July 2, 2008
Housing Associations as Community Anchors
The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations has published an excellent report looking at how its members could play a wider role in community regeneration. Community owned housing associations are particularly well placed to `anchor` the development of their communities
Conclusions and Recommendations
7.1.1. This research has suggested that there is a clear and important role for housing associations in the future of community regeneration in Scotland. Both housing associations and regeneration stakeholders welcome the sector’s involvement in community regeneration to date and want these activities to expand in the future. They recognise the ability of housing associations to target very disadvantaged client groups and make a significant impact on improving people’s lives. At a national level the Scottish Government has demonstrated its commitment by making provision for a dedicated Wider Role Fund to continue for the next three years and through the establishment of a specialist team to manage it.
7.1.2. There are some qualifications to this positive picture.
• Everyone – housing associations, stakeholder and government at all levels – continues to believe that the primary function of housing associations should continue to be the development, management and maintenance of housing.
• Whilst a high proportion of housing associations have engaged in community regeneration, some of this involvement has been small scale and a noticeable minority of housing associations do not think community regeneration will be a significant part of their future business.
• Housing associations make a significant contribution to community regeneration over and above the management and development of social housing, but, in resource terms at least, when this is set against the global levels of investment in regeneration in Scotland, it is relatively small scale.
• The review of Scottish housing policy and the current consultation paper, Firm Foundations, pose significant challenges for housing associations’ core functions. It is asking a lot of the sector to find additional time and energy to drive forward its engagement in community regeneration at the same time.
7.1.3. The recommendations below have been developed in the light of the evolving policy context and analysis of the extensive interviews and scorecard responses. They are divided into those which target housing associations and others at the local level and those targeted at the SFHA and others at the national level.
7.2. Local Level
Wider Role Becoming More Efficient and Effective
7.2.1. There is increasing pressure on housing associations to respond to the Scottish Government’s efficiency agenda and to make best use of the resources at their disposal, as Firm Foundations has illustrated. This will require associations both to use community regeneration work to support their own core business activities and to deliver such work more effectively.
7.2.2. There are, however, numerous examples of ‘self-help’ within the movement, where housing associations have come together to pool resources and share good practice and developmental capacity. In the case of wider role, there is a case for more partnership working with others, particularly in the third sector, but also with local authorities and other agencies.
Housing associations should examine the scope for pooling resources amongst themselves or with other organisations, so that expertise might be shared more broadly and the most efficient use made of resources. There may be a role here for the SFHA, perhaps in conjunction with representative organisations from the third, social enterprise and local authority sectors, to broker such arrangements and to source skills outwith the housing association movement.
There are a number of forums across Scotland where housing associations are currently coming together to share information on Wider Role and other topics. These forums could play a key role in helping facilitate Recommendation 1, particularly if they sharply focus on sharing good practice, information and resources.
7.2.3. Many housing associations consider themselves to be social enterprises and some have social enterprise subsidiaries of their own. Housing associations want to engage in more social enterprise activity; help other social enterprises to get established and flourish; and do more trade with social enterprises.
7.2.4. The environment for this seems favourable. The other social enterprises who responded to this study were even more enthusiastic than housing associations themselves about the prospect of joint working. The Scottish Government is encouraging the sector both by improving the environment for social enterprise and by providing direct funding, although housing associations are unlikely to be funded directly because they have exclusive access to wider role funding. In their concordat with the Scottish Government, local authorities have given a commitment to growing the turnover of social enterprise.
Housing associations that wish to expand their social enterprise work should use the opportunities provided by the concordat to proactively approach social enterprises, local authorities, Community Planning Partnerships (see Recommendation 5) and Local Social Economy Partnerships to explore opportunities for joint working.
Community Engagement and Empowerment
7.2.5. The relationship that housing associations enjoy with their tenants, many of whom belong to “hard to reach” groups, is recognised by many stakeholders as one of the sector’s key strengths. The sector generally regards engaging with communities on issues relating to their role as a landlord and developer as standard practice.
7.2.6. Some associations described the work they have been doing in supporting local assessments of community needs and opinions. The use of more systematic approaches to surveys and opinions, drawing on the professional skills within housing associations, could therefore be helpful in bringing more rigour to local debates about how scarce resources should be deployed and may act as a useful counter-balance to less fruitful oppositional forms of protest that dissatisfied elements in some communities resort to.
7.2.7. There was, however, less enthusiasm from other regeneration stakeholders for housing associations acting as advocates for communities and a concern that this could potentially cut across other representative or consultative processes, particularly in the context of Community Planning.
Housing associations should carefully consider their particular circumstances when engaging in community engagement or empowerment beyond their role as a landlord. In particular they should ask themselves:
a. Whether they can legitimately assume a lead role? Such a role may be appropriate where they are the majority landlord or the main organisational presence in a rural area;
b. Whether they would be welcomed in this role by other agencies and organisations? If conflict is a probable outcome, they need to carefully consider whether this would be in the best interests of their organisation or the community concerned.
c. Whether they can draw on their professional expertise to help communities to take on new roles and responsibilities?
7.2.8. The Scottish Government is actively promoting the devolution of power to the local level. This is underpinned by the Concordat with local authorities and characterised by a reduction in ring fencing and the development of single outcome agreements with local authorities and Community Planning Partnerships. Communities Scotland has, rightly or wrongly, been viewed by many regeneration partners as a proxy for housing associations at the local level. The abolition of Communities Scotland removes this explicit link into CPPs and LSEPs.
