What’s the biggest issue facing London in 2017? If newspapers and dinner-party conversations are any indication, it’s housing. A city can only function if all kinds of people are able to inhabit it and perform different functions but, when it comes to affordable housing provision, a disconcerting gap has opened up between private landlords and the shrinking council sector. Not enough new homes are being built so, inevitably, most properties swiftly disappear into financial realms well beyond the means of most wage earners. This is where the work – and the unique legal status – of housing associations becomes indispensable. As the gulf widens between what’s on offer and what people can afford, there’s a case for housing associations becoming more proactive.
It’s why sector leaders such as L&Q (London & Quadrant Group) represent a viable way forward. “L&Q is passionate about delivering homes and has ambitious plans to build 50,000 of them over the next ten years,” says the company’s Talent Specialist Nisha Sankrecha-Mistry. “In order to achieve this we need a well-set-up infrastructure in terms of logistics and people.”
So what prompted this unusually holistic approach? “Housing associations operate in response to political and economic changes,” she says. “This means we need to think smarter and anticipate changes. Five years ago, we set up our construction arm. We took on building properties to allow us better control over our activities and to ensure that quality wasn’t compromised.”
The key to L&Q’s continuing success will surely be balancing priorities. For example, there’s a fundamental matter of existential purpose. “We are a charitable organisation,” says Sankrecha-Mistry. “We have a social mission and our surplus goes back into achieving that mission. We have a profound impact on people’s lives and we need to be mindful of that when conducting business. We can’t lose sight of our mission or our vision.” Along with questions of fundamental purpose, the practicalities of expansion present another challenge that needs to be handled with care. L&Q’s ambitious and wide-ranging approach to growth has led the company into new territory.
Building graduate careers
“We’ve set up bespoke graduate programmes within the organisation for different divisions, which enable us to develop our own talent in the areas of the business where it is hard to find the right people,” says Sankrecha-Mistry. “We’ve brought more things in-house – with most aspects of what we do, we can have a better impact by doing it ourselves. L&Q has grown from 1,100 to 1,600 people and we’re looking to keep on growing. We want to recruit diverse talent and that means recruiting individuals who share our passion and can walk hand-in-hand with change. L&Q is keen to attract the next generation and we believe that our social purpose and large appetite for innovative growth will help us do just that.”
The company is working with the government to see how the Right To Buy scheme could succeed in housing associations. L&Q are leading the housing sector by piloting the scheme in certain London boroughs. “We can understand and appreciate the desire for people to own their own home,” says Sankrecha-Mistry. After all, the dinner-party chatter about the housing crisis isn’t dying down anytime soon and that’s mainly because for now, not many solutions are forthcoming.
Organisations such as L&Q might have something to say about that. Sankrecha-Mistry is keen to advance the case for their role. “I do feel that housing associations do important work,” she says. “We’d like to help set the agenda around solving housing problems.”