Geeta Nanda OBE, chief executive of Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing (MTVH), one of the country’s largest housing associations, speaks to Andrew Teacher about how a greater focus on housing can be a vote winner, help ease pressure on public services, and support some of the country’s most vulnerable people during an ongoing cost of living crisis.
Nanda believes housing associations have a critical role to play in easing pressure on the strained NHS.
By supporting care in the community and providing care solutions for older residents suffering from a growing social care crunch driven by a lack of funding and staff, housing associations can free up much-needed hospital beds.
However, in their January speeches outlining their visions for the future of Britain, both Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak failed to mention housing at all. But Nanda thinks there is a way to make it a vote winner.
“Whenever you talk to an MP, the biggest thing they have in their mail bag is around housing,” she says.
“Looking at the polling, there is nationwide support for new housing. But that does not seem to have filtered through. We need to talk about housing as a force for good. By providing quality housing that meets people’s needs, you save so much money for health, education, and giving people a better start in life. We should be proud of building more homes.”
In particular, Nanda argues, investing in high-quality housing would relieve the strain on budgets elsewhere.
“A lot of NHS trust have said that if they could, they would dedicate more money to social care so they could release bed space,” she recalls. “But building intensive care properties takes a long time. There are plenty of things we can do with existing properties. Ultimately, it’s cheaper to get people out of hospitals and back into their homes.”
Beyond healthcare, the UK is in a major cost of living crisis, and many ordinary households are struggling. Housing associations have a special role to play in mitigating the extraordinary economic pressures facing working people, and London is in many ways the eye of the storm.
Nanda sees the shared ownership model – where you can buy a percentage of a property and rent the remainder from a housing association, with the opportunity to ‘staircase’ up to full ownership – as a way of easing the burden.
“Rents are going up astronomically, tenants are competing with seven or eight people per flat, and they don’t have the security of home ownership,” she explains. “Shared ownership is cheaper than market rent and the deposits are lower.”
Collaboration has also proved a fruitful way for MTVH to deliver much-needed housing. It has ongoing partnerships with Gresham House and Vistry and last November MTVH and Legal & General struck a dealto create a 50:50 joint venture targeting the delivery of over 2,500 shared ownership and affordable rent homes over the next seven years in London and the South-East.
“We don‘t always have to be the investor,” Nanda says, explaining MTVH’s approach. “We can be the manager, we can co-invest, or we can use our longstanding expertise in the market to work with private capital that’s coming in.”
As a housing association, MTVH is used to dealing with vulnerable customers. Its Migration Foundation, however, deals with perhaps the most vulnerable demographic – refugees and asylum seekers.
Despite London’s status as a major world city and multicultural melting pot, it currently has major issues with a lack of labour and a declining number of people in work. Initiatives like the Migration Foundation offer migrants, refugees and asylum seekers better access to housing and greater justice when seeking accommodation.
Nanda points out that its Migration Foundation plays to the original DNA of the Metropolitan Housing Trust when it was set up in the 1950s, having been established to help house the influx of Commonwealth citizens arriving in the UK post-1945 – such as on the HMT Empire Windrush – and later merged with the Refugee Housing Association.
And doing this important community work outside of government funding streams provides more flexibility. “We can try new things, we can showcase how it can work, and how we can support people to integrate into the community,” Nanda explains.
“The willpower and desire to work and pay back to this country is amazing. It’s one of the things I’m most proud of in terms of what we do. We take people who are destitute and help them with not only their accommodation, but to move on and find work. Some of them have even come back and worked for us.”
But there’s more to be done. “There was a lot of compassion toward Ukrainian refugees,” Nanda says. “Lots of people were supported by others in their own homes. But that’s only temporary. Now it’s crunch time for refugees that have been in hotels for a long time.”
Geeta Nanda OBE
Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing (MTVH)
Managing Director, Real Estate
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