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An analysis of the social housing industry

This work was produced by one of our professional writers as a learning aid to help you with your studies

Published: Thu, 21 Dec 2017

Abstract

The social housing industry continues to struggle in the UK to provide the most appropriate amount of quality housing stock necessary to serve the growing number of citizens that seek these affordable housing options. The existing housing stock has often suffered from poor quality because there has not been the reinvestment in these assets to maintain their quality in terms of health, safety, comfort and environmental concern. Now, with the need to create a decent home standard and fulfil stringent sustainability measures to improve the environmental record of the UK, more attention has turned to the concept of building maintenance management. This aims to create a formalised approach and set of standards that can unify the way in which these houses are maintained and improved for use by needy residents. To look for ways that might offer a formal process for doing so through the building maintenance management concept, this research study aims to critically review of building maintenance management within social housing to determine the best approach. To carry out this research aim, the research study methodology uses a literature-based approach to investigate difference theoretical concepts and a case study approach to examine empirical evidence, including maintenance management in the construction industry, the challenges in asset management, the current state of maintenance management in social housing, and the real world application of how social housing stock is managed. The case studies examine specific housing authorities charged with maintaining social housing as seen through the assistance of their professional building maintenance management companies that deliver a standardised, multi-criteria approach for faster, more efficient delivery of high-quality housing stock. Conclusions focused on the finding that there is no standardised, formal whole life asset management approach that integrates strategy with the perspective that a specific building maintenance management programme could provide cost-effective solutions to help an industry burdened by budget cuts and challenging economic conditions. Recommendations and proposed future research endeavours were also developed.

Chapter 1: Introduction

1.1 Background and Research Rationale

As a long-held programme in the UK, social housing is a term which makes reference to housing which is managed and supplied by Local Authorities (LA), housing associations, and various other organisations throughout the United Kingdom (SHARE, 2011). Also known as council housing, the homes are often found within council estates or clustered areas of homes overseen by voluntary organisations that are charged with managing and providing the housing to qualified candidates (SHARE, 2011). The last few years have seen a sharp rise in the demand for these homes as more people fall below the poverty line and cannot afford rent or ownership on a private basis (Hills, 2007).

In recent years, more attention has been made to ensure that these homes are of a decent standard so that even those without funds have the right to enjoy comfortable, safe, and healthy accommodations whether they come from a voluntary organisation or that are now even supplied by a private landlord (SHARE, 2011). Improvements have been made as reports show that social housing is now “more likely to meet the new ‘decent homes’ standard than private rented housing, particularly for disadvantaged households” (Hills, 2007: 9).Yet, there is still a policy discourse in place that relates to the public and even government perception about those in need of social housing that slants toward ‘individual responsibility’ rather than just receiving social housing (Haworth & Manzi, 1999). This attitude borders on animosity that spills over into the management of social housing that acts as though it is an additional burden to maintain these properties on top of providing them rather than see the asset value to maintaining them (Haworth & Manzi, 1999).

There are also significant challenges that remain before the objective has been met to provide all citizens in the UK with decent homes no matter what their income because of the lack of housing stock and the poor quality of what is often available (SHARE, 2011). Just in 2000, it was reported that 1.5 million homes in the UK did not qualify as a decent home (SHARE, 2011). The reports also show that those in social accommodation are actually more likely to feel dissatisfied with the experience due to the fact that houses are not repaired or upgraded in a timely manner (Hills, 2007).

Because the budget and financial means have not been available to undertake new social housing stock, the existing stock becomes more important than ever before and, therefore, the need to maintain these houses to last over the longer term has as well (Hills, 2007). As the problem grows, the government and organisations involved in housing, including the construction industry, are beginning to pay attention to the problem with the lack of decent social housing (Chanter & Swallow, 2008). Despite the understanding that maintenance must be addressed, it is still not looked upon fondly because it is thought to consumer 40 to 50 per cent of an operating budget but, at the same time, is the most controllable of all expenses if addressed appropriately through planning (Mather, 2010). As such, there is a growing understanding that the process of building maintenance management need to be more formalised within the social housing sector in order to achieve the decent homes standard (Changer & Swallow, 2008). With this need, there is a rationale to research the factors involved, including challenges, opportunities, and proposed solutions to assist with the process of creating a model that can effectively achieve a higher standard of social housing in the UK.

