In the latest episode of BossCast, Andy Hulme, CEO of Hyde Housing, talks to Blackstock Consulting’s founder Andrew Teacher about the housing association’s recent legal victory over a construction contractor, and how the property industry can do better on equality and diversity.
Whilst the NHS and key workers were rightly heralded as heroes during the pandemic, housing associations should arguably have been lauded in the same way over the last decades for their heroic work that goes far beyond just providing affordable housing.
As well as housing close to six million people across the country, the industry spends large sums on community services and regeneration, provides support to the vulnerable, and operates on a non-profit model where each association reinvests income into delivering on its social purpose.
Hyde is no different. Beyond providing close to 50,000 homes at below-market rent, the association has also invested £3 million into local communities, and estimates the annual social value created across all its tenancies at £648 million.
However, as Hyde’s chief Andy Hulme points out, housing associations are often stereotyped, looked down-upon and largely overlooked despite the help they provide to vulnerable communities.
“We’re a sector that’s misunderstood,” he says.
A topic close to Hulme’s heart is the importance of diversity and inclusion in senior boards across the industry.
In a sector that has historically been dominated by the straight white male, Hulme believes that the progress made in recent years towards inclusivity, diversity and openness is nevertheless significant.
“I was told that it would be better for my career if I didn’t openly say I was gay,” he remembers of his early career as a banker. “But I think the world has changed,” he adds, describing the much greater openness he’s seen in both banking and property.
Hulme started out his career cashiering at NatWest, and quickly rose up the ranks to become an area manager and eventually head of strategic development for retail banking and mortgages. Throughout his professional life, Hulme observes, interfacing with customers has been a common thread.
“I was hearing stories about people’s lives,” he notes. “And trying to support them and ultimately fulfil their dream of home ownership.” This concern for the customer built up throughout his career has clearly served Hulme well in his current role as head of a major housing association, where he’s brought a fresh approach.
Describing the Hyde board, Hulme thinks that a diversity of backgrounds has brought Hyde immense benefit and innovative thinking.
“We also need to think about diversity of thought,” he argues. “Our board is a really rich mix of people who understand how housing works, but also people that have come from fast-moving consumer goods and retail who can bring in that customer perspective and innovative thinking.”
Hulme says that there’s still a long way to go and that the future of what is considered ‘good’ for the customer is still largely undefined. His ambition is nevertheless to maximise the amount reinvested to create a “virtuous cycle” that improves people’s life chances.
But following Hyde’s recent landmark win in court – which sets a principle that construction contractors can be held accountable for the remedial costs of removing dangerous cladding – Hulme hopes to prove that the company and the wider industry puts people first.
Regarding the recent case, Hulme says it was imperative to make Mulalley, the construction contractor, accountable.
“It’s the first time that anyone has been found accountable or liable for work that they have done on buildings that are unsafe,” he says.
“The cladding that was installed wasn’t safe, the installation system that was used was not appropriate for that building and the workmanship was not done to an acceptable standard,” he continues.
Yet, Hulme found himself in a 5-year long fight against a company that was denying its responsibility and fault. “It’s the sort of rhetoric I’d have from my 11 year old – ‘it’s not fair, it’s not my fault I didn’t know’,” says Hulme, referring to Mulalley’s claims of innocence.
Hulme also hopes people see the non-profit nature of the actions Hyde has taken. “We’re talking about principal here. It’s not about money, the money has been spent, we’ve made the building safe,” he explains, referring to the £8 million Hyde spent on recladding instantly after the Grenfell disaster without receiving government support to ensure the safety of all the other customers in other buildings.
After the tragic Grenfell fire revealed defective cladding in several of its buildings, Hyde made it mission critical to prevent such incidents from ever happening again. It’s come at a large cost to the housing association, which has spent £80 million over fire safety since 2017.
While Hulme acknowledges that Hyde can always strive to do better, it stands as a model example of an association that puts its customers’ and communities’ wellbeing first.