This year we have all lost quite a bit, some more than others and that is to be acknowledged, mourned and accepted, but what have we gained this past year, with the exception of a few kilos, is opportunity. More than ever before we have had to seek innovative solutions to the most basic of everyday tasks, writes John Hannigan, CEO of Circle Voluntary Housing Association.
This has opened up the prospect of viewing things differently, seeing past previous barriers and allowing ourselves to see a bigger picture. Circle has taken that opportunity and has actively sought engagement from its stakeholders as it moves forward in its strategy. We have taken the time to assess the climate, see the risks and to conclude that opportunity reigns. The future in this vastly different world affords us the opportunity to step outside the norm to seek to determine what more can be done and to push the boundaries of what is already being done. Within the housing sector we have seen the long-awaited establishment of the Approved Housing Bodies Regulatory Authority (AHBRA), which is expected to publish its three-year strategy in August 2021, another turn that can bring about opportunity.
Without attempting to forecast the work of AHBRA, one would be inclined to accept that the regulatory climate and a risk-based approach would eventually bring about the words mergers and acquisitions. Following on from the guidance note issued in June 2020 by the Voluntary Regulator, it states there are currently 552 organisations with approved housing body (AHB) status and 282 of these organisations currently signed up to voluntary regulation. In time regulation will be a standard for all and for many that standard may bring about difficulties, difficulties in compliance or in the extra weight or difference in accountability it brings. I’ve no doubt every AHB in this country sees the accountability it has to its tenants; for many their raison d’être is to simply provide homes to their tenants and the accountability that goes with that is taken on without question. However, accountability under statutory regulation is different and some of our AHBs may not be suited to this arena.
What is central to an AHB? Let me suggest: our tenants and their communities, our people, stability and growth. There is a startling symmetry to another sector, one who may, with some good will from the Central Bank, bring about a closer alignment through funding options, but that’s a different topic. Credit unions, are people and community-focused and have in the last nine years reduced their numbers through mergers from 409 in 2011 to 229 as of September 2020.
“All AHBs are equal and any consideration around mergers must start on that premise. When each party comes to the table as equals it can bring about a co-creation that allows for innovation, growth, and surety. Entering into discussions on an even keel can honour the roots of each organisation, bring about the clarity of purpose and allow for a focus on progression rather than insular thinking.” — John Hannigan, CEO Circle Voluntary Housing Association
We can learn from our friends in the credit union sector. With some assistance from the Central Bank, they will become a funder and party to the solution to the housing crisis we continue to battle with; we have seen successes and streamlining within the credit union sector which we can mirror in the housing sector, there are symmetries. An article I read recently quoted a director of a credit union who stressed the importance of viewing credit unions as equals, even when those merging are of different sizes.
This is a fundamental lesson that can be taken as we attempt to navigate this terrain within our sector. All AHBs are equal and any consideration around mergers must start on that premise. When each party comes to the table as equals it can bring about a co-creation that allows for innovation, growth, and surety. Entering into discussions on an even keel can honour the roots of each organisations, bring about the clarity of purpose and allow for a focus on progression rather than insular thinking.
Circle is very much a values-based organisation who have prized partnerships with specialised organisations and who are open to having those conversations with other organisations. We see the benefits to the sector, and we see how our purpose, to provide quality homes to people in housing need, can be achieved on a greater scale by engaging and working with other AHBs with a desire to engage in order to change the landscape of our sector in a positive way for the good of the many.
I challenge you as a director of an AHB, a staff member, a tenant or even an interested stakeholder, put mergers on your agenda, have the conversation as a board, open yourself up to the opportunities to do more, do better, do different because if the last year has taught us anything it is that we can and do adapt, we overcome and we see the opportunities even when there first doesn’t appear to be any.
The housing crisis lives on, in fact it thrives, and we need to consolidate in order to continue to tackle it head on, let us use our successes as a sector to adapt and overcome. Let us take comfort from another sector who treasures community and people, who have faced adversity and continue to grow, let us learn from our credit union friends and let’s strengthen those ties between us and talk about the opportunities that live in mergers, acquisitions and every variation that works for us.
If your board want to consider this topic further and are seeking a partner, reach out to us, have the conversation, as our values say WE HEAR and we are open to listening to what you and your organisation can bring to that conversation.
T: 01 407 2110
WE HEAR: Willingness, Empowerment, Honesty, Excellence, Accountability and Respect because, when empowerment meets honesty, excellence, accountability and respect we can accomplish anything.