My view of the sector - Kenneth Gibb
By Professor Kenneth Gibb, Chair, Sanctuary Scotland Housing Association
My day job is housing research, so I am involved to an extent in housing policy debates. I write this from Sanctuary Scotland’s perspective, but my academic role will inevitably intrude.
What strikes me about the current housing landscape? We have significant opportunities to develop and work with partners to contribute to the Scottish Government’s affordable supply programme. The target to deliver at least 50,000 new homes by March 2021 is certainly challenging for the sector. While sustaining the delivery of new homes is the programme’s focus, Sanctuary Scotland – like other housing associations – must continue to manage our existing stock and reinvestment programmes while providing the best possible tenant services. Sanctuary Scotland is expanding into mid-market rent (MMR), a comparatively new sector. It will be interesting to see how MMR evolves alongside wider private renting reforms now enacted in legislation. Will the strengthened tenancy improve the competitiveness of market renting? How should social providers respond?
Welfare reform remains a major challenge for Scotland’s social housing sector. This challenge is exacerbated by the stagnation of many people’s wages and the rise of in-work poverty. Social landlords must continue to help tenants manage their finances better. By working with others, we can help those in our homes avoid monetary problems. The Scottish Government’s recent decisions over the Universal Credit payment frequency and the scope to pass housing payments direct to landlords are unquestionably helpful. Another challenge is the uncertainty over the consequences of the reclassification of housing associations as public non-financial corporations. Deregulation, by definition, increases risk. I, for one, would like to see more discussion of how a reclassified sector back in the private sector would operate in a more deregulated setting. What would be the wider implications?
Many of us would welcome a period of predictability that would help Scotland’s housing sector greatly. Stable policy and financial arrangements for the next few years could help foster resilience among tenants, communities and providers in the face of many new and ongoing risks. The sector should also embrace variety and diversity to provide housing solutions which best serve local communities. Such locally-generated innovation may, in turn, lead to the wider delivery of more suitable models.
Much has changed at Sanctuary Scotland over the last year or so. Most significantly, a balloted transfer of engagements saw Sanctuary’s three Scottish housing providers (Sanctuary Scotland, Sanctuary Cumbernauld and Tenants First) merge in August to create a new, larger Sanctuary Scotland. Sanctuary Scotland is part of Sanctuary Group, and, as such, benefits from its scale and strength as one of the UK’s largest housing associations. Sanctuary Group has committed to build 30,000 new homes by 2026. Many of these will be in Scotland, helping to meet the Scottish Government’s current five-year housebuilding target. The merged Sanctuary Scotland offers concrete benefits for tenants and a greater position of financial strength for the organisation to invest and develop. This is an exciting new beginning for everyone at Sanctuary Scotland, not least our excellent staff team ably led by Pat Cahill.
The merger also coincides with significant and high-profile new-build projects, including the development of the former Victoria Infirmary site in Glasgow’s south side. Sanctuary’s 2017 development programme is extensive and will see further activity elsewhere, both in Glasgow and in Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire, North Lanarkshire, East Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire, and Inverclyde. Through these projects, Sanctuary continues to contribute to addressing Scotland’s need for affordable housing.