The last thirty five years has seen the transformation of housing associations from a relatively small, diverse sub-sector of civil society into a large highly capitalised social business, in what has been described as “the outstanding example of a mass take-over of state services by the voluntary sector in our time”.
Housing associations are currently facing real choices about their future. Reduced capital subsidy for housing development, changes to rents and constraints on housing benefit together represent the most radical and far reaching changes in housing policy for a generation.
Associations are currently being offered the chance to enter into a deal with the Homes and Communities Agency where they will receive an agreed amount of grant over four years, and in return can raise the rents on their new and existing properties to make up for the reduction in direct capital subsidy.
Many housing associations already have a track record of investment in the wider fabric and capacity of the communities they work within, in particular in relation to education and skills, health and the environment. Where housing associations have a strong local presence, there is real scope for them to build on this, developing their role into being more broadly based providers of services for and on behalf of their communities.
This would bring opportunities to forge new partnerships with both local authorities and local community organisations, transforming housing associations’ strong housing-related presence, resource base and delivery capacity into a powerful community development and management offer.
For those associations that aspire to develop a community role at the heart of the big society, and wish to contribute to a new civil economy focussed on community, neighbourhood and localism, and for a government that shares that vision, the challenge and opportunity is there.
The full report is available for download.