What does the future look like for housing associations?

Tristan Carlyon, 02 December 2021

The NHF is undertaking a strategic review, in collaboration with our members, stakeholders and residents, to plan and prepare for the future. The review has focused on understanding how the external environment for social housing may change over the next ten years – and how best to prepare. 

While there’s a lot we can’t predict, there are some things we know are going to affect how we operate. As we head towards the end of the year this is a great opportunity to review a range of areas which influence the work of housing associations – and it’s a neat list as they all start with the letter D.


First up is Demographics. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) produces population projections which model the impact of high and low migration scenarios. There is a middle way between these two, referred to as the “principal projection”. These three trajectories show how different migration levels are expected to affect the age structure of the population.


Low migration

Principal projection

High migration









































                                                    000s of people, Great Britain

As you can see in the above table, every migration scenario shows population growth being concentrated in older age groups – indeed in the low migration scenario growth in the number of people over 65 is actually greater than net population growth, only being offset by a substantial drop in the number of children.

An increase of more than three million over 65s over ten years will increase demand for suitable housing for those people – whether in the form of care homes, sheltered schemes or just adaptations to existing homes. As people live longer, the concentration of housing wealth in the hands of older age groups is likely to become more marked, particularly if the age at which their offspring inherit continues to rise also.


The second ‘D’ is Decarbonisation. The need to retrofit our existing homes and phase out the use of fossil fuels is a monumental challenge, but one which we cannot ignore if we wish to avoid the very worst impacts of climate change. We have written extensively about this topic and published a new decarbonisation guide for housing associations with further detailed information available. One important thing to note is housing association properties are on average the most energy efficient homes out there but around a third of our homes are still below the adequate energy efficient rating which is EPC C.


My final D is Dispersal. This is a bit more speculative than the first two on my list, but there are already some signs of it.

For many people who are in a position to work from home, the period since March 2020 has caused reflection on how they relate to their workplaces. We are already seeing a desire amongst professionals to move away from big cities, remote working freeing them to pursue a different lifestyle. If this continues, it could push up property prices in areas which have previously been too far-flung to be affected by the gravitational pull of our urban centres. This would likely impact on housing associations in these areas in two ways:

  1. Increased demand for rental and LCHO properties as local property prices are pushed out of reach of local people.
  2. Increased competition for land from private developers to increase their supply of homes to meet this demand.

And of course on top of these we are likely to see all our previous issues remain: a mismatched housing market skewed in favour of existing property owners, with private landlords and the “Bank of Mum and Dad” perpetuating high prices; an oversubscribed social and public sector valiantly holding the social fabric together in communities that have otherwise been abandoned; and as noted above, an increasing concentration of housing wealth and security in older age groups.

Whatever the future brings, it seems inevitable that more than ever there will be a need for secure, good quality homes at a price that those on the lowest incomes can afford. This is the core of what we do, but how we do it may need to respond to these issues.

Strategic Review - Initial findings and next steps

As a result of our strategic review we have gained a range of insights and feedback from members, stakeholders and residents throughout this process. In January we will be sharing our initial with members and discuss what this might mean for our priorities going forward. More information is available on our website.