Understanding what residents want from their homes and acting on their feedback can significantly contribute to the success of social housing projects. It enhances overall resident satisfaction and maximises social value.
This is critical for housing associations in particular. Since the 1970s and 1980s, these have become more prominent providers of homes for social and affordable rent across the UK. As the sector has expanded, so too has the number of stakeholders that associations must engage with and satisfy, including central government, local authorities and regulators.
Notwithstanding these obligations, residents must remain the primary stakeholders. But since I started working in the social housing sector, resident involvement and tenant satisfaction has also grown in importance at the legislative level.
The shift towards co-regulation by social housing providers, where there is an onus on the provider to demonstrate their compliance to the regulator – and with an emphasis on landlords not only becoming more accountable to regulators but also to tenants – has forced a change in the way housing associations operate.
But involving residents is not just about responding to a changing policy landscape. In my experience, when housing associations embrace resident engagement, it can have a dramatic effect on operational performance.
'When housing associations embrace resident engagement, it can have a dramatic effect on operational performance'
Southern Housing was officially formed in December last year, following the merger of Optivo and Southern Housing Group. With more than 167,000 residents and 77,000 homes across London, the South East, the Isle of Wight and the Midlands, it became one of England's largest housing associations.
Due to a considerable increase in their housing stock, newly merged large housing associations run the risk of losing their intimate local connections and become less receptive to residents' needs.
However, following the merger Southing Housing was insistent that consolidating its stock would mean becoming a more responsive provider in its key areas.
A few years earlier, Southern Housing Group had visited more than 50 estates and neighbourhoods, spoken to 450 residents and received more than 1,000 comments about their priorities, to inform the 2020–2023 Resident Involvement Strategy. These engagement efforts have not been forgotten under the new organisation.
Resident involvement is an important principle shaping Southern Housing's governance structure. Our resident strategy group, which contains up to 12 residents, meets at least quarterly.
It makes recommendations for service improvement by reviewing performance data and carrying out in-depth reviews. Since the merger, we have also appointed four new residents to Southern Housing's board.
At the design stages of a new development, residents can make suggestions about various aspects of the new homes they will occupy, from the style of the windows to the apartment layouts. In the past, for instance, when residents with allergies expressed concern about wool carpets, we responded accordingly.
We communicate with existing residents during the defects liability period after build completion. This lasts 12 or 24 months depending on the contract, during which time they can raise any concerns about their property and we can make necessary adjustments.
Visiting residents once they occupy the homes is an important part of my work. In previous schemes, residents have expressed views on matters such as the height of their cupboards, which we have then lowered to make them more accessible.
At our 74-affordable home scheme on Clifton Road in Newhaven, Sussex, I will be meeting residents once the homes are complete and occupied to discuss how they feel about their new properties.
When a social housing development is finished, we ensure resident engagement forms part of the aftercare stages. For many housing associations and developers, the asset management team is responsible for building aftercare. However, this is not the case at Southern Housing, where the development team and I take responsibility.
An important part of our work involves reflecting on both positive and critical feedback from our housing projects. Panels looking at the lessons we have learned can be important for current designs, but also help when future-proofing homes against changing needs.
Being a chartered surveyor has helped enhance my resident engagement work throughout my career.
First, RICS accreditation has provided me with the necessary in-depth knowledge on building standards and regulations and, crucially, equipped me to communicate technical information to our residents in a clear, digestible way.
Second, it has honed my professional leadership skills, helping me facilitate constructive dialogue, manage stakeholders, and address any conflicts or challenges that may arise during the resident engagement process.
Third, RICS membership has instilled in me an ethos of continuous professional development. I keep up to date with the latest advances, trends and best practice in the profession, while the accreditation ensures that I and many other surveyors are trained in pioneering methodologies.
Resident engagement is a powerful way for social housing providers and RICS practitioners to enhance standards, improve tenant and homeowner satisfaction and increase the appeal of new homes.