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Social Housing: Institutions, Organisations and Governance

Created in 2001


Anita Blessing
University of Birmingham
School of Social Policy
Birmingham, UK

Gerard van Bortel
Management in the Built Environment
Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment
Delft University of Technology
Delft, The Netherlands


David Mullins
School of SocialPolicy
University of Birmingham
Birmingham, UK
Nicky Morrison
University of Cambridge
Cambridge, United Kingdom


Central themes
The overall objective of the working group is to explore and develop concepts for analysing institutional and organisational change and dynamics in affordable housing provision. Government policies, management reforms and rapidly changing social and economic contexts have placed new expectations on social and public landlords. In addition, policies encouraging partnering with the private sector and/or direct private market provision of social/public housing have blurred the lines between public and private housing activities. The processes and outcomes relating to these changes are the main focus for participants in this working group. Three main themes have emerged out of our workshops and international collaborations to date:

  1. Housing as a system / network: understanding housing provision as a network of interrelated organisational activities which both respond to and help to shape the changing social, economic, environmental, technological and political context in which housing bodies operate. The application of theoretical frameworks such as policy and governance networks, complex adaptive systems and organisational learning generate new insights into the key factors and processes that affect organisational behaviour and systems/network outcomes.
  2. The dynamics of institutional and organisational transformations: understanding how institutional and organisational behaviour at different levels of analysis (e.g. individuals, teams, organisations, sectors, systems) develops as housing organisations pursue their various values, purposes and objectives in response to internal and external stimuli. Innovation, competition, co-operation, learning, expansion and diversification are just a few examples of the types of processes that have been discussed by participants as they seek to describe the key drivers of organisational change. Organisational logics and organisational cultures help to understand the different ways in which housing organisations respond to and manage change.
  3. Governance and regulation of housing: the impact of changing forms of regulation and system governance on housing organisations; approaches to corporate governance within housing organisations and the roles of internal and external stakeholders in governance processes; the democratic anchorage and accountability of housing organisations; resident involvement and local community accountability.

Future plans & activities
Our working group has a strong track-record in organising full workshop sessions during ENHR conferences. We will continue this tradition. The ideas and excellent set of papers presented in this year’s Belfast conference (see ‘past activities’ below) will help to inform the programme for our workshop sessions at the 2017 Tirana (Albania) Conference. Our working group aims to explore two themes during the conference: 'affordable housing: investment, access and local anchorage' and ‘empty homes problems and solutions’. The first theme is connected to the central theme of our working group, the latter is an important subtheme of the Tirana conference.

Empty Homes: problems and solutions
Empty homes are seen as a significant housing issue in several countries, partly as a result of shrinking cities and rural depopulation, partly for demographic reasons such as in Japan, and partly because of lack of investment leading to disrepair and abandonment. In overheated housing markets we also have the phenomenon of 'build and buy to leave empty' as the investment function of housing overtakes its shelter function. Empty homes can also be a solution to provide shelter for groups excluded from the market and seeking control over their housing through self-help, squatting and community-led improvement. We would welcome abstracts for our 2017 Tirana workshop on the theme 'Empty Homes: Problems and Solutions; Sharing learning on what works across Europe.’

Several other on-going activities have connections with our working group:

  • Book on innovations in affordable housing governance and finance: during one of the lunch breaks in Belfast Gerard provided an update on the book project. Several authors involved in this working group will contribute to the book that is scheduled for publication in 2018. The book aims to combine perspectives from academia and practise. Chapters will be produced by writing-teams that consist of researchers and practitioners. The introduction for this book was presented as a paper to the working group, and so were several draft chapters.
  • Collaboration with the new ENHR working group on collaborative housing: our group has been holding concurrent sessions (bursting at the seams) during ENHR conferences for the last few years to accommodate diverse streams of work on social and affordable housing. In recent years, this has included an expanding body of work on collaborative housing. The group ran three sessions on this topic starting in Tarragona (2012). We are delighted that this has now been formalised with the new and highly popular collaborative housing working group, spearheaded by former co-coordinator Darinka Czischke. Despite this change, we still had the highest number of abstract submissions this year. We closely collaborated with this new group to ensure a good match with the central themes of our groups in the allocation of papers. We will continue this collaboration in the future.
  • Knowledge network on new partnerships in affordable housing: this initiative is led by TU Delft and involves coordinators from this working group and the working group on collaborative housing (Darinka Czischke and Gerard van Bortel). The initiative aims to submit a COST Action proposal by the end of 2016. The ‘New partnerships in affordable housing’ knowledge network wants to explore the barriers and enablers for new partnerships between established public and social housing providers and emerging resident initiatives, and aims to explore opportunities for cross-national transfer of knowledge and practices.

