Affordable housing: the need for stronger collaboration (event write-up)

Future of London’s major programme for 2022, Affordable housing: Overcoming crisis through collaboration launched last Thursday, 28 April, with an online event attended by over 100 practitioners representing all sides of the debate.

The breadth of practitioners who joined us for this lively panel discussion reflects the complexity of the affordable housing challenge – and supports the idea that it’ll take different disciplines, organisations and sectors working together to solve this wicked problem.

But what does good collaboration mean in practice? The starting point is to understand the challenges the sector faces, and to interrogate current approaches to collaboration. To debate this FoL was joined by Joanne Drew, Director of Housing and Regeneration at LB Enfield and co-chair of the London Housing Directors Network, Waqar Ahmed, Group Finance Director at L&Q, and Pete Gladwell, Group Social Impact and Investment Director, Legal & General.

Check out the programme launch event

The scale of the issue

“London is arguably the city most in need of housing in the UK. But totals across London in the last few years have been woeful…there’s nowhere near the supply we need.”

Pete Gladwell

The affordable housing crisis has been around for decades but the panel agreed that we’re at a particular crisis point now. In 2022, the urgent need to retrofit buildings with fireproof cladding has been compounded by rising build costs, a skills shortage, the need to meet Net Zero targets, and the fact that many existing homes are below standard.

For L&Q these issues have wiped-out £2bn of their capacity; instead of investing this money in new homes they are investing in existing homes. Waqar described how collaboration through joint ventures, for example their work with the GLA on Barking Riverside, is essential for L&Q to continue to deliver new affordable homes.

Joanne explained how, for LB Enfield, these challenges have translated into a renewed focus on increasing the scale and pace of delivery – through direct delivery but also through working in partnership with the private-rented sector, as well as SME developers and community enterprises in the borough.

It’s clear the sector needs to work together to deliver the homes that the UK, and especially London, needs. Three approaches were debated in the panel discussion: systemic thinking, reassessing the balance book and culture change.

Systemic thinking

“The affordable housing crisis is systemic in London. It’s not capable of being solved by any one organisation working on its own.”

Joanne Drew 

Delivering the homes that Londoners need is a systemic issue, and one organisation alone can’t solve this complex problem. Joanne challenged the sector to harness our collective imaginations and fire power. She suggested that the way to do this was through collaborative, system-level leadership, networks, and movements and organisations working together.

Reassessing the balance sheet

“We do believe that there can be more collaboration – but collaboration with cheque books”

Waqar Ahmed

Today’s crisis point might be the impetus for the sector to change. Waqar argued that the only way we can deliver affordable housing in the numbers we need is for the sector to start collaborating – with their cheque books. In practice, this means reassessing the role of equity, investors sharing risk and working with central government to redirect government incentives.

Building on the idea of collaborating though cheque books, Pete outlined four areas where the sector can and must collaborate to deliver more affordable homes: investment, subsidy, planning reform and build costs.

Culture change

“We need our collective imaginations and firepower brought together through collaborative system-level leadership.”

Joanne Drew

To crack the affordable housing challenge, we must start thinking about the issue in a holistic way. Our panelists all agreed that collaboration is critical, but it will take a big culture shift.

The sector must adapt, learn new ways of working, and new ways of organising. When it comes to collaboration, London has a lot to learn from both European countries and other cities across the UK.

The challenge going forwards

The launch event has laid out the challenge for the sector: better collaboration is non-negotiable and will require both a culture shift and visionary leadership. The remainder of the Affordable housing: Overcoming crisis through collaboration programme will interrogate what it will take for public, private and third sector organisations, alongside empowered communities, to bring about change.

Affordable housing: Overcoming crisis through collaboration is a cross-sector research and events programme which aims to identify practical recommendations for the sector. It is possible thanks to our sponsors Countryside, Montagu Evans, Pollard Thomas Edwards and Potter Raper. Keep an eye on our website for more information, or get in touch with Anna Odedun, Head of Knowledge, if you’d like to be involved.

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