charities, comment, environment, housing

Why housing associations are so special

HOUSING associations occupy a special place in the property landscape.

They’re social landlords not owned by shareholders or a local authority, but by their members. They don’t have to compete in the same commercial environment as many developers. And that means they’re free to innovate and regenerate. At least, that’s how we see it.

Canmore Housing Association, my organisation, is one of the fastest-growing Housing Associations in the east of Scotland. Our aim is to provide low-cost quality homes for people in housing need.

We now manage more than 2000 homes. But being big has never been our main focus. For us, there are wider goals.

We want to make a difference.

We want to build on the diversity and strengths of existing neighbourhoods, creating, in turn, thriving areas and contributing to and ensuring sustainable communities.

It’s not just about providing a variety of homes, for a range of people and a range of needs – although that’s very important to us. It not even about providing different types of tenure.

For us, it’s about being part of communities; making “our” areas better places to live.

In our home town of Edinburgh, the evidence is there to see.

You can visit our eco-friendly housing development at Slateford Green. Thought to be the first of its kind in the country, it’s a purpose-built, car-free complex. It’s packed with “green” features, such as recycled materials and initiatives which minimize heating bills – and the knock-on pollution for everyone.

The residents are certainly happy. Parents and their children don’t have to worry about busy traffic on their doorstep. Nor do they worry about fuel bills; down to around £9 a month, thanks to built-in mini-conservatories and good wall insulation, provided by recycled newspapers.

Get out on the road and you might see our “green machine” – the first Canmore van to run on electric power. No exhaust fumes from this vehicle – and very little noise pollution, either. All good for our residents – but good for the general population of the city, too.

Our latest schemes are no different and apply the ‘green’ lessons of Slateford Green. Again this will make our communities a better place to live – at least, we think so – and it leads the way.

But being different and taking an innovative approach is not just what we’re about. It’s what housing associations across the country are about.

In Canmore’s case, we’ve linked up with our local credit union to make it easier for local people to save money and get access to low-cost loans. The partnership is thought to be one of the first of its kind in the country; and we’ve no doubt that others will follow.

As part of the partnership, we’re funding much-needed publicity for the credit union as well as providing administrative support and book-keeping.

We’re even paying for the introduction of “smart cards” – allowing credit union members to pay into their accounts through UK post offices. Before they had to “pay in” at special collection points, at special times.

Of course, our residents who live in the area will benefit from this partnership. But so will the wider community; people who don’t rent from Canmore – but who are our neighbours.

The way we see it, the credit union gives people a choice. They don’t have to go a big bank or less credible lenders. They can put their trust in a local organisation – and, in time, get the benefit of low-cost loans.

In simple terms, it’s all about enhancing people’s their choices and quality of life. Whether we’re building safe, affordable and eco-friendly housing or playing a proactive partner role in the local communities in which we operate.

Hopefully we’re succeeding.

Paul Smith is Chairman of Canmore Housing Association Ltd in Edinburgh.