What is the Social Purpose of housing now?

By Andrew van Doorn - on 06/04/2017

Being clear about our social purpose is now more important than ever. Andrew van Doorn talks about what social purpose actually means and why it needs to be in bedded in your wider organisational strategy.

This blog first appeared in the Campbell Tickell online CT Brief. You can access that publication here.

The language and debate around Social Purpose has been bubbling up for some time. For some this is a reaction to a sense of unease around the increasing diversification of housing into more market facing products that embrace more commercial behaviours, viewed as a move away from the sectors history – sadly, and quite unfairly, using social purpose as the beating stick. For others, it’s an attempt to re-assert a core part of our identity that shapes and guides our organisations - placing value in our history and defining our values for today and into the future.  It’s becoming a lively debate, one of much passion, of many views and of many positions - as it should be.

Social Purpose isn’t and should never be just about one thing. There is no defining or guiding sector wide statement or position. Providers of social and affordable housing are a diverse group, and no matter how large or small, we all face an exciting defining point in our history. After decades of being told who we are and how we should behave, by both regulators and inspectors, those choices are now in our hands. And as deregulation is taking place in a highly politicised environment, certain questions feel even more urgent: Who are we? What are the rules? How do we know we are doing well? What is our purpose?

Social Purpose guides an organisation to make a positive impact in society in a way that generates long-term business growth. It looks at how an organisation can solve a societal issue that affects their lives. At its core, providing social and affordable housing to people on low incomes is a clear social purpose. Doing this as not-for-profit businesses only strengthens this. But this is just a starting point, the platform, on which we will express our values as individual organisations, with different characters, offers and ambitions.

The charges laid against us, both within and outside our organisations, seek to create false dichotomies between being a developer or a community investor, being focused on existing tenants or new home owners, being commercial or not-for-profit. But we can be both, and to think otherwise serves a narrow view of who we are and the impact we make. However, at a time when complexity is rejected in favour of simple ‘truths’, this narrow view risks cutting through into public and political consciousness, damaging confidence and undermining our transformational drive and potential.

Being clear about our Social Purpose, is now more important than ever.  We need to raise it to the top of organisational strategy, creating a framework from Board to the front line that demonstrates the impact we have for people and communities that drives our business growth and success.

Each housing organisation will have its own Social Purpose, tailored and meaningful to their culture, activity and mission.  Each organisation will need its own framework built into the organisational DNA.

Having pioneered the development of social value in housing, HACT is now exploring an approach that will transform this platform to review, describe and re-engineer the Social Purpose of housing.  This includes identifying and using existing resources to deliver social outcomes across the business, by embedding and integrating Social Purpose and building on what we already do. Like all HACT’s work, this is co-created with the sector, using our collective perspective and talents to drive forward transformational change. It’s only by working collaboratively that we can get this right. We would love to hear from you if you want to be part of it. 

Link to project page


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