Building a case for disruption in the housing ecosystem

In 2018 the Scottish Housing Regulator has embarked on a review of its regulatory framework and started to think about how it needs to change. This review has sparked a number of conversations with other RSLs about the future of the sector and what it needs to do to evolve. There is a deep and powerful history around the housing movement in Scotland and a strong track record of making a difference in the communities we serve.  

Too often today the debate amongst RSLs swings back to big versus small, community based versus corporate entities, local against national.  The questions we need to be asking ourselves are so much more than that and we should use this as opportunity to explore the art of the possible. In society as a whole we are seeing the emergence of disruptive models of service delivery that are gaining traction amongst consumers. The barriers to disruption, and for new entrants to the market, are significant in our sector and we risk losing out on potential innovations.

Let us look at just one element of our housing offer, lettings and allocations.  In many areas a choice based lettings model is in operation.  Do future tenants really have a choice? The way we are structured as a sector means that the asset owner controls the whole end to end service to customers. Tenants who want to live in a specific area, for reasons of family connection, support networks, schools, work or any multitude of reasons rarely have a choice of much more than one or two housing providers.  

Imagine if the tenant could choose both a home and a service provider and had the power to switch the service provider if they were not performing. This could radically transform the service provision landscape and focus attention on customer service, repairs performance, affordability and community benefits. It would challenge us to think about how we engage with tenants, using new technology and adapting to the external environment that they are living in.  

RSLs would still own the asset and be responsible for long term investment and development of new homes. Much of what RSLs do in this space is already defined by legislation on Housing Quality Standards, Energy Efficiency or Fire Safety Standards, it is becoming less and less a point of differentiation and that is a good thing.  

This consolidation of asset owning could also improve the financial sustainability of the sector and leverage in more external funding, enabling us to commit to a national housing delivery programme beyond 2021.

It is at the point of front line service delivery that we would offer choice and a compelling offer to future and existing tenants. The question is, are we prepared to disrupt our own ecosystem and reimagine what housing associations can offer society and the economy in Scotland?

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