Housing associations are a tricky confluence of private profit and public service. They inspire rancour across several parties, with The Spectator calling them ‘the true villains of the housing crisis’. Today, MPs called for sweeping changes to how housing associations are regulated on the back of evidence of managerial neglect.
In theory, housing associations should be an easy sell. Non-profit making organisations that provide low-cost housing for people who need a home. As house prices in the private sector rocket, surely housing associations are the best of both worlds?
A recent Guardian investigation suggests not. Stories of mould, rats, flooding and apathetic support staff are being reported as common experiences by tenants. But in London, housing associations account for one in 10 homes for Londoners and build one in four new homes in the capital. It is not reported in the Guardian how many tenants in these homes have never experienced problems and, in a way, that’s not important.
The investigation in the Guardian is indicative of a wider problem faced by housing associations: they need a tighter grip on their public and media engagement. A quick Google of some big housing associations reveals the extent of this issue. You will find local news stories about pregnant, single mothers who have been forced to live in a damp flat or national news stories about the size of their executive pay packets.
The core message of housing associations should be a clear winner with the public. But in order to get that message out there, housing associations need to become more transparent in their processes. Being such large providers of housing in a cramped housing market inevitably makes housing associations subject to political scrutiny. The impact of the Guardian investigation is already clear, and many MPs have the deregulation of housing associations in their crosshairs. In order to contribute to the escalation of Britain’s housing crisis, housing associations need to make sure they’re able to withstand that scrutiny with a positive message and utter transparency.