David Bogle, Chief Executive, Hightown Housing Association
The Homes for Cathy group represents more than 50 housing associations that are gravely concerned about the numbers of homeless people in Britain today and are campaigning for more resources to be devoted to reducing these numbers and supporting those who are homeless.
We have been working on a Homes for Cathy action plan or statement of intent and have welcomed the opportunity to work with Crisis as it consults on its ‘plan to end homelessness’.
Homelessness places huge strains on our local and national public services. Shelter has recently estimated that 307,000 people are sleeping rough or in temporary accommodation in Britain – a rise of 13,000 in one year.
The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) is tasked with ensuring that “value for money is obtained from public investment in social housing”.
So in the Homes for Cathy group’s response to the HCA consultation on the Value For Money Standard, we argue that this duty should include measuring the contribution of housing associations to reducing the burden on local government, the NHS, the police and other public services and, in particular, to alleviating the plight of homeless people.
Because social value and social return on investment are more difficult to measure, it is tempting for value for money to be defined in terms of purely financial metrics, with no account taken of the level of services provided or of the type and tenure of the housing delivered.
“The current Value for Money Standard does not place sufficient emphasis on the duty of housing associations to house and support homeless people.”
The Homes for Cathy group has been concerned that the current Value for Money Standard does not place sufficient emphasis on the duty of housing associations to house and support homeless people who do not have the resources to resolve their housing problems through the private rented sector or through homeownership options including shared ownership.
The HCA consultation on the Value for Money Standard, the Chartered Institute of Housing’s ‘Rethinking Social Housing’ project and the consultation on the forthcoming Social Housing Green Paper are welcome opportunities to review the role of housing associations.
All the indications are that we now have a government that appreciates the huge contribution housing associations can and do make – not only to the national housebuilding programme but also to sustaining local communities and reducing the burden on public services.
So let us look beyond the financial metrics and see value for money in a wider context. Let us work with the regulator to develop standards that measure the social impact of the work of housing associations and the social return on the funding we receive directly or indirectly from government.
“Let us look beyond the financial metrics and see value for money in a wider context.”
It can be done. Last year, Hightown commissioned consultancy RSM to produce a social impact report using a European Commission-approved ‘principles for impact’ measurement to demonstrate the savings to the public sector (the NHS, the police, local government) from our homelessness services in St Albans.
Housing associations can collect statistics on the number of homeless families and homeless people who are housed each year. We can even collect figures for the number of evictions we carry out.
As housing associations, we should be judged primarily by what we do for people who are vulnerable, homeless or disabled. Let us try to measure those outcomes.