Past activities
ENHR 2016 Belfast Conference The working group Social Housing Institutions, Organisations and Governance held a very successful and well-attended workshop in Belfast, with 26 papers presented across the full six sessions. This year, we constructed a programme that also aimed to strengthen the links between renowned and new scholars and also with the professional housing community. Authors were from multi-disciplines and over 10 different countries . Around 60 people in total attended the various workshop sessions. This year the workshop sessions covered 6 interrelated themes. Changing roles and relations were at the heart of all the themes:

  1. the changing role of social housing and wider implications
  2. the changing role of organisations in social housing
  3. the changing role of non-profit housing organisations: managing the social and commercial logics
  4. the changing role of non-profit housing organisations: governance and stakeholder relations
  5. the changing relations between housing organisations and financiers
  6. the changing relations between housing research and policy practice: a way forward

Policy Implications
The central aim of the working group is to make a significant contribution to theoretical and empirical research about the future role of the social housing sector. The sector is currently undergoing the most radical reshaping ever witnessed, with not-for-profit housing organisations forced to operate within an increasingly challenging environment. The exposure to risk is growing and business models and governance arrangements have to adapt without individual organisations losing their social purpose. <br>

The papers presented in our 2016 ENHR workshop sessions reflect profound policy implications of diverse institutional and organisational responses driven by regime and policy shifts. This year we were able to share evidence and new thinking on how changes in the welfare state, and housing regimes affects the role of social housing providers. Using Complex Adaptive Systems approaches, a paper explored the vulnerabilities of different national housing systems —exposed during the global financial crises— and the possibilities to improve the resilience of housing systems through better policy tools that secure a sustainable provision of social housing. A paper investigated the increasing difference of social housing rights in Wales and England as a result of devolution. Another contribution explored the socio-spatial effects of rental policies in Amsterdam. <br>

A core activity of our working group involves developments in the organisational strategies of social housing organisations. Important contributions explored how the increased emphasis on the efficiency of housing management shape in organizational strategies, culture, human resources, leadership styles and ICT systems. Papers explored how EU state-aid rules impact the institutional logics of social housing providers, the impact of social, economic and political factors on the hybrid governance of social housing providers and developments of strategic decision-making of housing organisations in relation to external opportunities and threats. Papers on China investigated how institutional transitions influence the role of state and market actors in social housing governance, and explore the impact of Institutional barriers on the efficiency and innovation of affordable and social housing provision in that country. <br>

Contributions explored new forms of affordable housing finance, such as ‘ethical housing funds’ in Italy, the impact of bond-finance in England on the exposure to market risks, and the influence of using market-based yield-requirements on refurbishment decisions by municipal housing providers in Sweden. Mixed financing arrangements for affordable housing in Vienna were discussed, such as the combination of capital from institutional investors, municipal building plots, low-interest government loans, and the limited-term nature of rent restrictions. In addition, we discussed papers that explored how policy interventions, such as tax benefits, can stimulate private sector landlords to build and rent-out properties at below market-rates, and adopt more socially responsive housing management practices. A contribution explored how non-speculative models of housing management by social enterprises in Spain could ensure the right to housing over profit orientation.

Closely linked to the topic of policy implications was a paper that explored possibilities to make social housing research more relevant for politicians, policymakers and practitioners, and translate research findings to different local and cultural contexts.