Building a brighter future through tough times

In her latest blog Thrive Homes Chief Executive Elspeth Mackenzie discusses the need for continuing, varied development to tackle formidable challenges confronting the housing sector.

As the Brexit debate rages on while the global economy faces turbulent times, there is no doubt that much uncertainty and potential challenges lie ahead. No sector will be untouched, least of all the world of housing.

There is talk of a deepening crisis within the housing market, with possible high inflation and high interest rates post-Brexit affecting home seekers’ ability to buy properties and then sustain their purchases.

Added to that is the desperate shortage of affordable homes, as flagged up in a recent report by Shelter. The charity says three million new social homes must be built in England over 20 years to solve the housing crisis.

That pressure for decent, affordable homes will surely only increase in a tough financial climate. We can’t escape the reality that, if people don’t feel confident enough to buy their own home, they will still need somewhere to live.

In the face of these economic challenges, it is vital that we continue to build new affordable homes, but it is equally important to recognise the range of need for good quality housing at different price points.

So a crucial element of any development plan must be to ensure we offer a variety of different products, including affordable rent, shared ownership and rent to buy – and, here at Thrive, we are doing just that.

Agile response to change

In recent times we have stepped up Thrive’s development programme, currently meeting and sustaining our target to build at least 100 new homes each year. One of our strategic aims is to more than double in size, growing our housing stock from 5,000 to 10,000, by 2028.

Our work in this area is showcased in a new Development Yearbook which we have produced to celebrate the achievements of Thrive’s first decade, as well as our future ambitions.

I am delighted that our housebuilding plans continue apace, having just appointed contractors for our first land-led project – a development of 36 homes at Two Waters, in Hemel Hempstead. We also soon start building work on our biggest site to date, a 10-storey complex of 90 apartments in St Albans Road, Watford.

These and other schemes in the pipeline will also contribute to diversifying our housing offer, providing homes of varying tenures such as shared ownership and market rent.

However, recognising the uncertainty of our future housing market, we have ensured Thrive has the financial resilience to remain agile and flexible enough to respond to varying demand so that, if necessary, products can be adapted to meet changing need.

It is true that the current climate calls for careful navigation through a potentially difficult market. Social and affordable housing providers must take a sensible, sensitive approach to what we do. But we can’t afford to just ‘shut up shop’ – after all, people have still got to live somewhere.

In such an operating environment, there is of course a continuing requirement for landlords to ensure they maintain and manage their stock responsibly. At the same time, I believe we should still be building new homes for more people.

Access to basic fundamentals like a decent home is something which gives people a stake in society and makes them feel they are part of a wider community – and, when there is so much tension and division in the UK and beyond, surely that is needed now more than ever.