Housing association boards are in a new era, one that requires the ability to juggle a huge range of demands. They must have something to offer that makes sense to government, councils and people from all walks of life who want homes.
One the one hand, housing association boards need to be more commercial. This is not new: it’s been that way since the 1980s, when housing associations first started taking out big loans to build homes. But the risks have got sharper and the game is changing. The Tories want to see a lot more homeowners, and housing associations can either help with this or hibernate.
For those in London, where developers are selling flats off-plan to eager buyers from around the world, this might be a good thing. But housing booms don’t last for ever.
While it’s no secret that some associations want to be set free to be full-blown private companies, there are questions about what will happen to them. Take a look at what is going on at private landlord Grainger. A hedge fund has snapped up a stake and Grainger is now under pressure to return a lot more cash to the shareholders. I can see a few housing associations falling into that same trap – which might make them yearn to go back to being regulated by the Homes and Communities Agency.
Another ball for housing associations to juggle is having to deal with a lot of Labour councils. These local authorities own plenty of land and can be a source of cheap loans, but of course they have a different agenda to the hedge funds: they want homes for the lowest possible rent.