Social landlords could change their role post-pandemic, report finds

An image of someone at a desk working from home.

The COVID-19 pandemic could permanently change how housing associations interact with communities and build homes, a new report has found.

Places After The Pandemic, by the social landlords network PlaceShapers and the housing innovation agency HACT, draws insight from over 100 organisations to explore how housing associations coped during the coronavirus lockdown and how they are now reviewing their work.

The report shows that in the first three months of lockdown, a sample of 42 PlaceShapers members made 300,500 welfare calls, gave advice and guidance to 57,000 people and organised 50,000 food deliveries. Members also made new partnerships in order to ensure support for their residents.

PlaceShapers’ chair Matthew Walker said: “The crisis has reinforced our sense of place and the value we place on our homes and neighbourhoods. A decent, affordable home meant living in comfort during lockdown. It meant space to work from home and home school.

“The support social landlords offered became a lifeline for many in frightening, isolated times. Up and down the country we heard stories of the difference landlords made and how they worked together in the places they work.”

“This report explores the lessons we’ve learned so far from the COVID-19 pandemic, including how local our view of place is and the importance of building strong, trusting partnerships in places.”

Between May and July 2020 HACT interviewed senior staff, predominantly chief executives, from 12 PlaceShaper members and ran five themed focus groups representing 49 housing associations.

The report concluded that place became hyper-local during the lockdown as housing associations suddenly had to find solutions to problems at a very local level. This has led some to consider a more community-focused operational model, it found.

It found that housing associations operating across different regions struggled during the pandemic, especially those with homes in isolated rural areas, while partnership working between associations has significantly improved.

Resident engagement was also found to be higher than ever before, while decentralising staff and services by working from home proved to be more successful than many organisations anticipated, an outcome that has led some to call it the future of the sector.

The report makes several recommendations such as building on the appetite for collaboration in the sector through creating new learning and development programmes.

Housing associations should also explore a new approach to value to money and ensure that homes are fit for the future, given a potential increase in people spending more time at home.

Andrew van Doorn, chief executive of HACT, said: “As community anchors, housing associations are in a unique position. We work in place for the long-term. We have the capacity to affect the recovery and reset of communities across the UK now and in the future.”

“There are significant risks ahead of us that we will need to navigate. By working in collaboration, by evaluating and learning from our experience, by being bold in our choices, we will be able to accelerate change, maximise our resources and achieve greater impact as place-based organisations.”

Social landlords should revisit these ideas in a year’s time to understand the pandemic’s longer-term impact on the sector, the report concluded.

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