In addition they invest over half a billion pounds each year in a range of neighborhood and community projects. All housing associations are non profit making organisations that reinvest their surpluses back into their businesses for the benefit of the community. Most housing associations are charitable. They range in size from those that may own half a dozen homes in a single location to huge national organisations.
Some associations provide homes for particular client groups - perhaps older residents or people with physical disabilities. Others were born from the outsourcing of local authority housing - in effect privatisation - with the recipient organisation being a new organisation specifically set up for the purpose.
In addition to providing affordable housing, associations are involved in a huge range of community based services in areas such as employment and training, health, culture and financial inclusion.
Associations sometimes provide these services themselves - for instance SEEE member Greenfields Community Housing, based in Essex, runs a range of community based activities. Others may establish a separate but wholly owned social enterprise to carry out a specific activity. The Ferry Project, another SEEE member, provides short and long term accommodation, life skills development and education to homeless people. It is part of the Luminus group, a Cambridgeshire based housing association. Other independent social enterprises such as Emmaus and Wingspan work closely with housing associations providing services direct to residents or under contract to the housing association.
So how can better links be forged between housing associations and other social enterprises in the community?
Housing associations are significant investors in local communities. They can create additional benefits for their residents and those communities by working with social enterprise partners to deliver services. However, they can sometimes appear remote and complex organisations to deal with. Procurement rules can be difficult and off putting to smaller providers and housing associations can appear risk averse.
Conversely housing associations may be asking what the risks are, how you find good and sustainable social enterprise, and why they don't just do the job themselves.
The National Housing Federation, the trade body for housing associations, is keen to look at ways it can promote partnerships between housing associations and social enterprises. It is working with Groundwork UK and the Aspire Trust to see how it might broker relationships between housing associations and existing or newly forming social enterprises. In particular the project is looking to identify sustainable employment opportunities for young people, residents and others in the community through social enterprise
Many housing associations are already SEEE members, identify themselves as social enterprises and are convinced of the benefits of working with other social enterprises in their communities. However, more needs to be done to broker and foster these natural alliances for the benefit of all in our community.