Years of property speculation, combined with underinvestment in social housing and ;a ;growing population has aggravated the situation for British people looking to get on the property ladder.
But at the same time political awareness of the problem has never been greater, according to Steve Moorhouse, whose employer the Home Group provides housing for rent and purchase at mid-market and sub-market prices, in addition to adult social care services.
“Housing has always been on the [political] agenda,” he explains, “but it’s been pushed out by health and education, so was less dominant. There have been recent reports that show a growing realisation that we’re still in a poor place in relation to the provision of affordable housing.”
The Home Group has taken an innovative approach to the problem, recently pioneering Ikea’s flatpack home scheme in the UK. Its subsidiary, Live Smart @ Home, is developing the venture known as BoKloks – Swedish for ‘live smart’. The wooden homes will be fitted out with Ikea furnishings, with the first ones going up in Gateshead.
Moorhouse is upbeat about the durability of the homes, despite the fact that some purchasers are struggling to get the mortgage finance because lenders are more cautious than normal in their risk assessment.
“The buildings are timber frame – there’s no evidence that they’re not durable,” he says. “We’re very impressed with the quality and style of living they represent.”
Site acquisition work on Live Smart @ Home was done in-house, while local Newcastle-based firm Dickinson Dees is doing the sales work on the project. “When procuring new services, we put together firms that have the skills, capacity [and the right] location,” says Moorhouse.
His team, which includes nine solicitors, tends to do training, support and document drafting on wider housing work, while more specialised work is outsourced to Dickinson Dees, Eversheds, Sharratts and Trowers & Hamlins.
No employment or major corporate work is done internally. Devonshires, Eversheds and Ward Hadaway provide the former, while Herbert Smith and Trowers & Hamlins do the latter.
Since Moorhouse joined Home Group from Ward Hadaway in 1997, the organisation has undergone huge change. A year after he joined, it merged with Stonham, the largest supported housing provider in the UK, and set up a Scottish-registered subsidiary. It also took the market-savvy step of setting up a commercial company to supplement the social housing activities and restructured the whole group.
Regular panel reviews have not always been carried out, but Moorhouse is now building in two-year reviews for high-volume work. He has also launched a tender process for sales work, which he says is “going to be the bigger issue”. The existing panel and “recommended” firms are participating.
Having a strong personal commitment to the work in hand is essential to Moorhouse. He developed his interest as one of the sole social housing lawyers at niche Newcastle property firm Wheldon Houlsby & Scott, and became inspired by his clients, of whom he says: “The clients were very passionate about what they were doing, committed to the social purpose of the organisation with which they work.”
But in 1996 the firm merged with Ward Hadaway and Moorhouse decided to follow “what my heart was in” and moved over to Home Group as a solicitor. Ward Hadaway is now one of Home Group’s advisers, but Moorhouse denies that it is in any way a case of jobs for the boys. “Ward Hadaway probably has less work with me transferring [to the Home Group] than they had previously because much of the social housing expertise has diminished [as a result of my move],” he says.
Despite growing demand for affordable housing, Moorhouse shuns the assertion that this is good news for his business. “We’re a national charity – we’re not gleeful about there being demand. The fact that there’s demand just exacerbates the problems people have in finding houses,” he says.
Is there a magic bullet for what seems to be a no-win situation? “Longer-term the key for us is planning and correcting the deficiencies and delays in the planning system,” he says. “There’s a general mismatch between the accepted numbers of affordable homes needed and the efficiency of the planning process.”
Name: Steve Moorhouse
Company: Home Group
Title: Executive director, legal services
Sector: Housing and social care
Number of employees: 4,000
Legal capability: 34
Legal spend: £750,000
Reports to: Acting chief executive Peter Stott
Main firms: Devonshires, Dickinson Dees, Eversheds,
Herbert Smith, Sharratts, Trowers & Hamlins, Ward Hadaway
Education:1984-87: Law/LLB, Southampton
1987-88: Professional exams, College of Law, Chester
Employment:1988-90: Trainee, Zermansky & Partners
1990-92: Assistant solicitor, Shulmans
1992-97: Solicitor/associate, Wheldon Houlsby & Scott (merged into Ward
Hadaway in 1996)
1997-99: Solicitor, Home Group
1999-2001: Assistant director, corporate services, Home Group
2001-present: Executive director, legal services, Home Group