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Delivering sustainable social housing

Housing associations must work together if they are to make millions of homes sustainable and energy efficient in the coming decades, says Peter Denton, former Chief Executive of the Hyde Group. 

The sustainable retrofit of homes, along with a more sustainable approach to building new ones, has been identified as one of the best ways of helping the UK transition to a low-carbon economy.  

For housing associations, which own and manage about 17% of the UK’s housing stock (about five million homes), meeting these targets will be a significant challenge, but one with the potential to transform the lives of millions of people, at the same time. 

‘Bricks and mortar’ improvements are inextricably linked with resident wellbeing. The benefits of reducing fuel poverty and lowering energy and water bills, for example, are far-reaching – it’s been shown to make tenancies more sustainable and make residents healthier, reducing the burden on health and social services and increasing employment and school attendance. 

Doing nothing is not an option. Inefficient buildings, unprotected from climate change, will attract higher insurance premiums, will be more difficult to let and will have higher fuel bills, which could lead to an increased risk of rent arrears. 

So, ensuring homes are climate-resilient and energy-efficient, and providing a healthy environment for everyone living in them, will also help protect the long-term sustainability of housing associations as social businesses. Demonstrating stability and resilience is crucial, particularly as housing associations look to third party investors to help pay for improving sustainability and safety, while continuing to build more, desperately-needed, homes in the future. 

Changing mindsets 

Residents must also adopt sustainable ways of living. On the face of it, many people are open to changing the way the live: research by the Institute of Customer Service, Green Goes Mainstream, published in January 2021, found that environmental sustainability is a key factor for customers when buying from, or engaging with, brands. Researchers found customers are looking to organisations to demonstrate a credible commitment to sustainability and to help guide them to make sustainable choices. 

Fortunately, housing associations have unique relationships with their customers, putting them in a fantastic position to be able to develop a deeper understanding of how people live and influence their behaviour, through the support and services they provide. 

The Greener Futures Partnership 

This is why we established the Greener Futures Partnership: the partners believe that only by truly working together can housing associations benefit from the immediate financial, technological and energy efficiency gains sustainable housing brings, as well as giving us the opportunity to maximise benefits for our customers and wider society. 

Of course, each of the partners already has an energy and environmental strategy and could find its own way to meet these challenges, but we believe that by working together we can not only help to agree a common set of environmental targets and sustainability standards but also plan the work needed to meet these standards, quickly and efficiently. 

For example, there are many ways to measure energy ratings of homes. By working together, we can create one, credible, approach to assessing the sustainability of our homes. ensuring they meet the wider ‘greener’ agenda, not just EPC ratings.  

Investing in our homes, customers and communities for the long term 

As landlords with a long term vested interest in our homes and communities, we must find solutions to meet the sustainability challenges which also consider our maintenance obligations and costs that ensure our homes continue to be affordable. 

So, while we take on the sustainability challenge over the coming years, we will also have to respond to a changing regulatory landscape on building safety. Any solutions used to improve sustainability, at a component or construction level, must also meet all relevant safety standards and guidance, to ensure we are able to keep our residents safe. 

The sustainability challenge is both daunting and exciting. Embracing innovative technologies to improve the sustainability of our homes will play a significant role in reducing the country’s carbon emissions; developing skills and employment opportunities through our own programmes and throughout the supply chain will deliver real social and economic impact; and ultimately we will be able to build more, greener, safer homes that benefit people and the communities in which they live.