The new chair of the g15, Paul Hackett, sets out how London’s largest housing associations plan to deliver 42,000 affordable homes
A seamless handover of power, a long-term strategy and clarity of purpose. No, not the current state of affairs at Westminster, but the appointment of a new chair and vice chair of g15.
This month I took over as chair of the g15, the group representing London’s largest housing associations, and Helen Evans became vice chair. Collectively, g15 owns and manages 550,000 homes, houses one in 10 Londoners, and builds a quarter of London’s new homes.
We recognise the extent of London’s housing crisis, so we’ve ramped up our development programme by 50%. We plan to build nearly 42,000 affordable homes by 2021. These are a mix of London Affordable Rent, London Living Rent and shared ownership.
Our commitment is the basis of our Affordable Homes Programme offer to the Mayor. Our bid is large enough to deliver almost half of Sadiq Khan’s 90,000-home ambition. But we have capacity to do even more over the longer term.
In my two years as chair, I have three priorities reflecting g15’s new long-term strategy.
First, relationships. This includes building on our already strong relationship with the Mayor and the Greater London Authority (GLA). Despite housing market volatility, the position for London housing associations is, in many ways, more stable than the picture nationally.
Mr Khan has secured £3.15bn to fund the Affordable Homes Programme. Unlike the rest of the country, this includes a low rent product sitting alongside London Affordable Rent and shared ownership.
I’m also keen that we strengthen our relationships with London Councils. The boroughs have always been our delivery partners on the ground, helping identify and bring forward developments and collaborating on a range of community initiatives.
I’m keen to build a strong working relationship with Alok Sharma, the new housing and planning minister. We had an excellent relationship with former housing minister Gavin Barwell. His willingness to set aside political differences and work constructively with the GLA and other stakeholders was something the g15 really valued.
I very much hope this style of pragmatic politics continues, where the focus is on what works, rather than on ideology. With the challenges of negotiating Brexit and bringing together a divided nation, now is the time to work together on practical long-term solutions.
Maximising housing supply
This brings me to my second priority – to maximise housing supply. Before the July 2015 Budget, we committed to doubling our pipeline to 180,000 homes – a £50bn investment over 10 years.
To deliver this level of output we need to work with our partners to create an environment that enables housing associations to deliver. A very welcome measure is the launch of the GLA’s strategic partnerships, giving flexibility in how we draw down grant, with a light touch approach to programme management. This is something the sector has wanted for years. The Mayor has listened and delivered.
I was also encouraged by the Conservative manifesto commitment to giving housing associations greater flexibility to increase development. I’m keen to explore what this means with the new minister. But above all, we need clarity as quickly as possible on future rent policy.
Delivering great customer service
My third priority is our customers. Delivering great customer service and engaging with residents is a personal passion, so it’s really important to me that this is one of g15’s three priorities.
This includes jobs, training and engaging with government on welfare policy. It’s also about embracing the digital agenda, finding new ways to get our message out and connecting with a wider range of stakeholders via social media and digital channels.
It’s a cliché to say we live in uncertain times, but right now things really are less certain than they’ve been for a long time. But amid the uncertainty, one thing is very clear – we have the worst housing crisis in a generation.
I’m proud that g15 is ambitious and proactive. We’ll succeed by building deep and enduring relationships. We’ll support and challenge our partners and we’ll do the thing that’s always driven us – we’ll build the homes that Londoners desperately need.
Paul Hackett, chair, g15; and chief executive, Optivo