In conducting a research study on this topic, there is an opportunity to expand the knowledge base available on a subject that does have considerable literature but not many solutions that have been enacted from the building maintenance management side of the social housing dilemma. By looking into how maintenance is perceived and incorporated in the social housing environment, this may provide some new insights on how it could be more effectively incorporated into the overall asset management framework that is overseeing how social housing is managed and provided to those that need it throughout the UK. And, with the uneven delivery of quality social housing and formalised building maintenance management programmes, there is additional rationale for conducting a specific research study into this area of housing research.

1.2 Research Aim and Objectives

The research aim is to critically review of building maintenance management within social housing to determine the best approach. The research objectives are to:

  • Evaluate maintenance management in the construction industry.

  • Critically assess the challenges in asset management.

  • Determine current state of maintenance management in social housing.

  • Understand the real world application of how social housing stock is managed.

1.3 Research Methodology

This research study uses a qualitative framework because the focus is on a social issue that does not need to be quantified in any way but must be approached in a way that assesses the intangible concepts involved (Tellis, 1997). The issue of social housing involves social, economic, and political issues that are not necessarily alleviated or addressed by simply quantifying the problem and may involve aspects that are not easily disseminated. To frame the research study, the qualitative tools include a literature review format as well as a case study that addresses local councils and how they are managing or maintaining social housing stock. Both qualitative tools provide a way to explore the concepts on a theoretical and empirical level, creating new levels of insight through identifiable patterns that arise from the evidence collected (Tellis, 1997).

There are advantages and limitations to using a literature review and case study approach, which focuses entirely on secondary research. First, the advantages are that these tools help to generate a picture of the issues, challenges, needs, opportunities and solutions to a social problem by creating a wider picture of the evidence. This is in contrast to using a research tool that is focused on primary data and that could be limited by narrow or biased opinions (Yin, 1993). Second, reliance on secondary sources in the literature review and case study are time and cost-effective research strategies because they do not require as many resources as would be demanded by a primary research focus (Yin, 1993). Third, the use of two different research tools – literature review-based study and case study – offer a way to raise the level of validity by expanding the number of sources and information to deliver a more balanced and diverse approach to the findings that may not be possible from primary research where there are so many things that could be open to interpretation or misrepresentation, thereby impacting the results (Tellis, 1997).

In terms of data collection, the information was gathered by referring to journal articles, online sources, documents, reports, surveys and books that focused on housing management, social housing, facilities, management and building maintenance management. These were also key terms used to locate the appropriate literature that aligned with the research aim and objectives. The information was then segmented into key concepts for further analysis and then linked together in a way that presented the connections and barriers between the various areas of building maintenance management and social housing.

In addressing research limitations that arise from this research framework, the researcher noted limitations with time and available data as potential issues. While the ability to gather more data in a shorter time is one of the advantages to this strategy, there are still time limitations in reading, collecting, and assessing all available research, especially when there appears to be a considerable amount of information available. In addition, the type of available data may not have been created or intended for the specific research aim and objectives of this study, so there may be limitations in terms of the conclusions that can be drawn from what is available. A further assessment as to how these potential research limitations have impacted the findings are found in the final chapter of this research study.

Chapter 2: An Evaluation of Maintenance Management in the Construction Industry

To begin the exploration of social housing and building maintenance management, this chapter explores the current strategies in place around the concept of maintenance management as it applies to the construction industry.

2.1 Maintenance Defined

The general term of maintenance has been defined many ways. In offering one definition that summarises many of those ideas, maintenance involves “re-installing physical condition to a specific standard” and “preventing further deterioration or failure (Dept. of Public Works, 1999: 3). There are many diversions where some definitions of maintenance include the idea of refurbishment and upgrades done to fulfil certain requirements whilst other organisations do not include this as part of the scope of maintenance (Dept. of Public Works, 1999).

