Scottish Risk and Resilience Study of Housing Organisations asks: ‘What is 21st century social housing for’?

Scottish social housing faces multiple new risks and uncertainty but is focused on increasing its resilience, according to a new study.

A report by the University of Glasgow’s Policy Scotland, in partnership with the Wheatley Group, found that non-market housing, primarily housing associations and council providers, are a bulwark against poverty, provide shelter and often playing leading community anchor roles.

However, social housing faces a series of new and emerging risks that threaten their businesses, including:
• Welfare reform risks income cash-flow and tenant sustainability
• Austerity reduces public subsidy to build needed new homes
• Banks are much less willing to lend long term debt finance
• Demographic change
• The growth of the private rented sector.

The authors of the report state: “At the same time social housing providers have to satisfy government, the Scottish housing regulator, tenants and communities, lenders and other partners. This makes it difficult to set a business course. Yet, we find much evidence of resilient processes and practices being set in place. For example, the evidence suggests much more use of customer intelligence and proactive frontline staff engagement with their tenants.”

“The sector’s rich diversity is a strength that should be supported and not constrained to fit one simple policy path: e.g. the choice between diversifying more or to return to the core function of managing social housing. It depends on the context and the history of the housing provider and the wishes of stakeholders.

“We believe that any solution to what should be the purpose and future of social housing in Scotland requires a major sector-wide debate, one that must be fully consistent with the Christie Commission’s principles, and the Government’s National Performance Framework housing and regeneration national indicators.”

The Report’s lead author, Professor Kenneth Gibb said: “It is essential that the sector now comes together and debates what social housing is for, and how it is to be funded, sustainable and resilient.

“The sector, in all its diversity, has achieved a great deal over the last four or five decades and its future needs to be secured. We did this consensually and innovatively with homelessness policy, something in which Scotland is an international leader.

“We now need the same big tent approach to the future of non-market housing.”

Hazel Young, Director of Policy and Service Development at the Wheatley Group commented: “The Wheatley Group is committed to working in partnership, and this project, which aims to stimulate debate in the Scottish housing sector, is a timely one.

“The focus in the research on increasing our knowledge of customers is particularly reflective of our approach at Wheatley”.

Additional Notes:

1. Wheatley is Scotland’s leading housing, care and regeneration group. It comprises four Registered Social Landlords, a care organisation and two commercial subsidiaries.

The Group spans 12 local authority areas across Central Scotland, providing homes and award-winning services to over 100,000 tenants and factored homeowners, and has a commercial property portfolio of almost 300 shops and offices.

The Wheatley family:

• GHA, Scotland’s largest social landlord, with 41,500 affordable homes in Glasgow;
• Cube Housing Association, with 3300 social homes across the West of Scotland;
• Loretto Housing, with 1000 affordable homes in the central belt;
• West Lothian Housing Partnership, with almost 400 affordable homes;
• Loretto Care, supporting over 1000 care clients and service users;
• YourPlace Property Management, Scotland’s “Feel Good Factor”, with over 25,000 customers;
• and Lowther Homes, which has a growing portfolio of almost 500 mid and full-market apartments from Glasgow’s West End to Leith.

2. About the Research. The study was carried out in 2014 by Policy Scotland at the University of Glasgow and was funded by the Wheatley Group. The research is Scottish-wide. The research team acknowledges the invaluable role played by its steering group drawn from across the Scottish housing sector. It is also grateful to those who participated in semi-structured interviews and also thanks the four case study organisations. All opinions views and errors are fully the responsibility of the authors.

3. A full report ‘Reform, Resilience and Risk: Social Housing in Scotland’ by Kenneth Gibb, Des McNulty and Tony McLaughlin, along with an executive summary is available by clicking RRRFullReportfinal and from the Wheatley Group

Photo from Flickr by Lydia CClicense