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August 11, 2009

Govt needs to join up its thinking

Community based housing associations have been one of the great success stories of community led regeneration over the past 30 years. The Govt’s community empowerment action plan recognises the crucial role that these organisations have played but the Housing (Scotland) Bill – consultation ends 14th Aug – which will shape the future for these organisations, makes no reference to their role in community regeneration. It makes you wonder just how joined up the government’s thinking is

Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations

Response to the Draft Housing (Scotland) Bill

August 2009



Enhancing the Role of Community Based Housing Associations in Regeneration and Neighbourhood Management

Draft 31 July 09



1.1               In the Housing Bill Consultation Paper, the Scottish Government has stated its wish to lead a national debate about “the role and purpose of social housing, what it should be delivering for current and future tenants, and how it can contribute to wider policy objectives”.  The proposals we have set out in this paper are intended as an initial contribution to the debate.


1.2               Through the Housing Bill, GWSF would like to see much more explicit recognition of the role that social housing providers such as community-based housing associations (CBHAs) can play in developing safe, popular and sustainable neighbourhoods.


1.3               We also want to discuss, with national and local decision-makers, how local communities can play a bigger part within their neighbourhoods, acting through locally owned and resident controlled bodies such as CBHAs and development trusts. 


1.4               So this paper sets out ideas about how local communities can become more actively involved in the management of their neighbourhoods, by working in partnership with local authorities and others, or through an enhanced role in helping to manage the way services are delivered to local people.


2.           CBHAs and Regeneration


2.1               CBHAs have played a leading part in promoting community ownership of housing in Scotland for more than 30 years. 


2.2               We have shown that community ownership of assets can help achieve a wide range of benefits:


·        Long-term value for public investment, frequently in areas where previous investment had failed or was wasted

·        Physical regeneration and the provision of quality homes in both urban and rural areas

·        Active citizenship, leadership and control by local people, with direct accountability to tenants and communities

·        Housing services that are locally focused and responsive to tenants’ needs

·        Financially sustainable socially businesses

·        The development of other assets and services for the benefit of local communities.


2.3               In the last decade, many Scottish housing associations have diversified beyond their core landlord role, to address the wider issues in their local communities.  This has been a particular priority for CBHAs. 


2.4               In comparison with other types of housing providers, CBHAs typically work in some of Scotland’s most disadvantaged communities.  As housing providers, we see at first hand and on a daily basis the effects of poverty, poor health, worklessness and other types of inequality on individuals and whole communities.  Because we are community-led and community-controlled organisations, we have a direct interest in wanting to address these issues.


3.           Community Regeneration and the Housing Bill


3.1               The contribution that CBHAs already make to community regeneration has been acknowledged in the recent Community Empowerment Action Plan, published jointly by the Scottish Government and COSLA. [1]   But community regeneration issues do not register as a priority for the present Scottish Housing Regulator, and the Housing Bill Consultation Paper does not identify this as an area for change.


3.2               The Community Empowerment Action Plan is clear that empowered and engaged communities will be a key factor in areas such as health and poverty, and in supporting people to become part of the social and economic mainstream.


3.3               Fresh thinking is needed on this part of the Housing Bill, because:


·        The Bill focuses too narrowly on the interests of tenants as individual consumers. 

This is important if landlords are not getting the basics of service delivery right.  But it will not help the many social housing tenants receiving a good service from their landlord, who may still be disadvantaged or dissatisfied because of deeper-rooted problems in their local neighbourhoods.

·        Neighbourhood management and community regeneration are increasingly important parts of what housing organisations do.

·        They are directly relevant to the achievement of the Government’s National Objectives.


3.4               We would like future work on the Housing Bill to address this in two ways:


·        The outcomes set in the proposed Scottish Social Housing Charter should deal explicitly with issues relating to neighbourhood management, community empowerment and community regeneration;

·        The new Scottish Housing Regulator should address these outcomes, and place a positive value on them in its assessment methods.


3.5               In this regard, the statutory duties of the social housing regulator in England include a requirement for it to address the following fundamental objective:


“… to encourage registered providers of social housing to contribute to the environmental, social and economic well-being of the areas in which the housing is situated”.[2]


3.6               We would like to see the new Scottish Housing Regulator having a similar statutory objective.  This would recognise that addressing these issues is not just incidental part of some housing organisations’ purpose, it is an integral part of what they do.


3.7               Policy-makers and regulators have recently been highly critical about the value provided by the social housing sector.[3]   So it is no surprise that the Housing Bill and Consultation Paper emphasise the importance of outcomes for tenants and of delivering value for tenants and the taxpayer. 


3.8               We do not disagree with these principles, but it is essential that the national debate should address outcomes and the measurement of value in much more meaningful ways.


3.9               Neither present methods for assessing value, nor those proposed in the Consultation Paper, address a wide range of outcomes that CBHAs are either directly responsible for, or to which we contribute through our work with local authorities and others.  For example:


·        The social and economic value of core landlord and regeneration services in disadvantaged communities

·        Local neighbourhood management

·        The long-term sustainability of investment and benefits of community ownership

·        Integrating specialist accommodation and low cost home ownership into existing communities

·        Promoting community empowerment and community cohesion

·        The quality of partnership working with statutory and voluntary service providers, with direct benefits for individual tenants (for example, linking tenants to other services and opportunities).


3.10           Measuring impact and value in relation to these types of outcomes is undoubtedly challenging, but that is not a reason for ignoring them.


3.11           It is likely that some of these “bigger picture” outcomes would be better addressed through thematic studies or periodic evaluations rather than routine regulatory processes.   


3.12           The new Scottish Housing Regulator may not be best placed to make these types of assessments, given the range and complexity of issues involved.  In addition, assessments would need to consider the role of local authorities, community health partnerships and community planning partnerships, as well as service providers such as housing associations and voluntary organisations.


4.           Improving the Effectiveness of Regeneration and Neighbourhood Management at Local Level


4.1               The Scottish Government/COSLA Community Empowerment Action Plan provides welcome recognition of the value that “anchor” organisations such as CBHAs and development trusts can bring to community empowerment and regeneration.


4.2               The Action Plan is clear that empowered and engaged communities have a key part to play in tackling poor health and poverty, and in supporting people to become part of the social and economic mainstream. 


4.3               The Government and COSLA have said that they want to build on existing community empowerment schemes, structures and processes, rather than inventing new ones.  In this regard, the Action Plan recognises that community empowerment can take many different forms, for example through:


·        Community ownership of assets

·        Controlling budgets for the delivery of services at local level

·        Having a stake in shaping the services delivered by others