2.2 Maintenance Management Defined

Maintenance management is a concept that was conceived from within the manufacturing industry that was then adopted by the construction trade. The objectives associated with maintenance management can also vary just like the definition of maintenance. For instance, a public department in Queensland, Australia set its own very specific set of maintenance management objectives, including the idea of linking it with continual improvement processes for asset planning and management, risk management processes, and strategic objectives (Dept. of Public Works, 1999). This particular example has also emphasised the value of finding key maintenance service providers that could deliver on these objectives and fill in the voids in skills and expertise in maintenance management (Dept. of Public Works, 1999). Other perceptions of maintenance management for buildings focuses on making them fit for use in terms of health and safety, the ability to help the structure retain its value, and the ability to actually increase its quality and value (El-Haram & Horner, 2002).

2.3 Types of Maintenance Management

There are two primary types of maintenance management, namely planned and unplanned. Planned maintenance management is defined as a system where all work is planned – pre-planned or planned during the execution stage (Taylor, 2003; Dept. of Public Works, 1999). The advantage to this type of maintenance management is that “pre-planning insures needed parts, materials and skills are available” (Taylor, 2003: 1). It should have a combination of preventative and predictive measures to minimise unplanned repairs (Taylor, 2003). Unplanned maintenance management is essentially maintenance that must be performed when equipment or a structure unexpectedly breaks down, has created a safety hazard, or led to some other type of low-quality environment that impacts the overall environment (PEMMS, 2012).

There is also reactive and proactive maintenance management. Whilst reactive maintenance involves taking care of repairs in the event of breakdown (Zhang et al., 2009), the concept of maintenance move toward effective management when Japanese engineers looked to the idea of preventative maintenance by making observations and taking actions in advance of a breakdown (TPM Online, 2011). It was intended to decrease downtime, but it also led to an increase in costs that made it unpopular when it was first introduced and that even has its sceptics today (TPM Online, 2011). Part of the issue with preventative maintenance is the idea of replacing parts, equipment, or materials when they could potentially last longer (TPM Online, 2011).

After this concept came that of productive maintenance, which was intended to alleviate the costs and concerns by formalising maintenance as a technical skill and as a continuous improvement process (TPM Online, 2011). Reliability-Centred Maintenance (RCM) is another dimension of maintenance management that is focused on making improvements at the operating and procedural level to ensure proper working order to machines, tools, and materials to maximise the capital costs of those assets and retain their value by evaluating risk for breakdown and creating a standardised minimum maintenance level (Pride, 2010). As an engineering framework, it has been used primarily for machinery applications but can be applied to other maintenance environments (Pride, 2010).

Maintenance management can also be defined by its many stages or steps. According to Mather (2010), six fundamental steps have been identified. These start with establishing a certain set of rules and guides that formalises the inclusion of maintenance into the process of overall operations management (Mather, 2010). This can be done through a paper-based or automated system that then links to the next step of defining all work processes involved in operations so that there is a better understanding of how a control system for maintenance management could be incorporated into a system (Mather, 2010). Another stage in the process is to have a specific strategy for equipment, which is part of both an implementation and operational stage that is dependent upon certain criteria like the current state of equipment, structures, and materials (Mather, 2010). From there, the next stage is to design exception and functional reports that create a hierarchical structure of reporting and tracking of maintenance needs and concerns (Mather, 2010). The last stage involves tying all maintenance management activities to the company’s strategic direction by integrating it with all current and future goals (Mather, 2010).

