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Social Housing: Institutions, Organisations and Governance

Created in 2001


Anita Blessing
European Federation for Lving
Amsterdam, NL
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
Uppsala ENHR Conference 2018 The workshop organisers, Gerard van Bortel and Nicky Morrison propose the following themes for the call for papers:

  1. Migration, densification and segregation and the role of social housing organisations, institutions, and governance arrangements (links with themes of ENHR 2018 conference).
  2. The impact of financialisation and privatisation in social housing provision on affordability, availability and quality (builds on themes emerging from the WG ENHR 2017 workshop sessions).
  3. How can organisational and institutional change (e.g. mergers, networks, alliances, partnerships, supply chains) and governance arrangements (e.g. regulation, policy interventions) mitigate problems of housing affordability, availability and quality (builds on themes emerging from the WG ENHR 2017 workshop sessions).

Cambridge 30 Year ENHR Celebration Event September 10-11 2018
Nicky Morrison is hosting a conference on 'The role of the Not or Profit housing sector in addressing affordable housing challenges' at St Edmunds College Cambridge as part of the ENHR's 30 year celebrations. The conference will celebrate the work of the Social Housing Institutions Organisations and Governance over the past 15 years including journal special issues on: Network Theory and Housing Systems (Housing Theory and Society 2007), Critical perspectives on network governance in urban regeneration, community involvement and integration (Journal of Housing and the Built Environment 2009),Network Governance, Market Concepts, Coordination Mechanisms and new actors in social housing (IJHP 2009) Social Enterprise and Hybridity and Housing Organisations (Housing Studies 2012), Self-help and civil society participation in post-crisis housing markets in Europe (IJHP 2017). It will make new connections with policy and practice through the working group's links with European Federation for Living and new partnerships being forged by the Department of Land Economy at Cambridge. All ENHR members are welcome to attend.

Book Project
Gerard van Bortel is convening a collaborative book project on Affordable Housing Governance and Finance in Europe with the European Federation for Living. During the Tirana Conference Gerard provided an update on the book project. Several authors involved in this working group are contributing 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 concluding chapter for this book was presented as a paper to the working group, and so were several draft chapters.

Past activities
Tirana 2017 workshop report (Workshops 20 and 4) (Albania)
This years' conference workshops were organised by Anita Blessing and David Mullins.

The Working Group on Social Housing Institutions Organisations and Governance has been quite active at the ENHR Tirana Conference. We held a series of workshops: in addition to our core themes of hybridity and governance of affordable housing, we also held sessions on financialisation and housing provision, supply chain management, social assistance through the private rental sector and hosted a new ENHR workshop on empty homes (workshop 4).

In all 16 papers (5 of them from PhD candidates) were delivered and 13 countries were covered in presentations highlighting the rapid changes that are occurring in the arena of social and affordable housing by exploring policies, actors and outcomes. Participants deployed a variety of types of analysis to interpret these changes including hybridity and paradox theory, policy analysis tools such as policy streams and analysis of financial accounts data. There were case studies, data assembly and mapping at city level and at organisation level as well as the national and European levels more commonly found in this field.

Some themes that recurred in our discussions were processes such as financialisation, residualisation, privatisation, governance reform, mergers and alliances, procurement and supply chains. Papers had a strong focus on consequences for tenants and people in housing need including escalating rents, displacement from high cost locations, empty homes, and poor quality housing. Meanwhile there was a strong emphasis on the need for policy interventions to mitigate these effects such as regulation, social lettings agencies to manage access to the private rental sector and new ways to bring empty homes into use in Denmark, England and Greece. We also learned about intermediary agencies such as Domicil in Switzerland and organisational partnerships such as the JOE alliance among Community Development Corporations in New York to achieve scale while maintaining locally based organisations.

As usual the WG group is following up the workshop at a number of levels including a book project on innovation in affordable housing governance and finance led by Gerard van Bortel at TU Delft and further ENHR work on the empty homes theme by David Mullins and Thomas Maloutas, Athens Local Organising Committee Member for ENHR 2019.

Anita Blessing and David Mullins thank everyone for their contributions to our 2017 workshop in Tirana and hand over to Nicky Morrison and Gerard van Bortel who now invite contributions for our workshop at the ENHR Uppsala conference in June 2018.

International Social Housing Festival: The role and future of social housing in Europe, 16-17 June 2017, Amsterdam (The Netherlands)
Organised by Peter Boelhouwer, Chair of ENHR with Anita Blessing and David Mullins(coordinators WG Social Housing Institutions organisations and governance) and Claire Carriou, Darinka Czischke and Richard Lang (coordinators WG Collaborative Housing - in preparation).

Participants from the ten countries were involved in the WG Collaborative housing and WG Social housing institutions workshop at the International Housing Festival in Amsterdam in June 2017: Denmark, England, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Turkey, Asia, Taiwan, South Korea and the US. Peter Boelhouwer, Chair of ENHR, hosted the 1,5 day workshop. The workshop began with a few moments of silence in solidarity with the survivors and families of the social housing tenants who lost their lives in the tragic fire at Grenfell tower in North Kensington (London) in the early hours of Wednesday morning 14 June.

The workshop was characterized by friendly, lively and well informed debates drawing on the deep involvement of researchers in social housing contexts in different countries, including lived experience of residents, anthropological approaches living in communities for a year, policy advice reports, contributions of directors of social housing centres and policy advisers to housing association federation. A well-organized biketrip to the Amsterdam post-war neighbourhoods Slotermeer and Geuzenveld further grounded our discussions during the workshop.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Track record
This working group has a proud track record of organising workshops at every ENHR conference since 2002 (except 2003) and enabling hundreds of researchers to collaborate to make sense of the major changes seen in social and affordable housing institutions and governance over that period.
Conference workshops have led to five journal special issues that have made landmark contributions to understanding and interpreting these changes.

  • Network Theory and Housing Systems (Housing Theory and Society 2007)
  • Critical perspectives on network governance in urban regeneration, community involvement and integration (Journal of Housing and the Built Environment 2009)
  • Network Governance, Market Concepts, Coordination Mechanisms and new actors in social housing (International Journal of Housing Policy 2009)
  • Social Enterprise and Hybridity and Housing Organisations (Housing Studies 2012)
  • Self-help and civil society participation in post-crisis housing markets in Europe ((International Journal of Housing Policy 2017).

Past WG coordinators include Darinka Czischke, Tony Gilmour, Mary Lee Rhodes, Barbara Reid, Richard Walker and Arjan Wolters.