Transformation in housing: effective or efficient?

31 August 2017

The definition of transformation is to completely change the appearance or character of something or someone, especially so that the thing or person is improved.

I would say that, under that definition, Right to Buy was transformational, as well the introduction of Large Scale Voluntary Transfers. Some would also say Arm’s Length Management Organisations or even Tenant Management Organisations fit in too.  One could argue that these examples are ideological policy-driven transformation.

Yet, the true judgement of these transformations is not their efficiency, but their effectiveness: what do these transformations deliver? Have attitudes changed, has behaviour altered, and have communities and individual lives been improved as a consequence?

Can we define transformation in housing? In its physical form, yes. In its organisational form, yes. But in terms of service delivery?  This is a lot harder to illustrate, but it is the backbone of housing. This has been clear since Octavia – build, let; repair, let; improve properties, improve lives. Within this process there is considerable creativity being applied by many housing providers: just in time and same day repairs; plastic piping; use of green energy, with thousands more examples.

Is fixing the broken housing market transformational? The drive towards more new supply has led to offsite construction re-entering the field of play as an innovation to transform new housing supply. I would however be wary of the emperor’s new clothes! This may enter the same Room 101 as Affordable Rents, Voluntary Right to Buy and Private Finance Initiatives.

Housing, especially in today’s modern age of austerity, has more to do with people than property: this should be a given for us. Housing providers, at their cost, have risen to the challenge of rent reduction; are still grappling with Universal Credit, and have the expectant cost of improved fire safety measures looming. Where do we go from here?

Share not merge, would be my answer. In an era of increasing emphasis on cost reduction and increased efficiency, housing providers must be careful not to rely on least-cost tendering and short-sighted, short-term solutions.

Instead, providers need to collaborate on a bigger scale, create meaningful and productive relationships, and be clear of the standards required to deliver transformational change. 

When services are improved and satisfaction increases, larger social dividends are created, which in turn deliver better, bigger lives, and more reward and independence for their residents. It’s not all about cost efficiency, it’s about the effectiveness of delivering added value.

It’s no good being efficient, if you don’t know how to be effective!

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