Housing Associations – “Next to Normal”

As we stagger out of the blast radius of COVID-19, it’s time to survey the damage around us and picture a landscape reformed.

This is the fourth stage of McKinsey’s 5R’s: Reimagine. In Breakfast Briefing #12, Catherine Ryder, the NHF’s Director of Policy and Research, shared her organisation’s five-stage approach to rebuilding society from the ground up and creating a fairer place for all.


1. Back on the streets

Ninety percent of all rough sleepers were taken off the streets in England when the government launched its Everyone In initiative in March. According to recent government stats, that’s around 3,800 housed in hostels and hotels in order to keep themselves and others safe from COVID-19.

But as funding for this accommodation dries up and the lockdown is eased, there is the real possibility that without further intervention many of those Kept In may soon find themselves Back Out.

This, says Catherine, is where housing associations should step in. Through a combined, concerted effort, the sector can lobby the government for further funding to ensure rough sleepers continue to have shelter and support and work with local authorities to find homes for those that need them.


2. Making a house a home

The vulnerable and economically disadvantaged in society often live in poor-quality accommodation. That could mean overcrowding in HMOs, poorly insulated homes, or homes that do not cater to the needs of disabled and elderly peoples.

Housing associations and the wider sector can play a key role in building and improving homes so that the needs of all tenants and customers are adequately met. Let’s pick up on the ‘building’ part for a second…

For the foreseeable at least, it is going to be difficult for the sector to build new homes at the scale we need. This is partly due to the social distancing measures that will persist in some form for some time, but it’s also because of a lack of certainty and stability. Things will no doubt become clearer as the weeks and months roll on; but for now, housing associations are doing all they can to get development back on track and are planning ahead for a range of scenarios.

Catherine says the NHF has petitioned the government for additional funding and full consideration of the unique role social housing and housing associations can play in the country’s recovery from this crisis.


3. To live and to thrive

You may think the NHS provides most of the care to the vulnerable population. But it is in fact housing associations, which together provide 70% of all supported housing in England.

Housing associations have played a huge part in keeping hospital numbers down and easing the pressure on the NHS. And there’s no reason why this work should not continue with the right support – especially as we’ve all become more aware of the level of care vulnerable groups need.


4. The decarb agenda

With COVID-19 plunging the UK into recession, the decarbonisation of the housing sector may not seem as much of a priority as it once was. But as we inch closer to the 2050 net-zero target, decarbonisation is more important than ever. Ways to decarbonise include:

  • Retrofitting existing properties – the Energiesprong model builds homes to the Passivhaus standard
  • Exploiting new technologies and technology enablers – new technologies are always being developed alongside an overall decrease in cost
  • Supporting an energy-efficiency drive-in construction – ensuring energy-efficient homes and low-to-zero carbon construction machinery

However, in the short-term, there will be hurdles to surmount. As Catherine says, funding and skills are lacking, a problem the virus-stricken economy will struggle to solve. The decarb supply chains are nascent, too, meaning the economy of scale is yet to be realised.

While the upfront investment may make you wince, the long-term benefits are manifold, such as:

  • Ameliorating the climate crisis
  • Reducing energy costs for economically disadvantaged tenants and customers
  • Ensuring vulnerable and elderly peoples always have a warm home in which to live


5. Checking in

The coronavirus crisis has shone a light on many of our society’s flaws, not least the systemic inequalities that run through homes and communities. Marginalised groups have without exception had it the worst, with young women facing an increased threat of domestic abuse and ethnic minorities suffering the worst effects of the COVID-19 virus.

Again, this is where the sector needs to step up. As housing associations, be mindful of these vulnerable groups and the increased levels of inequality that this crisis has wrought.

You can provide support by:

  • Helping people find employment and develop skills
  • Bringing forward the Shared Prosperity Fund
  • Regenerating communities
  • Working more closely with local mayors and communities
  • Creating partnerships both inside and outside the sector
  • Capitalising and building on the sense of community spirit that has developed during the crisis
  • Delivering social value as well as economic value


For a copy of our pack on “Next to Normal” or to join our #NavigatingTheCrisis breakfast briefings contact katy@goldenmarzipan.co.uk

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