As a qualified Town Planner Paula Kenny joins the Society having worked across a number of local authorities in the planning and development areas and most recently with the Irish Council for Social Housing (ICSH), the national federation body for housing associations. Having a national remit in the housing development area Paula’s role in the ICSH afforded her a diverse range of social housing work, representing and advocating on behalf of the social housing sector and working closely with the Department of Housing, local authorities, funders and housing stakeholders on various social housing initiatives across homelessness, disability, older people and Traveller accommodation areas.
Her experience to date has made Paula acutely aware of the issues impacting the social housing sector. “The challenges within the sector are multi-faceted - not only is the sector under significant pressure to address the severe housing under supply issue, but also faced with operating in a far more challenging regulated housing environment than when the sector first started out”. The level of regulation has increased substantially, with compliance requirements arising from the Housing Regulator; the Residential Tenancies Board, and the Charities Regulator. All of these requirements impose significant additional work on organisations and voluntary boards and is a new challenging operating ground for many.
Why housing Regulation?
In terms of housing regulation from the Government’s perspective, it has invested significantly into the voluntary housing sector and it requires assurance that the investment is being managed effectively and that the social housing provided will be of an appropriate standard and available nto the future. Therefore the sector is required to be accountable for the condition of the housing asset and for the services it provides in particular to the tenant.
Speaking about her new role within SVP, Paula believes that Regulation provides a focus and in terms of SVP, it makes the Society ask important questions about its organisational structures and housing operations, allowing it to identify shortcomings/ areas of work in housing provision, management and financial viability.
“It is important that we operate effectively and seek continuous improvement in the management of our housing stock and ensure the delivery of quality services to the tenant whether it’s having appropriate information to inform our maintenance/funding requirements (through stock condition surveys), having appropriate policies and procedures in place to make informed decisions or recording our operational performance through a quarterly survey (HAPM) - it is all positive in terms of our overall operations and can only serve the organisation well in terms of overall management and sustainability.”
Although the ask is challenging. Paula believes that the Society has to grasp the nettle and work together in progressing regulation requirements otherwise the Society is left exposed to being non-compliant which on foot of statutory regulation will have negative implications for our wider housing operations.
Going forward it is critical for Housing Conferences to have the appropriate people on board who are committed to working towards compliance.
Paula outlines that some Conferences should consider taking on new blood/skillsets who can assist with the additional compliance work areas suggesting recruitment in the technical, finance or social/health care areas. For Conferences who have such skillsets on board it is proving very beneficial.
A further key aspect of successful working going forward and something high on the Regulators agenda, given the Society’s unique operating structure, is to ensure appropriate governance and oversight of housing operations on the ground – this will be achieved by having strong National and Regional Social Housing Committees. In particular, at Regional level, the Society requires strong leaders who can act as representatives for local housing Conferences, to bring them together, work at addressing issues, raise issues on their behalf and bring back the important messages emanating from National Department level.
Progress has been made in some Regions through both paid and volunteer roles and is proving extremely useful in terms of pushing the regulatory agenda and ensuring accountability which is vital to the Society reaching full compliance.
Notwithstanding the significant work ahead Paula is optimistic about the Society’s future housing path and is firmly committed to supporting Conferences in its housing activity. She outlines that the hard work, commitment and dedication of housing Conferences has to be acknowledged in terms of the vitally important housing provision at local level and the part the Society is playing in the current housing crisis.
Read more about SVP and it’s Social Housing and Specialist Services in the latest SVP Bulletin Spring Edition 2017.