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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

Achieving significant savings in asset service


Richard Woolfall, head of property services at Your Housing Group explains why the Assets and Repairs 2020 group is important and why he wanted to be involved in the group.

Another day goes by and the housing crisis deepens. It’s a scenario familiar to many social landlords: increasing maintenance costs, a declining rental stream, an ageing population placing increased strain on ever-limited resources, and greater pressure on asset professionals to deliver more with less.

The housing question goes far beyond the boundaries of social housing, and yet some in the sector appear to struggle to think outside of the all too familiar environment of the social housing market. May be now is the time to stop looking for that all elusive next best practice model that will prove that the status quo can deliver value for money? Instead, maybe we should be thinking about how we can stimulate a paradigm shift in our mind set and really start to think about how asset management can directly contribute to answering the housing question?

My fear is that if we don’t recognise that asset management is part of the solution, then we have failed and we should prepare ourselves for other sectors to step in.

So, as asset managers, how can we help answer the housing question? For a start, we need to extend our thinking. We surround ourselves with well-intended good practice models, and yet arguably we still haven’t made the level of impact that our resources suggest we should have.

The construction industry suffers from low productivity, which inflates the cost of building new homes. As asset management professionals we need to modernise our mind set and invest more in non-traditional commercial activities if we are to deliver our sector’s desire for growth. But even with the best of intentions, new ways of thinking will take time to mature. In the meantime we need to be able to demonstrate that we are on the right path.

Different housing organisations will have different approaches to answering the same question. But fundamentally asset management needs to collectively demonstrate what it can do to contribute. One possible response may be to move away from proposing one single answer or model and instead to propose a new mind set to managing property. Focus on the approach and not fixate on the model. What if we view both property and its occupant as a single item of value that peaks and diminishes at differencing stages? Both have value but for only for a defined period. We need to be honest with ourselves and admit that at any given point the model of the day only has value for a limited time, and this timescale is dependent upon the combined value of a property and its occupant. May be agility should be asset management’s greatest new asset? But without new thinking that goes beyond the traditional environment of social housing, how are we going to create the shift that is needed to ensure that we are part of the answer to the housing question?

Do my comments suggest that we should move away from our social objective? Far from it. Our social objective is what defines us from other property professionals. We possess the wider understanding of the challenges of the communities we serve. However, we should never mistake maintaining our social objective for not being permitted to think like commercially astute property professionals. Agility of mind set is the key to achieving a balance between commerciality and social purpose. If we can achieve this then maybe we can rightly say we are doing our part in answering the housing question.

I am passionate about playing whatever part I can in helping our sector address this challenge and it frustrates me that the housing question seems to be so difficult to answer! That’s why I have joined the new CIH Assets and Repairs 2020 Group, sponsored by CIH but driven by its membership from a range of different organisations across the country. And what’s my aim for this group? To look beyond the traditional answers, to challenge the norm and to truly break the mould as we strive to deliver our 2020 vision for sector.

Richard Woolfall is head of property services at Your Housing Group. Richard is also a board member of the Prima Group and a member of the CIH Assets and Repairs 2020 Group.

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