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Opinion: ‘Forging Futures’ for social housing

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Opinion: ‘Forging Futures’ for social housing

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Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing

Opinion: Forging Futures for social housing Opinion: Forging Futures for social housing

By Dr Chris Handy, chair of the Matrix Strategy Committee and chief executive of the Accord Group

Futurology is highly topical in social housing at the moment.

The NHF’s Hothouse 2033 debate has given housing associations considerable food for thought about our future role. On conclusion is that housing associations will need to shape that role themselves.

The Matrix Housing Partnership has produced ‘Forging Futures II’, a collection of thematic essays as our contribution to fashioning a better future for our tenants. It is a sequel to a publication written earlier in the Matrix ten year history, subtitled ‘shaping homes, places and services’, which we believe should be the fundamental concerns of housing associations.

‘Forging Futures II’ explores the state of play and potential futures of the home, rural and inner city housing, the integration of health and social care and the economic and social value created by housing associations. Here are few conclusions.

The Future of the Home

The future of the home will be bound up with the deployment of emergent house-building technology, especially green innovations, to improve the sustainability of social housing tenancies. Tenants have seen their living standards fall as fuel costs have soared. So low or carbon neutral housing is the most sustainable way to reduce fuel bills.

We also predict that off-site manufacture and on-site assembly of housing will be an increasingly common and cost-effective way of bridging the 100,000 affordable homes per year gap. Flexibility of design, construction and use of space, higher densities and possible ‘pod’ living, more home working, and computerisation will be key elements of future homes.

Inner City and Rural Communities

Both inner city and rural communities will continue to encounter considerable challenges. Our inner cities are increasingly fragile as the post-war welfare state is eroded. Precariousness is the new norm with rising costs of living, welfare reforms and the advance of low paid and zero hours work chipping away at an already poor quality of life. Much inner city housing is old, hard to heat, overcrowded and occupied at high densities by a ‘precariat class’. These trends are set to intensify.

Matrix envisages a greater community focus for housing associations in inner city areas with jobs, education and training, and enterprise start-ups their key tasks beyond housing. Housing associations will need to develop innovative business models to underpin new forms of multi-purpose, productive civic space. And inner city resilience will require a shift in how they perceive their role in enabling change, and their capacity to stimulate localised economic innovation.

Rural communities face a conflation of rising housing costs, young flight to cities and towns and the disappearance of village halls, post offices, pubs, schools and transport links. Affordable housing is scarce and increasingly depleted by the Right to Buy and wealthy in-comers buying second homes for themselves or for the buy-to-let market.

Only much more affordable housing will recreate mixed, rural communities, with a range of age, income and household groups. Alongside, housing associations should act as community hubs, providing a range of local services and supporting local people through mutual approaches, such as community land trusts and community shares. And applying technology to improve sustainability and connecting rural people digitally to the global economy will need to be expanded.

Integrating Housing, Health and Social Care

Demographic changes, especially an aging population will drive up costs, requiring greater integration of housing, health and social care, partnership approaches, pursuit of innovation and deployment of technology. Housing, health and social care will be delivered through a mixed economy of public, private and third sector agencies, which will both compete and co-operate to improve health and reduce health inequalities. We proposes that housing associations should evolve over the next two decades to be part of this integrated approach.

Creating Economic Value

The economic impact of housing associations, both in quantitative and qualitative terms, is impressive and set to grow. They are economic power-houses, especially in fragile local economies. The Matrix partners have a £481m per year impact on the Midlands economy from a £200m turnover, support 4,182 jobs directly and indirectly, and create £56m in social value annually. Over 250 apprenticeships, business incubators, off-site manufacturing companies and investment in digital inclusion are examples of qualitative economic impacts.

These are just a few thoughts about the future social housing operating terrain. Yet the future is an ‘unknown country’. The task for housing associations is not just to contemplate that future, but to shape it.

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