Editor's comment: A quick look at the books with Clarion
PUBLISHED: 15:50 05 June 2019
Clarion gets a fair bit of exposure in this week's Islington Gazette.
First, Cllr Diarmaid Ward takes a very public stance on the housing association's plan to sell off a former social home. Then Samantha Trent accuses it of scrimping on repairs and maintenance.
Housing associations aren't evil, but they are businesses. Clarion's end-of-year report from 2018 shows well over a third of all the money it made from rent, service charges and grants in respect of homes for social rent (£681m) was recorded as a surplus (£247m). It spent £195m repairing and maintaining those homes. With all its other incomings and outgoings taken into account (including £125m it made by selling things), it made an overall surplus of £157m.
Housing associations don't take their profits home: that cash will eventually used to build new homes, which could be social or simply "affordable". Five Clarion staff did, however, make more than £200,000 each last year.
In their foreword to the annual report, group chief exec Ruth Cooke and group chair Neil Goulden write: "We are a customer service business that is working to meet housing need, but in an era where public funding is limited - and so we have to operate as efficiently and effectively as possible." They add: "With government spending on social housing at a record low, housing associations have had to become more commercial to continue to be able to fulfil their purpose."
A housing association's core function is basically providing homes, but as it grows through mergers and acquisitions, it becomes less connected to the communities it serves. Clarion has 125,000 properties now, which is more than there are homes in Islington of any description. If it has to auction this or that building to finance two more elsewhere in the country - one of which it may then put on the private market to ensure its financial resilience - the individual circumstances of tenants are unlikely to figure too hugely in its reckonings.
By contrast, when (progressive) councils manage housing, they are doing so as the centrepiece of a strategy to maintain mixed communities, run infrastructure and maximise the wellbeing of the people who live there. What's more, the public gets the chance to kick them out every four years. Housing associations only leave if they go bust.