We can’t just sit back and wait following Social Housing Green Paper consultation

Now it’s time to get on with our real response to the Social Housing Green Paper, says Riverside’s Chief Executive, Carol Matthews.

Many of us have been busy over the past few months thinking how best to respond to the Social Housing Green Paper consultation.

There’s been lots of debate over league tables, consumer ratings and whether and how the social housing regulator should be given back its consumer teeth.

The deadline for submissions has passed.

Now it’s time for us to get on with our real response. Yes, we look forward to seeing what firmer proposals the government comes up with, and we will work individually and as a sector to help develop and implement them. But we shouldn’t just sit back and wait.

The broad direction of travel is clear, and as our annual business planning processes get into full swing, it’s a good time for boards and executive teams to take an honest look at how we are going to do better.

We must ‘own’ any changes.

Here at Riverside we recognise that we need to keep challenging ourselves to provide the quality of homes and services our tenants want. But we are also passionate about our ambition to build more homes, to play our part in addressing the housing crisis.

The government’s recent announcements on increased and longer-term funding have been welcome, but we know they’re nowhere near enough to build the 340,000 new homes that the National Housing Federation and Crisis forecast the country needs each year.

This is particularly pertinent for those of us operating outside overheated markets, and as I’ve said before in these pages, we’re calling for a better one-nation housing deal with our partners in Homes for the North.

The odds seem stacked against us – not only does the government’s standard method for assessing housing need boost housing numbers in the highest demand areas, often to the horror of existing communities, but the recent announcement that 80% of funding across five of Homes England’s flagship programmes will be targeted at areas of acute affordability pressure represents a double whammy – only four out of 72 local authorities in the North are likely to qualify.

The government’s approach of focusing targets and funding on areas where it’s hardest for people to afford a home today may, on the face of it, seem like common sense, but in reality it throws oil on the fire because it fails to rebalance the economy, and provide a housing offer that helps to close the productivity gap.

Whatever happened to the Industrial Strategy? We will continue to work to get the message across that every part of the country has a role in solving the housing crisis.

So, as we reach the end of 2018, we find ourselves equally preoccupied with the quality of our services and housing supply; indeed, managing the tension between being a good social landlord and an ambitious housing developer goes to the heart of what a modern housing association is.

It’s not something to be embarrassed about, provided that in doing this we are guided by our organisational vision and founding principles.

The types of homes we build, and where we build them, shapes the places we serve and the daily experiences of our residents, whether we retain ownership or sell them on to generate profit to invest in our other homes.

All this is particularly pertinent this year as Riverside celebrates its 90thbirthday. Our founders wanted to do something practical about the appalling housing conditions they’d witnessed.

They had a very clear social purpose, but to achieve this they were already thinking commercially.

Their 1928 funding prospectus referred to the need to buy properties at the right price to make the figures work, and proposed turning a property into shops as well as flats, to provide cross-subsidy.

If they were to time travel to today I hope they’d agree that we still have the same social purpose, campaigning zeal and commercial nous that they did back then. But I’d hope they would also recognise, and be proud of, how we are continuing to be proactive in coming up with pragmatic, tangible solutions to improve housing supply and affordability in the 21st century.

As published in Inside Housing on 27 November 2018.

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