Media Release: More enterprise, but still social

A WORKING party of international experts, organised by University of St Andrews, is calling for a radical shift in the ways in which providers of social and affordable housing for rent are financed, organised and involved in housing policies.

Delegates from Scotland, England, Australia, Norway and Canada have been involved in a two-year programme of knowledge exchange led by the university’s Centre for Housing Research (CHR).

This week they have been meeting in Fife and they presented their progress report at a conference in Edinburgh today (Friday June 22).

Among the key findings that apply across all the countries are:

•    Government support for capital spending on social and affordable housing is in decline
•    Growing unmet demand for affordable housing for rent in both social and market sectors
•    Home-ownership rates falling sharply for younger households and clear signs of wider
housing stress growing
•    Evidence housing problems are not simply about affordability for poorer households
•    Emerging public concerns in regard to housing, health and care for increasing numbers of
elderly households as well as the housing opportunities for younger households that cross the income spectrum
•    New businesses for new times will have to look to housing related activities that generate
profits, such as market rental provision, elderly care and area renewal that will cross-
subsidise their social activities
•    New models of debt financing will have to be progressed rapidly as banks continue to
frustrate innovation in the sector

Says a spokesperson: “CHR’s aim was to involve leading social housing providers from different countries to share their experiences of how providers were coping with their challenges and then assess whether lessons could be learned and adapted elsewhere. It is clear from those studies the effects of the global financial crisis has affected capital funding for housing and that new financial models are needed.

“The exercise debunked the policy myth that national debt reduction strategies could follow the model of the Canadian experience of the 1990’s without significant devastation of social programmes such as low income housing. And it illustrated how a non-profit sector emerging out of a market real estate tradition, as in Australia, could shape new business and finance practice in other non-profits.

“There is also a desire of large international housing providers to engage with each other and academia. Those taking part are Places for People, which operates throughout the UK, PowerHousing Australia, Glasgow Housing Association, Housing Choices, Australia, Huisbanken from Norway, CHR from St Andrews University and individual experts from other countries including Canada.

“A series of policy papers are being developed by the organisations and two on line conferences or “webinars” have been held.

“These identified the challenge to find management and governance structures which retained the strength of the local community led housing providers while achieving economies of scale and developing their capacity to increase supply.”

Professor Duncan Maclennan of CHR, one of the conference organisers, said:

“The biggest challenge facing all housing providers is to find capital for the expansion they require to meet the demands being placed upon them. In the past social housing was run with the heart, now it needs to be run with the head and the heart. We now need to up the entrepreneurial activity but not lose sight of the social reasons behind the activities of not for profit providers.

“There is a growing demand for affordable housing for rent and it affects all ages in the community. Younger people are finding it harder to buy but want a better standard of private rented accommodation. At the other end of the age scale, people are living longer and older people have different housing needs perhaps specially adapted to deal with particular health conditions. They want to live independently for as long as possible and housing providers are ideally placed to assist them to do that.”

Derek Ballantyne, from the Ontario Housing Services Corporation of Canada, said: “In Canada, we now have over 600,000 households in need of affordable housing. We have to double the number of social rents to meet this need. Housing providers should take the lead in developing creative business responses to the challenges that lie ahead, offering a broader range of services and seeking new business opportunities  to financially support housing operations.”

Judy Sutherland, business development manager of Housing Choices Australia, said: “Despite positive economic growth in Australia we are facing the same challenges to provide affordable housing for rent as the UK and Canada. We are now, on the basis of these discussions, seeing a new way ahead on how to adopt new governance structures and business models to help housing associations adapt and grow.”

The participants are to continue with the project and will look to publish their findings in a comprehensive report later this year.


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