Comments on the role and effectiveness of the Housing Corporation
We are grateful for the opportunity to comment on this inquiry into the role and effectiveness of the Housing Corporation. The very short deadline for comments means that we can only make two general points, which we hope will be useful, as follows:
- we should not underestimate the effectiveness of the primary role of the Corporation - to maintain the confidence of lenders in the housing association sector (and to do what is necessary to ensure that the business plans of housing associations remain viable). The Corporation have always played this role well and without it, there would be serious problems in the housing association sector.
- however we are more concerned about the role that the Corporation plays with regards the longer viability of the housing association sector. We are concerned about whether the housing association sector is currently structured in such a way as to deliver the Government's sustainable communities agenda.
The National Housing Federation (the trade body for the housing association sector) launched its iN Business for Neighbourhoods campaign in response to a number of trends being negative in the housing association sector (eg. particularly the numbers of people wanting to live in housing association homes going down and the satisfaction ratings for those who do live in housing associations going down year on year). Clearly it is a serious long term problem for the business plans of housing associations if fewer people want to live in their homes.
As part of the NHF's campaign, research (Regional Futures & Neighbourhood Realities) showed (based on the British Household Panel Study) that the primary factor that determines where people want to live is "having a friendly community" (56% of the BHPS survey responded this, as opposed to 42% "having a quiet area" and 38% "a low crime area" - more tangible issues such as medical facilities, schools & transport did not feature very highly). Therefore for the housing association sector to be sustainable in the long term - the key determining factor will be whether associations can facilitate “friendly communities". If they can't, there will be serious long term problems in the sector - that will - if left unchecked - start to undermine the confidence of lenders.
As the representatives of the housing co-operative sector, the CCH knows that the development of "friendly communities" is firmly linked to the Government's wider agenda to develop community empowerment. The CCH has long played a leading role in this field, recently particularly working on the following projects:
- Taking Control in your Community - the development and dissemination of a guide, in partnership with the Housing Corporation, for housing association tenants to inspire and help them to establish community controlled projects.
- Community Gateway - the CCH (in partnership with the Chartered Institute of Housing and Co-operatives UK) has pioneered the development of a large scale housing model that will generate options for tenants and communities to develop their role in local neighbourhoods. Whilst this option is proving attractive to tenants and communities in a number of local authority areas, it is particularly being pioneered in Preston, where tenants and the local council are working to transfer their homes to a Community Gateway Association. Further information on the Gateway approach is available in the "Empowering Communities" report, available from the Chartered Institute of Housing.
The CCH has worked closely in partnership with the Corporation to develop particularly the first of these initiatives. However, our work with them leads us to ask the following questions:
- should the sustainable communities and community empowerment agendas be given a much higher priority within the Housing Corporation? Should these agendas be seen as fundamental to the asset management strategies of housing associations - ie. as what will ensure that housing associations are able to let their homes in the future?
- the Government's Communities Plan (Sustainable Communities: building for the future) stated that "effective engagement and participation by local people, especially in the planning, design and long term stewardship of their community" is a key requirement for a sustainable community. However, none of the Regional Housing Statements have referred to how this requirement will be met. What role should the Housing Corporation play in ensuring that associations play their part in meeting this requirement?
- the Taking Control in your Community project was based on the principle of not seeking to regulate the housing association sector to generate community empowerment initiatives, and some associations have imaginatively worked to progress initiatives. However, the vast majority of associations do not willingly seek to offer opportunities to their tenants to develop community related initiatives. Should the area of community empowerment now therefore become a regulatory issue for the Corporation?
- the Corporation is isolated from existing tenants, communities, staff from associations and agencies who currently work to support community empowerment. Should the Corporation consider how it could learn from the experience of the existing community control sector?
- the Government and all political parties see community empowerment as being important. However, there are a plethora of Govt. departments independently considering their approach to it, and on the ground, housing remains isolated from other neighbourhood renewal initiatives. How can we ensure that the housing firewall is torn down, and how should the Corporation relate to the various other parts of Government that are looking at community empowerment issues, such as the ODPM Tenant Participation Branch, the Home Office Active Communities Unit and the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit?