It is evident that social housing supports individuals and households with pressing housing needs.
Providing social housing makes a real and positive difference. Prior to entering the sector, the majority of new tenants had experienced significant housing stress through factors such as homelessness, intimidation, overcrowding, poor housing conditions, and various health-related challenges.
Ensuring a steady supply of safe, warm, secure and well-maintained social housing has the potential to be life changing for many of the most vulnerable in our society. Not only are persistent and complex housing needs met through such provision, but the achievement of other social objectives is facilitated.
With the Northern Ireland Executive’s new Programme for Government likely to adopt a more outcome based focus, social housing providers, and housing associations in particular, have the potential to make a huge contribution and help the government achieve its aims.
It is already well established that investment in social housing has a significant multiplier effect; in round terms, every £1 of housing investment generates a combined benefit of around £3 in the economy. The multiplier effect is real but it works both ways.
Whilst increasing investment multiplies the added benefits, reducing the investment multiplies the loss to the Northern Ireland economy. And there is much to be lost, because the numbers are big.
Research conducted last year for the NIHE showed that social housing organisations in Northern Ireland made a total annual economic contribution in the order of £1.2b, collectively supporting more than 15,000 FTE jobs. So, an investment in housing is about more than meeting housing needs; it is an investment in our wider economy, and unlike many other forms of investment, this money is largely retained within Northern Ireland.
This is pretty well understood, but is only part of the story. Ours is a people business. And it is with and through our people – our staff and our tenants – where we have the greatest potential to make a difference. There is growing evidence of the transformative effect that housing associations can have on the lives and life chances of our tenants and residents.
Through investment in the communities that we serve we are delivering improvements in employability, a reduction in crime and the fear of crime, improvements in health and well-being, and greater community tolerance and cohesion.
Of course this is a long and bumpy road, and delivering outcomes such as these require innovation and long-term commitment, both financially and in terms of human capital.
But the signs are good – housing associations can be the key partners that the Northern Ireland Executive requires to help deliver the outcomes that we as a society need and deserve.