I’ve been a fan of social housing for years.
Last month, a team of us at ICE had the pleasure of giving a presentation to the rest of our company about our social housing clients, what they do and the sort of work we are helping them with.
Preparing for it took me back to the days of working as a reporter on the magazine published by the National Housing Federation. Even at the tender age of 25, I loved the sector (once I had learned the jargon). This is social affairs and community investment at its finest. These are organisations that are independent, not-for-profit social businesses, set up to provide affordable homes for people in housing need.
That’s no mean feat, given that the people most in need of housing have a wider variety of challenges to deal with than just not having a roof over their heads. Five million people are supported by social housing landlords. Yes, there’s the roof and walls, the rent and repairs, but how many private landlords also offer community initiatives, employment training, coaching, IT lessons, health and wellbeing groups, crime and safety work, projects with young people and children, not to mention the whole regeneration of chunks of our towns and cities?
Private sector organisations with a public sector heart. We’ve worked with Home Group for over four years now, and I love their raison d’être: “To help our customers and clients to open doors to new opportunities and healthy lives”. [link https://www.homegroup.org.uk/About-Us]
These are values we share.
But the sector itself faces a number of challenges. Like everyone else, it suffers from budget cuts and policy changes, such as the extension of the right to buy and a 1% reduction in rental income. Many are under threat. [link http://www.theguardian.com/housing-network/2015/jul/22/government-five-year-vision-social-housing]
But they are, in the main, clever organisations run by clever people. They fund millions of pounds of affordable rental development and community investment programmes by building shared ownership and outright sale properties. Our design team, copywriters and marketers do an incredible job of helping sales staff up and down the country.
Our research teams have spoken with hundreds of tenants and customers from Margate to Cumbria to understand how they understand the impact of Universal Credit and the effect it will have on their lives – including their ability to pay rent. No surprise that 90% of those already on Universal Credit are in rent arrears, with many organisations struggling to cope with the changes in the benefits system in a timely way. [link http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/policy/health-and-care/nine-in-10-universal-credit-tenants-in-arrears/7013234.article?utm_source=Housing60&utm_medium=email&utm_content=article_link&utm_campaign=H60].
Here are my top three priorities for housing providers for 2016:
– Understand your customers: get deep, qualitative insight into what they want, how you as a landlord can improve, their aspirations for the future, their challenges with employment, literacy, IT, money management, benefits. It will pay dividends as you plan your approach based on evidence, and not assumptions
– Communicate well: keep innovating. Try new things, even if the old ones are working. Don’t give up if something doesn’t work – learn from it and try something else. Use digital and social to surprise and delight. Use quality design and innovative campaigns to make your developments stand out from the crowd
– Keep your own house in order: if you want tenants to see you as more than just the landlord, do the landlording exceptionally well. Get that repairs service running efficiently and effectively. Scrutinise how your approach to tackling rent arrears matches your brand. Create a values-led organisation.
2016 will present more challenges for the sector. The heart will always be in the right place. Follow your heart – but take your brain with you.
For more information on how ICE are supporting housing providers in digital, design, marketing, insight research, organisational change and the provision of healthy lifestyle service interventions, please call Richard Forshaw on 07540 412304 or email firstname.lastname@example.org