Communications challenges facing Housing Associations
The housing association sector is going through a time of great change.
With pressures coming at them from all sides – from devolution, right to buy, welfare reform and government spending cuts – their role in society and the services they provide has had to evolve at a rapid rate.
Housing associations are no longer just a provider of social housing, but are having to take on increased responsibilities – as major investors in local communities, regeneration specialists, providing an answer to the housing crisis and increasingly, landlords of private rented accommodation. All of these new responsibilities are having to be performed with increased competition from the private sector, changes in national and local government legislation and regulation. whilst having to demonstrate Value for Money, not just big balance sheets.
With this evolving role that Housing Associations are having to perform, the skill-sets that enable them to do this will also have to evolve. A key to this is the changing nature of how Housing Associations communicate. We have highlighted below five communication challenges we see Housing Associations currently facing:
1. Resident engagement
Now that residents control their own benefit purse and with the increases in choices and options available to them, it is more important than ever to engage with them and demonstrate the value and benefits that a Housing Association brings. Whilst most Housing Associations claim to be resident-led organisations, it is important that resident communication is two-way dialogue, residents will have an opinion on their local community, but Housing Associations need to balance this with their long-term strategy.
2. Employee engagement
With government funding cuts leading to Housing Associations restructuring and merging, fundamentally changing the nature of their operations from social housing and community building to private landlords and property developers, there will be an impact on the employee’s perception of the organisation and their motivation to work there. Most people who work in the public or charity sectors do so as it aligns with their personal beliefs. If the nature of Housing Associations is to change and become more public sector focussed, then it is critical that it brings its employees along with it and demonstrates the benefits, both professional and personal, it can still achieve.
3. Private and public sector partnerships
As the role of the Housing Association changes, it will be come quickly evident that not all of the services they need to provide will be able to be supplied in-house. Housing Associations and the communities they represent will benefit from developing smarter commercial partnerships and maximising the impact they have in the most cost-effective way. This does not have to be limited to the private sector. By pooling resources and skills with other public sector bodies and charities, Housing Associations can increase their reach and that of their partners.
4. Channel migration
As with all sectors technology is playing a disruptive role. This disruption does not have to be negative and can certainly be used as a positive for Housing Associations. The increased role of digital channels can increase accessibility and availability of services to residents. Research has shown that use of the internet on mobile devices amongst residents in social housing is very high. This opens the door to channel migration from the physical to virtual and empowerment for residents to perform actions themselves, reducing the pressure on Housing Associations and front line staff.
5. Sustainable strategy
All Housing Associations set five year plans, but in our experience they are not always based on a long-term vision or sustainable strategy. The landscape of the sector can change at the snap of a general election and will always be impacted by government initiatives and plans. Therefore, it is critical that the short to long-term strategic plans address risks it cannot control and mitigates the risks it can. This includes setting out a measurable set of targets and a roadmap for achieving them, such as better service, better homes, value for money and community regeneration.
In our view it will be survival of the fittest over the next five years. There will be a lot of consolidation within the sector, which will be a good thing in some cases and not in others. Housing Associations need to create smarter strategies, speed up their organisational development, develop mutually beneficial partnerships, improve communications that constantly demonstrate how they benefit the communities they represent, including their employees.
If you’d like to find out more about our approach to these communication challenges and how it could benefit your business, get in touch!