Written by IFF Research

Social housing white paper: Likely implications of the pandemic

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We have all experienced so much change over the last four months, we’ve seen and proven that we can adapt at pace to function in a very different world. Some of the changes our clients from all different sectors have had to make would have taken months, if not years, to put in place pre-lockdown. Although implemented due to urgency, some of these changes have landed with real success.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that the housing sector still waits in anticipation for the release of the housing white paper. In light of all this change, does this impact how we interpret the key priorities for improvement identified in the green paper?

Registered housing providers are being presented with a need to reassess residents’ perceptions and concerns whilst also provided an opportunity to rethink how they address these moving forward.

So, what does this mean as we continue to wait and preempt the content of the white paper?

Looking back over the green paper we’ve reviewed the key themes; discussing how they might be impacted by the pandemic and subsequent changes to the way we think and work.

Ensuring homes are safe and decent

Post-Grenfell there was an obvious and clear focus on fire safety and building quality. This will continue to be a priority with the restart of the Grenfell review. However, after months of living in isolation and ‘bubbles’ does ‘safety’ take on a broader meaning when we think about housing?

After months of utilising space very differently as we slowly emerge from lockdown, housing providers will have to think very carefully about how they manage and open-up communal areas. There will be greater demand for maintaining and managing shared areas. Providers will not only have to resource and manage this, but they will need to find effective ways to make their actions increasingly visible to provide convincing reassurance to residents.

For those in the more densely populated areas, at greater risk, who have also had to contend with limited access to non-communal outdoor space there has been increased pressure. The long-term impact of this is unknown, but in the short term will there be an increased level of concern attached to residing in tower blocks due to Covid-19?

Expanding supply and supporting home ownership

With this in mind, it is important that providers start planning for the impact on demand. As people have come to value outdoor living space so much more, we have seen a change in priorities. Will there be a desire to move out of the more densely populated areas to properties outside of cities that offer outdoor space? Providers will need to assess and establish if this is a short-term response that will lessen as lockdown restrictions are lifted or if is it a long-term consideration that needs to be factored into future development planning?

Linked to this, the housing sector will also need to re-evaluate how we view tenure. The green paper is clearly in support of promoting homeownership but with economic uncertainty and lenders cautiously maintaining high deposits this raises questions around how viable even the low cost homeownership products are. Getting on the property ladder may no longer be a feasible option for those previously considering this.

Empowering residents

Across all businesses we have had to adapt, for us at IFF our methodologies have had to change for us to continue researching. We have experienced a very positive uptake to more virtual techniques amongst social housing residents. Recruiting for focus groups conducted on Zoom was surprisingly easy and well received.

Although there will always be a need for face-to-face interactions there is benefit in opening up and building virtual communications into service models to improve efficiency. Is this a channel that will broaden reach? Offering a better way to reach and empower younger and less mobile members of the community to inform and engage. It can also work to provide a more interactive, conversational approach to information provision.

Effective resolution of complaints

We know that many providers have, or are on a journey to move to a more digital, self-service model. This is a prime opportunity to ask residents about what is working for them; helping to design for the future and inform where support to transition is best placed. For many providers, monitoring how the increased volume of ASB cases are handled will help to identify where digital approaches have helped and where it is not effective.

Many residents will have been forced to more digital servicing during lockdown for lots of different services and we know from our research that many consumers have been pleasantly surprised. This is something that providers should be assessing and implementing now whilst there is momentum to introduce change at pace.

Tackling stigma and celebrating thriving communities

Finally, we’ve all seen communities pulling together to support each other throughout the lockdown. Our housing clients have reported some very impressive initiatives that have emerged during lockdown to support the more vulnerable members of the community; including increased levels of volunteering to support the distribution of food and medical supplies.

We have also talked to clients who will be prioritising how they support local businesses to re-establish from this successfully. Again, this is something that needs to be communicated both within and outside of the social housing sector. It is something to be proud of, highlighting what social housing can offer whilst challenging some of the views people may hold about social housing residents.

As we continue to wait for the release of the white paper there is a real opportunity for housing providers to take action and establish how residents’ needs and priorities have changed as a result of Covid-19. We may be familiar with the green paper principles but providers need to be sure that they are up to date with how their residents are feeling in order to effectively interpret them in the current context.

Want to stay ahead of the curve?

Our housing team is constantly reviewing the social housing landscape, preparing for the white paper to land, and all the implications that will follow for providers.

If you want to stay up to date with housing news, and register for our upcoming white paper e-book with practical tips for providers to meet expected regulatory compliance, join our housing mailing list: