John Healey: Labour government would “enforce” social mission of housing associations

Speaking at a New Statesman Labour fringe, the Shadow Housing Secretary spoke about how housing associations can reconnect with their social purpose.

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The Labour party will look to “enforce” the social mission of housing associations through a combination of policy, funding and a regulatory framework, Shadow Housing Secretary John Healey has said. Housing associations are non-profit making organisations which provide low-cost "social" housing.

Speaking at a New Statesman fringe event sponsored by housing association L&Q, Healey said that Labour is “interested” in judging associations on “how many social rented homes you’re building and how you treat and work with your residents”.

As outlined in the green paper Housing for the Many, the current Labour policy is to grant more funding powers and “flexibilities” to associations for building more units at scale. Healey emphasised that the party would expect to see evidence of the “social purpose” of association through “partnerships with local councils – particularly labour councils – [and] partnerships with tenants and residents groups”.  According to Housing.org, associations built 26 per cent of the total new homes in England last year, and supported more than 32,000 full-time jobs.

It was acknowledged, however, by L&Q chief operating officer Andy Brown that the association “perhaps focused too much on building new homes and not enough on our existing homes in the drive for efficiency”. L&Q houses 250,000 people across 92,000 homes in London and the South East  and has committed to building a further 100,000 units over the next ten years. According to Brown, its current satisfaction rate stands at 74 per cent – a figure that Brown said “isn’t good enough”.

The growing size of associations was noted by James Murray, deputy mayor for housing and residential planning at the Greater London Authority, who said that building homes at scale should not come at the expense of management standards for existing property. “If we lose the trust of tenants and leaseholders to provide those basic management services, then the arguments about building more housing in the long run won’t matter,” he said.

As well as focusing on building more homes, Labour will also protect the “distinctive social mission” of associations, as well as making them more accountable to the communities that they serve. Associations should be non-profit organisations “at a minimum” and, according to the party’s green paper, would be required to use their surpluses in service of existing communities and new affordable homes.

The sentiment was acknowledged by Brown: “I believe that great service comes through empowerment, and we want to empower our housing mangers to be able to serve their customers and residents,” he said. “We can reconnect with our social purpose: at its heart, it is about providing a better service and quality that our residents deserve and need.”