Group director of development and sales at one of the UK’s largest housing associations, L&Q’s Vicky Savage, tells Andrew Teacher about the non-profit’s role beyond delivering housing and how the industry can improve to better serve its employees and customers.
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With 120,000 homes, L&Q is the second largest housing association in the country and ultimately one of the biggest property companies in Europe. Vicky Savage leads its development department – a role that is still unfortunately rare for a woman to occupy, not least the daughter of a bus driver and a cleaner.
But Savage’s experience growing up has hammered home the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with companies being family-friendly – and not just for Mums,” she says, having regretted “spending long, long hours in the office” when she was a single mum of three small children.
A sensible approach to working hours hasn’t dented L&Q’s ambitions, however. They intend to build 3,000 homes a year and recently merged with Trafford Homes in order to deliver housing in the North West.
But inflation is proving a tricky issue to solve. Across development and maintenance, inflation can reach 15 percent – far above current CPI of around 10 precent.
“We need confidence, stability and a period of calm in order to build,” Savage observes. “The desperate housing need is there – it’s up to us to try and find the solutions to meet with it.”
And it’s not just housing demand that L&Q is meeting. The housing association plays a crucial role in the community, and Savage thinks the industry can be better at publicising this fact.
“Not only L&Q but all housing associations do fantastic work in terms of getting people job ready, offering training schemes, and telling schools about the wonderful careers in the industry,” she explains.
Regardless of its important community work, the shadow of Grenfell still looms large over the industry. The tragedy has, however, spurred companies and housing associations to act on safety.
“The new homes we’re building now – the safety standards are top,” Savage says. “And that’s a direct result of us standing back and asking important questions”
She also commends Hyde Housing – whose CEO featured on PropCast last year – for its leadership in winning a landmark court case against a contractor for installing defective cladding.
“We should really commend Hyde,” she remarks. “They were the first to get there in court. In our negotiations, we ask housebuilders if they are aware of the Hyde case. It’s going to help the sector.”
Alongside safety, environmental performance is also a top priority for L&Q. “We’ve set aside £1.9 billion to spend in the next 10 years on our existing buildings,” Savage notes, which is roughly the size of even the biggest listed landlords’ entire portfolios.
Part of being able to deliver such an ambitious programme means collaborating with a range of other organisations.
“We work with the commercial sector all the time,” Savage explains. “We love working in JV. You’re spreading risk, learning best practice, sharing information and collaborating. JVs will form at least a third of our programme going forward.”
Regardless, the sector still needs input from government, particularly in expensive areas. “We always need more government support,” she says. “It’s difficult to make anything stack up in London. We need to have an open door with the GLA and Homes England – but the world has changed since grant rates three years ago.”
From a consumer’s perspective, shared ownership presents an affordable route to homeownership in cities like London. “I’m a great fan of shared ownership,” Savage remarks.
“We see the end of Help to Buy as being a real opportunity for shared ownership. It’s a resilient sector. There are 24 lenders with a multitude of products. Seven of those lenders have just reduced their rates. It’s aspirational and it allows people to live where they want to live.”
More than affordability, shared ownership also keeps the vibrancy of certain areas alive.
“If you’re talking about successful communities,” she continues, “they should be mixed.”
“For anyone who lives in London – we love the diversity of our neighbourhoods. Shared ownership plays a huge part in that.”
You can listen to this podcast via Apple Podcasts or Spotify or SoundCloud or listen to it through the player above.
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