to enjoy a bacon sandwich and a lively discussion.
Julian Ashby, chair of the Homes and Communities Agency’s regulation committee, said the sector should not ‘hunker down and do nothing’ in the face of a challenging economic climate – a statement which was met with murmurs of agreement around the room.
As if those assembled needed telling again, Mr Ashby highlighted the difficult financial climate that social landlords are facing and said the housing sector was entering into a ‘period of significantly higher risk’.
But this was not enough to deter Carol Matthews, chief executive of Riverside, who said she wasn’t going to seek the regulator’s permission to pursue any of her ‘big, hairy and audacious’ plans for developing new homes in the future.
‘Some of the old ways of creating housing don’t work anymore and won’t work in the future.’
Steve Trusler, Wates Living Space
She said the government needs to find new ways of offering mortgages and be innovative on lending in order to make building new homes viable and help first time buyers onto the housing ladder. ‘We need something big like a national loans and savings institute,’ she said.
Mr Ashby heaped challenge after challenge on the audience, pointing to changes to the housing revenue account, welfare reform, lending and the end of grant as potential barriers to development. ‘It is a new and dangerous environment,’ he said.
Steve Trusler, strategy director at Wates Living Space, said the private sector was also having to find ways of managing risk in the face of a new policy environment. He said the company was looking at opportunities in the private rented sector.
‘Some of the old ways of creating housing don’t work anymore and won’t work in the future. From Wates’ point of view we are having debates about what we can do about this. We are looking at what risks we can take on board and what investment we could make,’ he said.
Paul Beardmore, director of housing at Manchester Council, was keen that councils start acknowledging organisations’ specialisms, and pointed out that Manchester Council dealt with 57 housing associations when he began in the job. Now, it is 53, he explained, ‘but that still seems a little too much’.
‘I think we demand and expect too much from out housing associations,’ he added.
And where do tenants fit in to all this? Michelle Reid, chief executive of the Tenant Participation Advisory Service, said the key is to involve people in decision making.
‘We’ve skipped a few years in our evolution as a sector. We’ve assumed people all get co-regulation, but we need to make that assumption a reality,’ she explained. ‘We need to create a dynamic future for tenants being involved with landlords and focus on engaging the next generation of tenants.’
Despite warnings of difficult times ahead, the enthusiasm in the room to seek out new solutions was palpable. It seems the fighting will continue.