7.2.9. Housing associations reported that they do not feel that they are as well-connected with CPPs and other local decision-making forums as they should be. Regeneration stakeholders tended to agree that this is the case and that other third sector organisations felt much the same. With the possible exception of those associations created by whole-stock transfers, it is clear that individual housing associations are not of a sufficient scale to command a place at the “top table” in most CPPs. It is also the case that housing associations’ engagement with CPPs will tend to focus on their core housing role and that wider community regeneration will be a secondary consideration.
7.2.10. Further account must be taken of the fact that housing associations are often competitive with one another and with other organisations for funding, territory and influence. It is clear, however, that the Scottish Government, both in Firm Foundations and in the Wider Role funding programme, is keen to encourage housing association to come together and work jointly.
Housing associations at the local authority level should make greater efforts to act jointly with one another to represent their sector within CPPs and on other relevant forums. They should also give consideration to whether local circumstances lend themselves to wider cooperation with other third sector organisations.
Housing associations need to articulate (preferably collectively) a clear and simple offer to CPPs on the contribution they can make to formulating and delivering CPP priorities. The nature of that offer will be dictated by local circumstances and the particular priorities of each CPP.
7.3. National Level Recommendations
Making the Sector’s ‘Offer’ Clear
7.3.1. The housing association movement has a clear ‘offer’ to make to other stakeholders in contributing to community regeneration through wider role activity, the growth of social enterprise, community empowerment and community planning. That offer is grounded in its financial, organisational, human resource and relationship assets and the roles it can therefore play as a community anchor, creative contractor and trusted intermediary.
7.3.2. There is evidence from the policy literature that there is a growing understanding of this potential contribution within the Scottish Government. However, it is essential to address this lack of clarity on the part of regeneration stakeholders and to some extent within the housing association movement itself.
• The SFHA should work with the Scottish Government to ensure that all its policy documents in relation to community regeneration, social enterprise development, community empowerment and community planning clearly articulate the potential role of housing associations in delivering their objectives.
• In particular, the SFHA should work with the Scottish Government on the proposed further strategic review of the Wider Role Fund to ensure that the unique contribution that housing associations can make is fully recognised and supported.
• SFHA should work with CoSLA and the Improvement Service to explore how this offer can be better promoted to local authorities and Community Planning Partnerships.
• The SFHA should work through the Scottish Government, CoSLA, SCVO, social enterprise networks and their own members to disseminate a clear understanding of the role of housing associations as community anchors to a broader range of stakeholders.
Wider Role Fund Priorities
7.3.3. This study has highlighted considerable concerns within the housing association sector about its capacity to become more widely involved in community regeneration and in the reduction of resources available to support generic development work.
• The SFHA should work with the Scottish Government to consider how housing associations might be best supported to increase the capacity and skills of their organisations and staff to more effectively and efficiently deliver community regeneration outcomes.
Demonstrating Added and Business Value
7.3.4. It can be difficult to demonstrate the added value of housing associations’ engagement in community regeneration. Whilst both housing associations and regeneration partners had a positive sense about there being added value, this sense was often based on anecdotal evidence. There is widespread interest in the development of more systematic and consistent monitoring and evaluation frameworks for community regeneration that would capture not only the narrow inputs and outputs of project work, but also the wider social, economic and environmental benefits.
• The SFHA and the Scottish Government should support the development of ‘social accounting’ or ‘social return on investment’ models for measuring the performance and reporting on wider role, social enterprise and community empowerment projects. This should build on, or be consistent with, the Scottish Government’s exploration of such approaches for their work in promoting the third sector. The models developed should be usable across a wide range of activities and should be easy to implement by housing associations and their partners.
7.3.5. Housing associations are often restricted in their ability to devote increased resources to community regeneration by a concern that the activities undertaken are not financially justifiable for the organisation – a fear that there is little or no business return on them. The business case for engaging in community regeneration therefore needs to be made more specific.
• The SFHA and the Scottish Government should support the further development of the models outlined above to ensure that they encompass effective mechanisms for auditing the business impact of such engagement, i.e. the impact on organisational effectiveness and on business performance on issues such as rent arrears and tenancy turnover.
An ‘In Business for Neighbourhoods’ for Scotland
7.3.6. One of the objectives in the brief for this research was to consider whether an initiative similar to the NHF’s In Business for Neighbourhoods should be promoted in Scotland.
7.3.7. There was a mixed response to this proposal. The advantages to such an approach were seen to be:
• the articulation of a clear and consistent message;
• a higher profile leading to greater recognition;
• the dissemination of good practice to a wider audience;
• promoting a more welcoming invitation to potential partners;
• clear identification of those housing associations that wanted to promote wider role.
7.3.8. The main disadvantages were seen as:
• a national brand might conflict with local branding;
• a distinct wider role brand might conflict with the promotion of housing associations generally;
• there are already too many web sites and publications, often of poor quality;
• a concern that such an exercise would be cosmetic and lacking in real substance.
7.3.9. The advantages of a national initiative to promote housing associations’ involvement in community regeneration seem to outweigh the disadvantages. However, it is clear that such a campaign would only succeed if it was properly resourced and if it enjoyed widespread involvement and support from housing associations. Given the range of opinions encountered, the issues of cost and support could only be properly tested in the light of specific proposals, rather than as an abstract proposition.
7.3.10. It was also clear that respondents felt a replication of InBiz would not encompass all the elements of support for enhanced involvement in community regeneration that would be welcomed by the housing association sector, such as opportunities for sharing good practice and training.
• The SFHA should work closely with its members and national and local partner organisations to carry out a detailed examination of how training, networking opportunities and good practice advice relating to the sector’s role in community regeneration can be provided at a national and local level. Alongside this, the SFHA should identify appropriate campaigns to promote the diverse work of the housing association sector in developing and maintaining successful, sustainable neighbourhoods across Scotland.