Social Housing: Institutions, Organisations and Governance


Anita Blessing
European Federation for Living
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Gerard van Bortel
Management in the Built Environment
Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment
Delft University of Technology
Delft, The Netherlands

Marco Peverini
Politecnico di Milano
Milano, Italy

Central themes
The overall objective of the Working Group is to explore and develop concepts for analysing institutional and organisational change and dynamics in affordable housing provision. Government policies, management reforms and rapidly changing social and economic contexts have placed new expectations on social and public landlords. In addition, policies encouraging partnering with the private sector and/or direct private market provision of social and public housing have blurred the lines between public and private housing activities. The processes and outcomes relating to these changes are the main focus for participants in this Working Group. Three main themes have emerged out of our workshops and international collaborations to date:

  • Housing as a system/network: understanding housing provision as a network of interrelated organisational activities which both respond to and help to shape the changing social, economic, environmental, technological and political context in which housing bodies operate. The application of theoretical frameworks such as policy and governance networks, complex adaptive systems and organisational learning generate new insights into the key factors and processes that affect organisational behaviour and systems/network outcomes.
  • The dynamics of institutional and organisational transformations: understanding how institutional and organisational behaviour at different levels of analysis (e.g. individuals, teams, organisations, sectors, systems) develops as housing organisations pursue their various values, purposes and objectives in response to internal and external stimuli. Innovation, competition, co-operation, learning, expansion and diversification are just a few examples of the types of processes that have been discussed by participants as they seek to describe the key drivers of organisational change. Organisational logics and organisational cultures help to understand the different ways in which housing organisations respond to and manage change.
  • Governance and regulation of housing: the impact of changing forms of regulation and system governance on housing organisations; approaches to corporate governance within housing organisations and the roles of internal and external stakeholders in governance processes; the democratic anchorage and accountability of housing organisations; resident involvement and local community accountability.

Activities and output in recent years
ENHR 2016 Belfast Conference
The Working Group held a very successful and well-attended workshop in Belfast, with 26 papers presented across the full six sessions. That year we constructed a programme that also aimed to strengthen the links between renowned and new scholars and also with the professional housing community. Authors were from multi-disciplines and over 10 different countries. Around 60 people in total attended the various workshop sessions. This year the workshop sessions covered 6 interrelated themes. Changing roles and relations were at the heart of all the themes.
The papers presented reflect profound policy implications of diverse institutional and organisational responses driven by regime and policy shifts.

ENHR Tirana conference workshop in 2017
The Working Group has been quite active at the ENHR Tirana Conference. We held a series of workshops: in addition to our core themes of hybridity and governance of affordable housing, we also held sessions on financialisation and housing provision, supply chain management, social assistance through the private rental sector and hosted a new ENHR workshop on empty homes.
In all 16 papers were delivered and 13 countries were covered in presentations highlighting the rapid changes that are occurring in the arena of social and affordable housing by exploring policies, actors and outcomes.
As usual the Working Group followed up the workshop at a number of levels, including a book project on innovation in affordable housing governance and finance and further ENHR work on the empty homes theme.

International Social Housing Festival: ‘The role and future of social housing in Europe’, June 2017, Amsterdam (The Netherlands)
Participants from the ten countries were involved in the combined Working Groups Collaborative housing and Social housing institutions workshop at the International Housing Festival in Amsterdam: Denmark, England, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Turkey, Asia, Taiwan, South Korea and the US. Peter Boelhouwer, Chair of ENHR, hosted the 1,5 day workshop. The workshop was characterized by debates drawing on the deep involvement of researchers in social housing contexts in different countries, including lived experience of residents, anthropological approaches living in communities for a year, policy advice reports, contributions of directors of social housing centres and policy advisers to housing association federation.

Cambridge 30 Year ENHR Celebration Event September 2018
Nicky Morrison hosted a conference on ‘The role of the Not or Profit housing sector in addressing affordable housing challenges’ at St Edmunds College Cambridge as part of the ENHR’s 30 year celebrations. The conference celebrated the work of the Working Group over the past 15 years including journal special issues.

Uppsala ENHR Conference 2018 (26-29 June)
Our ENHR 2019 workshops in Uppsala (Sweden) were organised by Nicky Morrison and Gerard van Bortel. In total, 16 papers were presented by authors from 10 countries: China, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, UK and USA. On average between 20 to 25 people participated in our workshops. The first workshop was organised in collaboration with Working Group Social Housing and Globalisation around the theme ‘Partnerships for Affordable Housing’. A joined call for abstracts was drafted and circulated in the ENHR-network.
The conference contributed to making new connections with policy-makers and practitioners through the Working Group’s links with the European Federation for Living and new partnerships being forged by the Department of Land Economy at Cambridge.

Affordable Housing seminar, Dublin, 7 December
Open and critical dialogues between researchers, practitioners and policy-makers on the often complex problem of affordable and sustainable housing provision are valued, as was illustrated by a follow-up seminar with the same presenters as the Uppsala panel in Dublin on December 7th. This Affordable Housing seminar was hosted by the Housing Agency in Ireland. Among the participants were practitioners, researchers and policy-makers from the Irish non-for-profit housing sector.

Book Project “Affordable Housing Governance and Finance”
Since 2015 members of our ENHR Working Group have been collaborating with the European Federation for Living in the creation of an edited book on Affordable Housing Governance and Finance across Europe. This collaboration came to fruition in September 2018 with the publication of the book by Routledge. The book combines perspectives from academia and practice. Country chapters were produced by writing-teams that consisted of researchers and practitioners. A book launch was organised in early November in Milan as part of EFL’s autumn conference. The venue of the book launch was special, namely at one of the Italian affordable housing projects studied in detail in one of the book chapters.

Future plans and activities
After publication of the edited book on Affordable Housing Governance and Finance in September 2018, the Working Group continues to explore this theme by developing plans for follow-up publications in the form of an edited book with case studies and a special issue conceptualising (cross-sector) partnerships for affordable and sustainable housing (also see Past Activities 2018).

Policy implications
The central aim of the Working Group is to make a significant contribution to theoretical and empirical research about the future role of the social housing sector. The sector is currently undergoing the most radical reshaping ever witnessed, with not-for-profit housing organisations forced to operate within an increasingly challenging environment. The exposure to risk is growing and business models and governance arrangements have to adapt without individual organisations losing their social purpose.
A core activity of our Working Group involves developments in the organisational strategies of social housing organisations. Important contributions explored how the increased emphasis on the efficiency of housing management shape in organizational strategies, culture, human resources, leadership styles and ICT systems.

This Working Group has a proud track record of organising workshops at every ENHR conference since 2002 (except 2003) and enabling hundreds of researchers to collaborate to make sense of the major changes seen in social and affordable housing institutions and governance over that period.
Conference workshops have led to five journal special issues that have made landmark contributions to understanding and interpreting these changes.

  • Network Theory and Housing Systems (Housing Theory and Society, 2007)
  • Critical perspectives on network governance in urban regeneration, community involvement and integration (Journal of Housing and the Built Environment, 2009)
  • Network Governance, Market Concepts, Coordination Mechanisms and new actors in social housing (International Journal of Housing Policy, 2009)
  • Social Enterprise and Hybridity and Housing Organisations (Housing Studies, 2012)
  • Self-help and civil society participation in post-crisis housing markets in Europe (International Journal of Housing Policy, 2017).