10 things we learnt from Housing 2017

At HouseMark, we attend the conference to not only meet our members and discuss new solutions, but to listen and learn more about what’s really going on in the sector. Here’s the 10 things we have taken away from this year’s event:

1. The impact of the Grenfell Tower tragedy

Unsurprisingly and importantly the tragedy at Grenfell was a continuous topic throughout the conference. Set against the focus on supply, innovation and efficiency it is clear that there can be no trade-off with the fundamentals of health and safety, compliance, stock investment and listening to tenants and customers.

We can, and are already seeing significant resource implications for the sector as they are quick to review and invest in stock improvement and enhancement, but where will this money come from? How will it affect spending elsewhere? And what might be the wider implications of the precedents being set so soon after the tragedy?

2. The future of regulation

Lighter touch regulation has been the trend over recent year and this has been further driven in the social housing sector by the desire to reverse ONS reclassification. Consultation on a revised VFM Standard is imminent, delayed only by the general election. But what will be the impact of Grenfell Tower on attitudes to regulation – and, in particular attitudes to more proactive consumer regulation in the future?

3. Rent setting 

We heard a number of views on the future of rent setting. There are some concerns about further rent cuts and there is strong support for more flexibility in setting rent levels. What is clear is that the sector needs some certainty so it can plan for the future with confidence.

4. New Supply

The HCA will split its regulatory and investment function in October – becoming the Social Housing Regulator and Homes England. Homes England has ambitious plans to deliver additional supply and they are putting heavy emphasis on Modern Methods of Construction to support this delivery.

At the conference, we heard that HouseMark members, Placeshapers launched their ‘we work’ report, outlining plans to almost double the homes they build in the next 10 years with 152,000 homes in the pipeline. When asked to respond, the Chair of HCA, Sir Edward Lister, welcomed the achievements and plans to increase supply. While praising the “good guys”, Sir Edward also warned that there are others in the sector not developing as many homes as they could and the importance of everyone pulling their weight.

It is clear that Homes England expects all providers across the sector to have a clear understanding on how they will respond to this challenge and what is right for their organisation balancing factors such as risk, capacity and capability.

5. Maximising potential

A key theme which came across from a number of sessions was that organisations could be most effective in delivering holistic solutions where they partnered or created joint ventures with others – utilising the expertise of others rather than trying to do everything themselves.

6. Making data matter

The theme of data was a direct and indirect theme across many sessions in the conference, reflecting a trend that has been evident for a while. While there was a healthy amount of technology and systems on show, sessions continually came back to the importance of leadership and culture in embedding data into effective decision making (not forgetting the old ‘data quality’ issue which clearly still remains for many). Systems have their place but bolting on a new bit of kit and expecting instant results will inevitably lead to disappointment. For those of us working in the data space, it is vital that we help organisations navigate this exciting field and ensure “self-service”, “predictive analytics”, “data visualisation” among others and deliver meaningful insights for organisations and ultimately better outcomes for customers.

7. Diversity of our future leaders

It is always pleasing to see familiar faces and the annual conference provides a timely reminder of the importance of ensuring diversity in the sector. While there is still more we can do to support and encourage opportunities for those rising stars, it was pleasing to see the CIH’s delegate of the future offer providing colleagues that would previously not have had the chance the opportunity to experience the conference.

8. Accelerating transformation

The conference provides a time for reflection, and many talk of the significant challenges providers have faced over the recent years and the transformational activities required to respond. Yet, while there is clear evidence of work to tackle the impact of rent cuts, welfare reforms and so on, do we really believe it has transformed? Is there more to do? And how, as a sector, can we really accelerate transformation?

We know we need to think differently. Seek new inspiration from in and out of sector, grow a deeper understanding of where value is created or lost for customers, identify and recognise trade-offs, be prepared to throw out the ‘one size fits all’ approach and then have the courage and conviction to do this differently!

9. Back to your roots

Some suggested that in recent years the sector has lost touch with its roots. Progress will inevitably lead to different organisational structures and innovative ways of service delivery but it is important that organisations don’t lose sight of what they are in business to achieve. There was a sense of reflection as organisations take time to step back and look at what matters most. Many of you telling us you’re working hard to ensure that your organisation balances increasing new supply while ensuring the housing needs of the most vulnerable are given appropriate priority.

10. Re-defining what good looks like

Taking that step back has led the sector to really questioning the performance around the core services. Going back to your roots has meant that you’re assessing your main purpose and how well you deliver to your corporate goals and mission – what does ‘good’ looks like now? Is it time to re-introduce a set of clear standards for core landlord services with metrics that help you understand what good to great really means for you.

By Elaine Middleton

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