Our sentiment survey is unequivocal on the three groups the housing sector should be prioritising: vulnerable households, the homeless, and priced-out working households. They are also the groups in which demand is increasing the most. Some of our focus group note that, by default, housing associations have become significant providers of accommodation for the long-term unemployed, impacting on their ability to service the needs of those they were set up to house.
In the focus groups, many also describe the challenge of providing housing for tenants with multiple, complex needs. As a result of cuts to local authority budgets, associations are often acting as an unofficial frontline service provider. They also feel that a political shift in the approach to homelessness, culminating in the recent Homelessness Reduction Act, has brought that particular issue up the agenda.
However, the ability to respond to these changing needs is heavily constrained by policy and funding. A case in point is the proposed (and subsequently cancelled) local housing allowance cap, which made some supported housing schemes unviable overnight, causing them to stall temporarily. This tension between what is best for their organisation and what is the right thing to do is evident in responses with many expressing the idea that ‘if we don’t do it, who will?’.
Mental health issues are a concern, but without statutory responsibility (which still lies with local councils) or increased funding, housing associations find it difficult to respond. Many say that larger organisations are rationalising their businesses to focus on what they do well (housing and welfare) leaving care provision to the specialists.