25 September 2020 | Comment | Article by Mererid McDaid

COVID-19 & Housing Series #3: Housing associations beyond the pandemic

There is no doubt that during this pandemic the housing sector has been able to demonstrate its resilience and its commitment to its tenants and the wider community: the core purpose of social housing has never been more pertinent.

There is also a sense that having been forced to do things differently during lockdown, we are able (and willing) to change. How, therefore, can housing associations capitalise on this?

Anyone who has sat on a board of a housing association or worked in the sector will know that their organisation can bring real change to the community it serves.

Firstly, each housing association’s knowledge of their square mile means that they know where there is a need and how to use limited resources effectively to create maximum impact. For example, during the initial weeks of lockdown, housing associations worked quickly and in partnership with their local authorities to address homelessness and those fleeing domestic violence.  

Many will be considering how those good relationships can be developed further.

This may be through exploring other collaboration opportunities with local authorities, other third sector organisations or nurturing and supporting local groups. There have been many lockdown success stories of small, community groups rallying together to meet local needs. The pandemic has shown there is a vibrant network of existing and new local community groups that are willing and able to address issues in their area. 

Secondly, housing associations are businesses that allow their local economy to thrive by offering good jobs and careers.

Now may be the time to review if there is anything further the sector could do to ensure that local talent is fostered (for example offer virtual apprenticeships, work with local colleges to assist people into the workplace) and to use its purchasing power to ensure that, to the extent permitted by the procurement rules, it benefits the local community and economy. Provided procurement is carefully planned at the outset, there is scope to deliver significant social, economic, and environmental benefits for the local community.

Thirdly, housing associations offer hope to blighted areas of the community through redevelopment and regeneration. The sector’s role in the local community’s recovery is crucial and many boards will be looking at how it will be able to work with others to shape how funding can be accessed to deliver long term benefits to their community.

In essence, successful collaboration depends on having identified the right partner, sharing the same goals and objectives and being able to have those frank and candid conversations when things are not going smoothly without putting the whole project in jeopardy.

It is crucial that the parties are able to take some time at the outset to set out their expectations and to tease out any issues which could be problematic later on in the project. Taking the time to ensure, for example, that the right structure and governance arrangements are in place is crucial, not only from a legal or tax perspective but also from a governance or reputational perspective. There are many forms a collaboration project could be structured – an informal memorandum of understanding, a legally binding contract or a corporate joint venture vehicle (company, community interest group, or limited liability partnership) or even a hybrid arrangement. Considering all the options available, their advantages and disadvantages against the parties’ goals and objectives will assist in delivering long term, positive outcomes.

Whether by working in collaboration with partners to deliver social housing, reviewing procurement procedures to deliver maximum benefit for the local community, or engaging and supporting grass-root groups, the sector has the ability to be instrumental in leading the recovery from the crisis.  

If you would like to discuss further about how to maximise your community benefits through procurement, formalise ad-hoc partnering arrangements or governance issues arising from collaboration opportunities, please do not hesitate to contact us.

We also have a dedicated support page for organisations needing legal advice in relation to the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic in the public, social housing and third sectors.

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Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.

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