Housing Scoping Papers - housing associations

Briefing and Working Paper 16

Housing associations could be regarded as the ‘distant uncle’ of the third sector in England. Their experience of forty years of capacity building, struggles around combining public service delivery whilst preserving some independence, and shifting from charity to state to social entrepreneurial models has considerable relevance for other third sector organisations. However, the scale of the largest organisations, the relatively complete set of institutions dedicated to their field, and their reduced voluntarism in service provision and governance has tended to isolate them from other parts of the third sector.

The hybrid financial model adopted by most large housing associations places them squarely between the state and the market and the recent experience of credit crisis and recession has indicated both their resource dependency risks and their resilience. Their connections with civil society have been weakened by increasing scale, merger and centralisation. However, their potential as a ‘benevolent uncle’ - supporting a thriving third sector in their areas of operation through social investment - is worth exploring, notwithstanding the impact of the credit crisis on balance sheets. There are many more small housing associations, some in specialist niches, some with strong community roots; many are closely linked to other third sector organisations.

This scoping paper draws on a range of recent and current research housing associations to place it in the context of the wider third sector and suggest some research priorities for the future.

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