Opinion: Why I love housing associations
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing
By Geeta Nanda, chief executive, Thames Valley Housing
Housing associations have been around for a long time and during that time have always been diverse businesses operating in different environments and focusing on varying activities.
There is a lot of talk that housing associations are becoming increasingly diverse. But you only need to look back at the pioneers to see that the entrepreneurial spirit existed then and continues to thrive.
The likes of Octavia that advocated a sound financial return and homes to improve lives, Peabody that has a broader poverty agenda, St Mungo's on homelessness, ASRA on the Asian elderly.
Associations have transformed neighbourhoods, developed new models of care and support, created shared ownership, leased property for temporary accommodation as a response to the use of B&Bs and successfully helped tenants into training and support. That is a story we can all be proud of over many years.
Since the 1988 Housing Act, associations have borrowed over £57 billion, mainly through long term debt at favourable rates, but most recently through bonds in the capital markets. They can do this successfully as they are viewed as independent, long-term businesses, holding in trust the value of their assets for the nation's long term housing needs.
Independence means we can react to market failures and come up with innovative solutions using our strong balance sheets. Thames Valley Housing Association developed shared ownership in response to the local expensive home ownership markets it operates in.
We have recently gone on to develop shared ownership plus, which allows shared owners to buy 1% more a year without the expensive fees and allows people to build up equity at a time when staircasing is difficult. Fizzy, our private rented sector subsidiary, is a response to rising housing need among the 25% of people in London unable to rent socially or buy on the open sales market.
Bringing in substantial equity investment means this can be done without risking our social housing assets or at the opportunity cost of providing affordable homes. Housing associations have traditionally seen the market of developing or managing homes on behalf of others as restricted to the social housing market; however, our skills are broader than this and can be used more widely.
Being independent with our skills and with such strong balance sheets makes us unique as a sector. We must use that to good effect, never failing to help the poorest, and always innovating and being ahead of the curve. That is what makes us exciting.
The housing challenge that exists in London and the South East (the bit of the country I work in) requires the resources of the public and private sector, but is most powerful when we get them working together. The challenge is for us all to do more and this requires different financial solutions, creative thinking, and strong partnerships. Independence is what allows this to happen with social purpose at our core.
As growth in the economy gathers pace the poorest do not always gain from the increasing income levels or property price increases. Our role as associations is to ensure there is a voice for them, that the media portraits are balanced and that good housing is seen as an essential for the poorest. Over the recent past, poor housing has not been linked to poverty.
Housing standards have improved. However, when you go back in history we can clearly see what the pioneers did to ensure the poorest had good housing. Housing associations started with this aim and that should continue. Decisions about what we build and at what price and for whom are ours to take.
Government policies change, agencies come and go, but we stay. As long term businesses we need to ensure that we meet the needs of those we serve and those who need housing, being a diverse sector gives us many more voices. How we do this and what we do is for us to decide and for that we need a creative and strong sector. Long may that last!