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Research and insights4 October 2018

The Role of the Not-for-Profit Housing Sector in Addressing the Affordable Housing Challenge

  • Clarion Housing Group co-sponsored an International Symposium where attendees shared findings and thinking about the future of not-for-profit housing.
  • Speakers made links to research methods, debates and the importance of ongoing learning between practitioners and academics.
  • The symposium follows the launch of the Future Shape of the Sector Commission’s report ‘Building Homes, Building Trust’.

An International Symposium was held at St Edmund’s College in Cambridge on 10 September 2018 which was co-sponsored by Clarion Housing Group and L&Q. The event also formed part of the European Network for Housing Research’s 30-year anniversary celebrations and received a donation from UK’s Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence.

Following the launch of the Future Shape of the Sector Commission report ‘Building Homes, Building Trust’ (June 2018), this symposium brought together eighty international academics, industry leaders and policy makers from twelve different countries to carry forward the Commission’s work, share latest findings and inform thinking around the future directions in not-for-profit housing, neighbourhood development, governance, and finance.

This major impact event was global in outlook, with the aim of developing a cross-cultural exchange and an on-going research agenda to support the sector in addressing the housing challenges facing today and those of future generations.


The main conference was opened by Lord Andrew Turnbull (chair of the Future Shape of the Sector Commission) and Professor Peter Boelhouwer (chair of the European Network for Housing Research). Clare Miller (director of governance and compliance, Clarion Housing Group) then outlined the aims of the Commission and its key messages, stressing that academic research plays a critical role, particularly in reflecting on how housing and land markets operate, the financial, or regulatory constraints on the sector and the unintended consequences of following particular courses of action.

Marina Alcalde-Irisson (deputy CEO, Paris Habitat) and Professor Vincent Gruis (Delft University of Technology) followed by highlighting the common challenges facing the Not-for-Profit housing sectors in France and the Netherlands, respectively, stressing the acute affordable housing backlogs and funding systems that are equally under pressure.

Professor David Mullins (University of Birmingham), Dr Gerard Van Bortel (Delft University of Technology) and Paddy Gray (University of Ulster and Board member of Wheatley Group) then spoke on how international academic research can support the Not for profit housing sector, reflecting on the benefits of comparative and longitudinal research which critically analyses how the sector manages conflicting commercial and social goals, and how to retain a social purpose through on-going resident and community engagement.

Each of the speakers made links to research methods, theoretical contributions to debates and the importance of on-going learning exchange between practitioners and academics.

Working groups

In the afternoon, the delegates were split into working groups tasked with discussing a series of questions derived from the Future Shape of the Sector Commission Report.

  • Austen Reid (Clarion Housing Group) and Dr Julie Lawson (RMIT) facilitated Group A ‘Delivering in the market’.
  • Joost Nieuwenhuijzen (European Federation for Living) and Professor Alex March facilitated Group B ‘Strategic direction, structure and governance’.
  • Anne Chapman (Golding Homes) and Kath Scalon (LSE) facilitated Group C ‘Place making and regeneration’.
  • Helen Wilson (Clarion Housing Group) and Dr Tony Manzi facilitated Group D ‘Social purpose and brand trust’.
  • Mike Ward (Campbell Tickell) and Dr Elanor Warwick (Clarion Housing Group) facilitated Group E ‘Delivering high quality services through digital technology’.

Panel sessions

The penultimate panel session, Chaired by Professor Hal Pawson (University NSW) considered how to strengthen the capacity of the Not-for-Profit housing sector in other countries.

After outlining the key difficulties that the sector faces in scaling up in Australia, Hal introduced the five panellists. Dr Montserrat Pareja-Eastaway (University of Barcelona) provided an illuminating account of the challenges that the sector faces in Spain. Dr Chiara Rizzica (Fondazione Housing Sociale) raised capacity issues facing the sector in Italy. Dr Jaana Nevalainen (Ministry Advisor) addressed concerns in Finland. Dr Rob Wiener (California Coalition for Rural Housing and University of California, Davis) discussed the challenges in the USA.

The final panel session chaired by Lord Turnbull included panellists Aubrey Adams (Chair of L&Q), Ben Pluijmers (Chair of European Federation for Living) and Joroen Van der Veer (Amsterdam Federation for Housing Associations) who summed up what was gained from sharing international experiences and how to take the working groups’ action points forward into practice. Dr Nicky Morrison (University of Cambridge) closed the conference by setting out the next steps – and yes – bringing everyone together had been a huge task but fully worth it, seeing every one’s can-do attitude, commitment to the sector and tackling the affordable housing challenge.

The conference was followed by a four-course candle lit dinner served in St Edmund’s College’s Dining Hall, with the Master of the College, Matthew Bullock who participated in the whole event, inviting everyone to capitalise upon these vital international connections. Professor Peter Boelhouwer responded that this event truly marked a 30-year anniversary celebration of European Network for Housing Research.

Dr Nicky Morrison

University of Cambridge