“At the Crossroads: a progressive future for housing associations” was launched on 5th May 2011, setting out a radical new vision for an affordable housing sector that provides homes to over 2 million households across England - 1 in 10 of total housing stock.
As well as providing a home, many housing associations play a wider role, delivering services in many of our most deprived communities.
But “At the Crossroads” argues that key aspects of the big society - in particular issues of mutualism, community ownership and localised decision-making have so far been noticeable for their absence from recent social housing debate.
The report calls for a greater focus on the potential of housing association as community-focused players, and for that to be balanced against their important role as providers of new homes:
- the huge potential for housing associations to work with local communities, to help support them in taking on local services or assets under the Community Right to Buy and Right to Challenge.
- the emerging role of social landlords as small scale funders of community endeavour - good examples including Trafford Housing Trust, Affinity Sutton, and the Accord Group.
- And where they have strong local presence, potential to provide a much broader range of public services in partnership with communities and local government.
The report goes on to highlight the challenge of localism, and calls for:
- further acceleration of rationalisation of housing stock to enable better engagement between housing associations and communities.
- greater devolution of responsibility for managing stock to a local level
- and a new focus on tenant management.
Finally, the report highlights a pressing need for housing associations to develop new forms of accountability, starting with a radical reassessment of housing association governance models.
At a time when - led by the efforts of Frances Maude - significant parts of our public services are being spun out into new mutual structures, the report makes the case for much more widespread adoption of community ownership and mutualism in the affordable housing sector.
The report calls for any further reform of housing regulation to be linked to changes in governance, and where housing associations have adopted models which place community accountability at their heart - effectively creating a new class of community “shareholder interest” - they should be set free from remaining restrictions on the management of their assets.
Housing associations have a massive role to play at the heart of the big society. In many ways they offer the biggest existing potential resource around which to build a new civil economy focussed on community, neighbourhood and localism. For a government that shares that vision, the challenge and opportunity is there.
For further information about the report, please contact Matt Leach, Associate Director and Head of Housing, Health and Environment Unit, email@example.com