The importance of good housing as a fundamental human need cannot be overstated. It’s a basic human right essential for personal stability, security, and self-respect. But beyond the immediate provision, good housing good housing provides broader societal benefits and forms the bedrock of family life, enabling individuals to thrive, access vital services, and contribute meaningfully to their communities.

However, the gap between the availability of good affordable housing and rising demand, exacerbated by a cost-of-living crisis, has led to an increasing number of families living in substandard or temporary accommodation.

This article explores the critical importance of good housing and its impact on families, highlighting two housing projects that are making a real difference and demonstrate significant Social Return on Investment.

Positive Social Impact of Quality Housing

  • Financial stability
    Good affordable housing is crucial for alleviating financial strain on families. With housing costs often consuming a significant portion of household budgets, access to affordable initiatives enable families to allocate resources towards other essential needs.

    According to the National Housing Federation (NHF), there’s a widening disparity in housing costs between the wealthiest and poorest households. Alarmingly, nearly half of the poorest households spending over 40% of their income on housing, compared to just 4% of income on housing for the wealthiest households. This growing gap underscores the severe financial strain experienced by low-income families, who are left with limited resources for other essential needs such as food and energy bills. This disparity also extends across generations. Stable and secure living environments contribute to social mobility and long-term prosperity. Children raised in good affordable housing are more likely to perform better academically, achieve higher education levels, and secure well-paying jobs, breaking the cycle of poverty and inequality.

  • Health and affordability
    Inadequate housing poses significant health risks. High-profile cases, such as Awaab Ishak’s, have underlined the devastating effects of mould and dampness on health, prompting legislative changes. Overcrowded homes also compound physical health risks. In another NFH survey, 76% of respondents reported adverse physical health effects due to cramped living conditions. Beyond physical health, inadequate housing impacts mental well-being. The lack of dignity associated with substandard housing fosters worry and shame, leading to mental health issues like depression, stress, and anxiety. Research shows that 60% of young people living in inadequate housing feel that this directly negatively affects their mental health. Inadequate housing costs the NHS approximately £1.4 billion annually, with two-thirds of this directly attributed to mould and damp-related issues. Investing in affordable housing can significantly reduce these health burdens.

  • Educational outcomes
    The link between stable housing and children’s educational outcomes is clear. A secure home provides the emotional and psychological stability necessary for academic success. Children living in good homes are able to better focus on their studies, leading to improved academic performance and future opportunities.

    A Shelter survey of teachers revealed several challenges faced by children in inadequate housing. Issues included absenteeism, hunger, tiredness, and arriving at school in unwashed clothing, stem directly from the lack of proper facilities in temporary and inadequate accommodation. Good housing located in low crime and poverty in proximity to good schools and enriched with access to community resources like libraries and extracurricular activities further support a child’s educational journey, underscoring the importance of thoughtful urban and community planning in enhancing educational outcomes.

Innovative housing projects with a social impact

Two innovative, standout housing projects that help address the challenges of good affordable homes are the Goldsmith Street development in Norwich and the Hackney New Primary School & 333 Kingsland Road. Both projects have set benchmarks in integrating architectural innovation with social responsibility, offering solutions that go beyond traditional housing concepts.

Goldsmith Street Norwich – Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley

Goldsmith Street in Norwich, awarded the 2019 Stirling Prize is a remarkable example of how innovative architectural design can significantly impact social housing. Developed for Norwich City Council, this project offers 93 home at 100% social rent using the ‘Passivhaus’ method to develop a community-focused environment, setting a new standard for affordable housing.

Residents have testified to the life-changing impact of living in Goldsmith Street from the way in which the design of these Passivhaus homes caps annual energy bills significantly below the national average, alleviating financial stress and allowing savings for other essentials. Moreover, the improved warmth and ventilation have markedly enhanced residents’ health, reducing the need for medications and eliminating damp-related issues prevalent in previous living situations. Such advancements underscore the critical link between well-designed affordable housing and its potential to uplift the financial and physical well-being of its inhabitants.

Hackney New Primary School & 333 Kingsland Road

The Hackney New Primary School & 333 Kingsland Road project stands as an example to the innovative fusion of educational spaces and community living in London’s dynamic urban landscape. Developed for the London Borough of Hackney, this project combines the functional requirements of an outstanding 350-pupil primary school with the complexities of urban housing.

The project capitalises on the limited site area to prioritise educational facilities while ensuring protection from the urban hustle. The development represents a deeper, community-focused approach to learning.

Central to this development is the acknowledgment of the vital link between stable, supportive housing and children’s academic growth. The project offers more than just classrooms and a home; it provides a nurturing environment conducive to learning and personal development, illustrating the profound impact of community planning on educational success.

The project offers 68 new homes ranging from one to three bedrooms, situated above the primary school and a 298m² commercial unit that contributes to the area’s economy.
This project to provide affordable rental homes is a crucial aspect of this development, targeting Londoners on low to middle incomes struggling to find quality housing near their workplaces. This approach addresses a critical need, ensuring that working individuals and families have access to affordable, quality living spaces within the city.

Conclusion

The successes of Goldsmith Street and the Hackney New Primary School & 333 Kingsland Road have demonstrated their significant SROI serve as models for future housing projects. They represent not just a response to the housing crisis but a visionary approach to building resilient, supportive communities where families can flourish.
As such, we call on policymakers, developers, and investors to explore similar initiatives that recognise and leverage the interconnections between housing, health, financial stability, and education, paving the way for a more equitable and prosperous society.

