The need for survival

BECG attended the CIH Conference this summer – see what our clients and contacts think about the future of social housing: 

Over the past few years, housing associations have been transforming.

Gone are the days of seeing housing associations as simply “registered providers” with their heads down, quietly focused on managing homes and services for local communities. Take a look around the sector, and you’d be hard pressed to find a housing association that hasn’t spent time reviewing its place in the world;  asking big questions about what type of organisation it wants to be in ten, or 20 years’ time, and what type of relationships it wants to have with its customers in the future. At the heart of this question has been the need for survival.  How do you continue to deliver a social purpose in this fast-changing world, with a challenging social, political and economic head wind? Standing still today means risking failure tomorrow.

For many, this soul searching has refocused the commitment to delivering the social purpose – focusing on delivering quality homes and services to people who need it most.

For a few housing associations, the answer has been to scale up and deliver more to tackle the local housing crisis, whilst others have focused efforts on business transformation – embracing technology and improving existing homes and services to make the business fit for the 21st century. For a select few, the answer is all of this – scaling up, delivering more, and improving the customer offer.

Importantly, size is no longer a barrier to ambition.

For ambitious housing associations focused on growth and investment, institutional investment has become the golden ticket; breaking down barriers to opportunity and providing smaller housing associations the same access to finance that was previously restricted to the larger housing association.

With smaller housing associations now entering the development market, no longer will the g15 and larger housing associations be the only housing associations with a seat around the development table.

But with every new opportunity comes increased risks: housing associations have traditionally been counter cyclical, but this new exposure to the private sale market could take away the very amour that made it such an attractive investment for private capital.

Secondly, and more importantly – developing housing associations must find a new and comfortable balance between development and social mission.

Whilst the business model may make sense inside the business – developing a cross subsidy model in a post subsidy era, and scaling up to meet local demand – the vision doesn’t resonate so clearly with stakeholders.

BECG has long been a champion and communications partner for the social housing sector. But increasingly our social housing clients are requiring strategic support for business transformation, converting the business vision to an external narrative and finding new ways to support the business to forge ahead.

This communication need increases significantly with institutional investment and development growth. Ambitious housing associations growing through institutional investment should be reaffirming their social value, demonstrating that growth hasn’t come at the expense of social purpose.

This message transcends the communications lifecycle – touching planning and local engagement, resident communications, through to brand and PR, and reputation building with national stakeholders.

With ongoing political change, and uncertainty as to what social housing agenda will look like in six, 12 or 24 months, its up to housing associations to set the agenda, and make the case to residents, communities and stakeholders that growth in ambition won’t be at the expense of customer needs.