Not surprisingly, the sector continues to seek ways to measure this social impact, in order to manage it better and achieve more.
By Andy Bagley, Real-Improvement
Several ways of measuring this impact have been developed over the years, Social Return on Investment being a prominent example. To date however, most studies have focused on community development activities or aspects of personal support, rather than the core business of housing itself.
The recently released report by HACT, The Social Impact of Housing Providers, is an exception to this in that it looks at the value people place on the accommodation they live in.
This takes account of factors such as space, garden, neighbour noise, damp and others, and attributes a financial value to these. Its author, Daniel Fujiwara, is widely recognised for this type of evaluation, and has written other studies including HM Treasury guidance.
The approach he focuses on is Wellbeing Valuation. Essentially, this uses research (principally from the British Household Panel Survey) to understand the value people place on various factors that affect their lives. One way of looking at this is to ask what level of compensation someone might expect in respect of a problem such as damp, in order to give them the same overall level of life satisfaction as someone without that problem. Based on this analysis the top three housing problems come out neighbour noise, damp, and poor lighting.
Understandably, this type of analysis tends to be fairly complex, and anyone reading this report should be prepared for an academic study, with detailed statistical tables and mathematical formulae as well as issues of understanding the concepts themselves. It’s also worth noting that the benefits described are not unique to social housing; any type of housing provider, public private or third sector, could use these principles to identify similar benefits.
Most interesting though is the basis on which this type of analysis can be used for decision-making. If a housing provider has money to invest, should it go into community projects, into asset improvement and maintenance, or into new build? This approach can project the relative value of each of these options in terms of social impact. It could also form part of a wider Social Return on Investment analysis that considers the impact on other public services and the wider community as well as residents themselves.
The real value of this kind of study lies not in the details of the numbers themselves, but in helping housing providers understand how they create value, and hence how they can work in ways that maximise their social impact. As Pete Gladwell, Head of Public Sector Partnerships at L&G Property says, “For an institution to have a Corporate Social Responsibility department tacked on is no longer enough – this requires social impact to be evaluated by every investment professional in every investment decision”.
 HM Treasury
 From the foreword to The Social Impact of Housing Providers.
Andy has also written a Briefing for Support Solutions about Social Return on Investment – it will be available on The Briefing page, or alternatively sign up to receive our briefing by email and get it straight to your Inbox!