Housing associations and co-operatives are independent, not-for-profit social enterprises - mostly charitable companies. They are part of the social housing sector and supply quality, affordable homes to those in need.
They can be large or small; rural or urban; providing for general or very specialised needs. Many of these organisations are based in communities; some cover a wide area. Some focus primarily on providing housing and support to people with particular needs, such as older people.
There are currently 158 housing associations and co-operatives in Scotland providing more than 280,000 homes and over 5,000 places in supported accommodation, plus factoring services for properties in private ownership, and shared equity housing.
The homes provided by housing associations and co-operatives are typically of high quality, with good energy efficiency standards which help to keep fuel bills low for tenants and meet the Scottish Government’s targets for tackling climate change.
Since the formation of the SFHA in 1975, we have seen the growth of housing associations and co-operatives from a handful of very small neighbourhood pockets of area renewal and sheltered housing for older people, to diverse provision and social enterprise in every part of the country. Associations maintain existing housing, whether they built it or acquired it from former owners in the public and private sectors, or factor tenemental properties on behalf of other owners.
Many associations see themselves as social enterprises and generate local initiatives around diverse activities from sponsoring activities to combat isolation, or promoting exercise with young and old people, diversion of anti-social behaviour, employment training, gardening and food production schemes or projects to help promote wellbeing and good health. The list is endless.
Economic benefit of housing investment
Our members add to the supply of new housing with investment support from the Scottish Government to produce affordable rents while providing employment opportunities. Housing associations and co-operatives are major Scottish employers, providing 11,000 full-time jobs. As social businesses, they also support apprenticeships in construction and maintenance, often in areas where jobs are needed.
How are housing associations funded?
Housing associations and co-operatives fund maintenance of existing houses mainly from income from rents, supplemented by borrowing and reserves. Rent is the key source of income and associations set their own rents annually in consultation with tenants. Housing association rents are typically low at around £70 per week, but a majority of tenants rely on Housing Benefit or, increasingly, Universal Credit housing support to pay these rents.
Building new affordable housing relies on investment from the Scottish Government, complemented by associations borrowing from the private sector.
The books of an association have to balance each year, so each one has to manage their income and expenditure and their reserves carefully to ensure they achieve their own ambitions for meeting need and remain viable in the long term.