Why partnership working holds the key to tackling the housing crisis

Gareth Lewis, 21 February 2019

Part two of our look at housing associations’ partnerships with local authorities focuses on how Watford Community Housing has set up joint venture companies to forge successful relationships.

Working closely with local authority partners can help housing associations overcome some of the biggest barriers to building the homes we need.

Housing associations are working hard to deliver new homes and meet the challenge of solving the housing crisis. Many are rising to this challenge, but the traditional pressures of finance and land supply still represent significant barriers to success.

In the South East of England especially, suitable land for development is hard to come by and competition from the private sector is fierce. In towns and cities, developable sites are often council-controlled – so it is in housing associations’ interests to forge meaningful partnerships with local authorities, allowing us to deliver added value.

At Watford Community Housing we’ve been doing just that. Over the last few years, we have established joint venture companies to build new homes with two of our key local authorities – Hart Homes with Watford Borough Council and Three Rivers Homes with Three Rivers District Council. These are already delivering much-needed affordable housing and the strength of the relationship has led to us working with Watford Borough Council on an ambitious programme of homes for social rent.

For these schemes to come to fruition, it’s been vital to build trust at all levels. The biggest hurdle can be to convince local authorities that you’re in it for the right reasons, just like they are. Demonstrating your commitment to true partnership working and social purpose is key, rather than just offering up mealy-mouthed platitudes. These partnerships need to produce genuine, demonstrable win-win scenarios for both parties, or they are doomed from the outset.

The key is to establish the council’s priorities – what makes them tick – then show how we can assist in delivering them. A well-crafted partnership allows councils to have a greater measure of control over what is developed on these sites, influencing the mix and tenures of new homes and enabling them to introduce ancillary community facilities.

Joint schemes give the council a sense of ownership over the end product and a chance to shout about what they’ve helped to deliver – a more appealing option than simply signing the land over to a private developer and accepting the Section 106 element as the total benefit.

A successful partnership will only be achieved by investing time and building relationships at both corporate and personal levels – and seeking to demonstrate the longer-term benefits, not just a quick win on one scheme.

As with any relationship, we won’t be able to provide everything that we are asked for just to make it work. We have to be robust in negotiations to manage our own risk and ensure that we will be equal partners – but as a trusted organisation which has much to offer and is proud to use its expertise to create partnerships that deliver more new homes.