A new economy for housing: investing in social enterprise

By John Coburn - on 16/11/2012

With the long-term economic outlook bleak, HACT's Network Coordinator John Coburn comments that an innovative approach is required to look into new opportunities for tenant employment.

“The UK economy may be in a period of persistently low growth” said Mervyn King this week, and the horrific prospect of a ‘triple-dip’ recession was raised!  The spectre of further cuts looms large.   Short-term cheeriness has turned to gloom, and the real fear for housing providers is how this is going to impact on their residents when next year the cuts begin to bite.  The widespread panic and worry generated by the ‘elephant in the room’ that is Universal Credit, makes it imperative for housing providers to do all they can to support residents into employment and enterprise.

The financial costs for housing associations are going to be significant.  An important recent report led by the Hyde Group entitled ‘Does Debt Advice Pay?’ demonstrated that each prevented eviction due to rent arrears will save landlords up to £8,287.  However a bit of debt advice here, and employing a few more welfare reform officers there, offers only a partial answer to these problems.  A proactive response is needed from the sector. 

At HACT we recognise that the old deficit model of how we have viewed and supported our communities has failed, and as Jess Steele of Locality argues a new form of regeneration is needed which unleashes the untapped resources within our neighbourhoods to nurture local transformation.   Many long-term unemployed residents lack the confidence to get a regular job, but if they are given the funding, support and a place to work from, they can potentially succeed with their own businesses.   Associations like Accord are doing this, and through their A-Fund scheme are investing in young social entrepreneurs and enterprises.

Other exciting approaches for housing associations could be based around how they work with local Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), who actively support through loans, those unable to raise business finance from other sources.  In such partnerships the CDFIs can provide the finance and business networks, and housing providers can identify and signpost the residents who need help.   This provides an alternative approach to supporting social ventures.

The funding pressures make new models for social investment essential, and HACT will be exploring this further in the New Year with SEUK.  One example is Building Better Bristol  led by Bristol Council and is a long-term strategic investment fund to stimulate the future development of the economy and of its communities, and they are hoping to attract and invest more than £100 million during the first 10 years.   The aspiration behind such approaches is to bring a range of organisations together that will increase the demand for community finance, increase the supply of capital and significantly build the skills, knowledge and confidence of financially excluded communities.  Social housing providers need to be at the forefront of such local economic development approaches.

The sector, in tackling these huge challenges outlined above, needs to empower and enable those with the capacity and skills to fulfil their ambition.  And to do this housing providers must grasp new thinking and innovation from the social enterprise movement.  HACT’s forthcoming event with the Big Society Network hopes to kick-start a dialogue between leaders from the social housing and some of the UK’s best social entrepreneurs – the Nexters.  The goal is to release the social energy that lives in all of our communities.

If you are interested in taking part on HACT’s future work on social enterprise, please contact me on john.coburn@hact.org.uk

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