According to Social Enterprise UK ‘social enterprises are businesses that trade to tackle social problems, improve communities, people’s life chances, or the environment…they reinvest their profits back into the business or the local community…so when they profit, society profits’.
Housing Associations in Northern Ireland are long-established and successful social enterprises:
- We have a clear social mission set out in our governing documents
- Our revenues are generated through the development of social housing for rent
- As charities, we reinvest all of our profits to further our social objectives
- Whilst we receive grant support for new build projects, we are autonomous of the state
- We are accountable and transparent with an independent, voluntary governance structure
- We operate in a fair and equitable way in the wider interests of Northern Ireland society
According to PwC the local Housing Association sector directly employed over 2,800 people in 2013 with combined revenues of c£185m and aggregated surpluses for reinvestment of c£21m. In addition, the net book value of sector assets at over £800m leveraged private sector lending of c£580m. As a consequence, our resources have supported:
- Construction of much needed new and affordable housing across the country
- Repair and maintenance services plus a programme of refurbishment of existing tenant homes
- Delivery of integrated health & social care, education and welfare services
- A raft of ‘neighbourhood building’ initiatives encompassing employability skills development, community employment opportunities, environmental improvements and community facilities
In the ‘brave new world’ of a recovering local and national economy, partnership working will be key. Housing Associations will continue to work with our public representatives and the public sector to expedite the necessary reforms in planning, procurement and regulation. In turn, we will work with the private sector to overcome barriers around access to land and competitive finance. For our part, Housing Associations should embrace fully the ‘Housing Plus’ agenda by expanding our community investment. We must also do more to measure and report upon our social impact in areas such as inclusion, wellbeing, sustainability and social entrepreneurship.
Fundamentally ‘NI plc’ needs a strong and vibrant ‘profit for purpose’ sector. The ‘third way’ followed by Housing Associations and other social enterprises can represent the best of both the public (in terms of transparency, accountability and social responsibility) and private (in terms of flexibility, innovation and access to external capital) sectors. Housing Associations are not driven by the need to maximise shareholder value but rather by the commitment to add value for a range of stakeholders including tenants, their communities, government and other funding partners.
The Social Housing Reform Programme (discussed in Cameron Watt’s blog of 25th March 2014) seeks ‘housing structures that support the provision of social and affordable homes in thriving communities, where people are proud to live’. Ultimately, this is a vision which is not only shared by Housing Associations, but which can be enabled by our sector as committed, capable and successful social enterprises.