Future proofing social values in Housing Associations. 

Following the passing of the Housing and Planning Bill I have been considering how we protect what’s left of social housing. Almost every commentator has said it will now come under further pressure from government policies and the current funding climate. Last week the chair of the Homes and Communities Agency’s (HCA) regulatory committee confirmed that it was no longer their role to protect social housing assets.
Housing association leaders claim that even though the number of true social homes are diminishing dramatically the social purpose of the sector is safe in their hands. This may or may not be true today but what of the future?
I was talking to the chief executive of a large developing housing association recently about how we future proof the social values of the sector. We agreed that as organisations diversify and become more commercial that there was a danger that organisations could lose their social purpose. Especially if future leaders did not share the same values as current ones.
This generation of housing leaders have in the main developed in a sector where social values have been so embedded that they automatically adhere to them. This might not be the case in the future. Clearly some if appointed from within the sector might continue to uphold these values. I wrote recently about how the current group of rising stars appeared to do this. But what about future chairs and chief executives who are appointed from without the sector? How do we ensure that they will continue to uphold social values. 
Housing associations have a duty to ensure that this happens. One of the main roles of a board is to be the guardians of social values. It is their responsibility when recruiting new executives and non executives to ensure that a commitment to social values is an important part of the selection criteria. It should be an essential requirement together with leadership skills business acumen and all of the other things that we look for in a leader. How many boards recognise this and make it an integral part of leadership recruitment?
I have recently been involved in the recruitment of a new chief executive and a new chair. On both occasions I insisted that the recruitment panel test thoroughly the motivation and the values of those being interviewed. I wanted to ensure that those appointed would continue to deliver the social values of the association in the current and future political and economic climate.
There were some excellent candidates who failed to exhibit these values. These were not successful. Both of the successful candidates showed a high level of commitment to challenging social injustice and inequality even though they were from outside of the sector. I am confident that they will continue to do so in future.
This strong foundation is essential if in future housing associations are to maintain social values in increasingly difficult circumstances. Social housing is at risk. We as board members can reduce that risk if we appoint new leaders who will fight to protect the social values and social purpose that played such an important part in the history of our sector. If we don’t I fear for those who once looked to us to provide a home and security.

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