The Thinkhouse board member blog: will our homes and services stand the test of time?

Peter Williams, 06 January 2022

Being a housing association board member is becoming an ever more challenging role. You are currently dealing with some really difficult operational and strategic issues, against the wider context of considerable uncertainty and increasing competition.

Unsurprisingly, there’s a mountain of material for you to keep up with if you are to provide the right level of challenge to your executives across a wide range of topics. If the Thinkhouse bookshelf is anything to go by, the flow of new reports is considerable both in volume and in length!

In light of the pandemic and the COP26 climate change summit, some recent reports have questioned the adequacy and suitability of UK housing stock over the medium to long term – as well as how adequate it is now. While much of this has focused on the private sector and, especially, the private rented sector, there are also big questions to answer about local authority and housing association stock.

From the bookshelf: top picks for board members

The Affordable Housing Commission published a series of reports in 2020, all of which are worth a look, including Making housing affordable after Covid-19. Then, in February 2021, the Commission of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York on Housing, Church and Community published its report, Coming Home: Tackling the housing crisis together. It’s a lengthy report, but the key messages are helpfully summarised on page five – including this reminder:

“A good home is a place that enables us to live in harmony with the natural environment, it is a place where we feel safe, it enables us to put down roots and belong to a community, it is a place we enjoy living in and which is a delight to come home to.”

Those reports set the scene for a number of more recent publications all of which should provide some food for thought:

Staying focused on the quality of our homes – now and in the future

There is a risk that, important though these longer term issues are, they may detract attention away from more immediate issues. While you may be busy dealing with cladding and retrofit issues, balancing off of growth strategies and upgrading your existing stock, it is important for you as board members to stand back and reflect on what is being achieved in terms of the new homes your association may be building. These homes may be new and better than some of those that came before them, but are they good enough now, and will they stand the test of time?

In November the BRE published a briefing paper on The cost of poor housing in England 2021 citing the bill to the NHS at around £1.4bn per annum, and the wider social costs at a staggering £18.5bn – page six gives a useful checklist of the issues and the costs. 

You may also find the CIH Cymru team’s Right place, right home, right size? report interesting reading. It discusses how social housing providers can help residents adjust their housing needs and aspirations as they change over time. And you will likely be aware of the Good Home Inquiry’s work into the causes of, and solutions to, poor-quality housing – which prompts important questions for boards members around the long-term sustainability of homes and services.

The pandemic has resulted in households placing an ever greater premium on space, including having rooms that can be separated off to provide workspace for either children or adults. This poses questions about some new housing association homes, with somewhat limited living room and kitchen space, and generally tight space standards throughout. Yes, of course there are questions of regulation, resources and costs, but – to paraphrase the quote above – as board members it is your role to ensure that any new homes your association is building are “places people can enjoy living in, and that are a delight to come home to”.

This blog is a small snapshot of all of the excellent reports the Thinkhouse Editorial Panel reviewed in 2021 – please go to the Thinkhouse website to check out the many others.