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For investors seeking to make a meaningful impact beyond financial returns, understanding the essence and impact of the Social dimension within the ESG framework is vital. In this first instalment of our blog series on Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investing, we delve into the crucial “S” component and the principles to calculating Social Return on Investment (SROI), particularly in relation to social housing.

The rise of ESG investments

In the dynamic landscape of global finance, the emergence of ESG investing has marked a significant shift, highlighting the interconnection between financial markets and broader societal concerns.

The early 2000s were pivotal, prompting policymakers to critically evaluate the role of public services and government actions in fostering public value. This period laid the groundwork for the concept of social value, which was eventually encapsulated in the UK Public Services (Social Value) Act of 2012. This shift aligned with global efforts, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals, emphasising the need to balance societal well-being with economic progress.

The global pandemic further propelled ESG investing into a new era. As COVID-19 spread across the world, it exposed deep-seated inequalities and vulnerabilities in healthcare systems, labour markets, and community support networks. This unprecedented crisis highlighted the urgent need for resilient social infrastructures that can withstand such shocks and protect the most vulnerable populations.

Investors began to recognise that social factors, such as employee health and safety, equitable access to services, and robust community support, are not only ethical considerations but also critical to long-term financial performance. This shift brought the ‘S’ in ESG into sharper focus, underscoring the fragility and importance of societal structures.

The SROI Framework

Measuring the components of ESG can be challenging and complex. While the environmental and governance aspects are relatively straightforward, with quantifiable metrics such as carbon emissions and company policies, the social pillar is often more difficult to quantify. It encompasses a wide range of factors, including labour practices, community engagement, human rights, and customer satisfaction. Some aspects, like employee turnover rates or diversity metrics, can be measured quantitatively, but evaluating community impact remains qualitative and subjective.

The SROI framework is particularly valuable for calculating the social return on ESG investments. It offers more transparency and accountability, enabling investors to gauge the success of their investments in terms of social outcomes and encouraging further investment.

SROI Principles and practice

Assessing the SROI of a project involves adhering to eight key principles outlined by Social Value UK. These principles guide a comprehensive process, offering deeper insights into social impact beyond traditional financial metrics.

  • Principle 1: Involve stakeholders
    Involving stakeholders means engaging with all relevant parties to ensure diverse perspectives are considered. For example, developers might hold community meetings to gather input from local residents, while also consulting with housing associations, government agencies, and potential tenants. This inclusive approach helps to align the project with the needs and priorities of those it will impact.

  • Principle 2: Understand what changes
    Identifying the social impacts of a social housing project involves evaluating various outcomes. For instance, providing affordable housing could lead to improved health and well-being due to better living conditions, higher educational success among children as a result of a stable home environment, and stronger community bonds through communal spaces and activities. It’s important to track and measure these changes, acknowledging both positive outcomes and any potential negative effects, such as displacement of current residents.

  • Principle 3: Value the things that matter
    Valuing the things that matter requires understanding what stakeholders prioritise. This might involve conducting surveys to determine what residents value most—whether it’s safety, access to public transportation, green spaces, or community services. By integrating these values into decision-making, developers ensure that the project not only meets economic goals but also enhances the quality of life for residents.

  • Principle 4: Only include what is material
    Focusing on material information requires prioritising the most significant impacts. Factors such as the improvement in residents’ health due to better living conditions and access to healthcare services would be considered material. These impacts are likely to influence stakeholders’ decisions significantly, whereas less critical outcomes might be excluded from the primary analysis.

  • Principle 5: Do not overclaim
    To avoid overclaiming, the project should only report on the social benefits directly attributable to the housing initiative. For instance, if the provision of affordable housing leads to a reduction in stress-related illnesses among tenants, this can be claimed as a direct benefit. However, broader societal improvements, like overall economic growth, should not be attributed solely to the housing project without clear evidence.

  • Principle 6: Be transparent
    Transparency involves sharing detailed information about the project’s goals, methods, and outcomes. This could include publishing reports on how data was collected and analysed, and openly discussing both successes and areas for improvement. Engaging stakeholders through regular updates and feedback sessions helps build trust and ensures that the project’s impact is accurately understood and communicated.

  • Principle 7: Verify the result
    Verifying SROI results involves seeking independent assurance from third parties. This might mean having external auditors review the project’s impact assessment to confirm the accuracy of the reported outcomes. Independent verification adds credibility to the claims and assures stakeholders that the findings are reliable.

  • Principle 8: Be responsive
    Being responsive means adapting to feedback and changing circumstances to maximise positive social impact. In social housing, this could involve regularly revising project plans based on tenant feedback or new policy developments. Implementing this Impact Management Approach ensures that strategic, tactical, and operational decisions are aligned with stakeholders’ evolving needs and priorities, allowing the project to remain effective and relevant.

Conclusion

By embracing the SROI framework and its principles, investors can navigate the complexities of social value creation, making informed decisions that align profits with purpose. This contributes to a more sustainable and equitable future, demonstrating that investment can and should go hand in hand with social responsibility. The journey through the ‘S’ in ESG represents a fundamental shift towards a more conscientious investment landscape.

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