Over the years the traditional role of a Housing Association has changed enormously. From simply being fairly one-dimensional providers of houses for social rent, albeit in many cases against a background of area regeneration, the role and constitutional structure has grown in varying degrees depending on operating environment, geography, demand and commitment, to include the provision of homes across a range of tenures, including for full or part-ownership.
Housing associations are also meeting demand for such diverse activities as child care, community and support services, savings and loans schemes, benefits advice, training for education and employment, food banks, healthy living, life skills and literally hundreds of other service provision areas. Perhaps they are picking up the slack in an area of under-provision or augmenting the delivery of existing services provided by the local authority or the voluntary sector. Whatever they’re doing, looking back one can see the organic growth to meet demand in socially desirable services has been systemic and sustained.
Looking much closer to home though, there is an obvious area where housing associations can step in and extend their activities and it’s right on their doorsteps – the private rented sector. The once dominant form of tenure in the United Kingdom, the size of this key part of the housing landscape has ebbed and flowed according to influential conditions of demand, the economy and political will.
Today we see a private rented sector more subject to increased regulation, legislation and scrutiny than ever before, and this combination of circumstances has created a “perfect storm” environment which is entirely compatible with the skills, expertise and resources housing associations have, and can offer. The sector has grown enormously in recent years – to 16.5 per cent of the market in England and doubling to 12 per cent in Scotland. Material factors in this rise are fairly well documented: difficulties for first-time buyers entering the mortgage market, reduced supply of social housing, and increased numbers of people living alone, to name but three.
Consequently, the section of the housing market who have little or no priority for social housing and do not have, or are saving for, the deposits required by mortgage providers are turning to the private rented sector to meet their needs. And what they find is not unattractive. Today, all landlords require to be registered, deposits are held by independent approved bodies, the Private Rented Housing Panel has been established to resolve disputes and revised repairing standards, and a tenants handbook has been introduced. These are only some of the statutory requirements imposed by government on the private rented sector, recognising that increased protection for tenants is both timely and desirable.
Delivering a high-quality legally compliant rented service to both private sector tenants and landlords utilising the housing management and regulatory skills of the social housing sector are the driving forces behind Weslo’s introduction of its subsidiary Weslo Initiatives to the private rented sector.
Trading as Weslo Property Management, the company manages and maintains the parent company’s portfolio of mid-market and market rented properties but also has extended its services to owners and other third-party landlords who are no longer able to efficiently manage properties themselves or need advice.
In doing so, Weslo Property Management aims to offer landlords and tenants the highest levels of customer service and satisfaction which the parent company provides to tenants of our 2,200 homes for social rent. And why not?
Housing associations collectively manage and maintain some 275,000 houses for rent in Scotland. They have the expertise to extend their skills and experience to the private rented housing sector and they should be pushing at an open door.
Fortunately, we’ve found that customers – prospective tenants or landlords – are attracted by the connection to an established registered social landlord with a good reputation.
This gives us a solid foundation on which to instil the trust so often found to be lacking between landlords and tenants in traditional private sector tenancies and that can only be for the long-term betterment of the sector. Housing is our business, and the time is right for housing associations to play their part in a thriving industry, contributing their expertise to ultimately provide Scotland with a well-managed and respectable private rented sector fit for the 21st century.
• Mike Bruce is chief executive of Weslo Housing Management www.weslo-housing.org