In relation to a maintenance management programme tied directly to asset performance management, Damm (2005) provided a maintenance approach model where each stage is viewed as an evolutionary process that can be incorporated to enhance the ability of maintenance to serve an organisation in a way that is both productive and cost-effective. Stage one is reactive repair where work is done as things break whilst stage two is demand maintenance, which involves more planning (Damm, 2005). Stage three is then preventative maintenance where equipment is managed by looking directly at those issues or amount of time that could precipitate repairs so that they are addressed prior to occurring (Damm, 2005). From there, stage four is predictive maintenance, which is based on statistical analysis wherein historical data is analysed to predict when breakdowns or maintenance would be needed in the future (Damm, 2005). Stage five is reliability centred maintenance “where engineering based maintenance programmes are complemented with operational performance trends to ‘push’ the maintenance cycles to the max within the context of an overall system risk assessment” (Damm, 2005: 1). Finally, stage six is the most advanced stage in the maintenance management system and is known as life cycle management where the focus becomes more comprehensive around maximising the useful life of what is considered an asset, whether that be a machine or a structure (Damm, 2005).

Damm (2005) also identified three key elements that characterise a ‘fully evolved maintenance management system,’ which include a performance management framework, practices and processes, and data and technology. The performance management framework is identified as “a clear set of asset specific strategies, objectives, initiatives and goals, where meaningful targets can be established and progress measured” (Damm, 2005: 2). The practices and processes are “a set of common work methods and asset specific management practices with a target of implementing defined industry best practices” (Damm, 2005: 2). Finally, the data and technology component are defined as “an integrated set of information, engineering, and communications technologies use to gather, store, interpret and report performance data and information” (Damm, 2005: 2).

2.4 Construction Industry and Maintenance Management

The construction industry has a significant role to play in building maintenance management in terms of how it has evolved and responded to various economic cycles, including maintenance during recessionary periods and boom year construction periods. Despite the influence, there have also been some noticeable conflicts between the construction industry and maintenance management, according to available research. For instance, Chanter & Swallow (2008: 19) noted the lack of value provided to maintenance management by the construction industry: “This manifests itself in a general lack of understanding of both its scope and its significance by all parties to the building procurement, construction, and management processes. In consequence, the backlog of repair and maintenance work required to bring the country’s building stock to a minimum acceptable level continues to grow at an unacceptable rate.”

The construction industry must address and reconcile the fact that it often faces numerous factors when looking at ways to handle the costs involved with housing maintenance. This is especially true as research suggests that the costs associated with building maintenance continue to rise and consumer a larger percentage of the budget (El-Haram & Horner, 2002). These costs are found to be primarily affected and dependent upon certain factors, such as human aspects, building characteristics, the way and frequency of the building maintenance, government policies that guide building maintenance standards and the related costs (El-Haram & Horner, 2002).

The UK government has put pressure on the construction industry to do their share in achieving the goals and objectives for the decent home standard, which has dictated that homes must be in a reasonable state of repair, have modern facilities and services, and provides a reasonable degree of thermal comfort (CLG, 2006). To achieve this, the construction industry must be relied upon to use their expertise and training to quickly upgrade and refurbish a social housing stock that is often considered very old, in disrepair, and lacks modern amenities that make them decent (CLG, 2006). Often, the construction industry is challenged by its scope of what building maintenance means in terms of their responsibilities because they must consider the government standards, tenants’ wishes, the social housing landlords’ expectations and environmental considerations (CLG, 2006). However, beyond a somewhat reactionary building maintenance framework described here, the construction industry is also charged with having the ability to deliver a higher level of sophisticated building maintenance that includes predicting future progress and deterioration, the impact of specific investment and funding cycles to maintain predictive and preventative maintenance strategies (CLG, 2006).

Chapter 3: A Critical Review of the Challenges in Asset Management

Asset management has been defined as “strategic discipline which gives rigour and accountability to the way organisations decide” on a number of areas, including what to invest in and when, what are the most critical assets, what risks need to be managed, how performance should be measured and what improvements must be made to maintain or improve that asset (Lloyd, 2010). The asset management framework holds all these decisions together so that an organisation has a way to look at the whole picture of what may need to be done within an operation or a structure (Lloyd, 2010). This chapter covers the many challenges in asset management in relation to maintenance in terms of both physical challenges and perceptions that hinder effective management of assets.

3.1 Perspective Challenges

One of the biggest problems is how the idea of maintenance is viewed, which is as a problem rather than something that is simply part of taking care of an asset and ensuring that it keeps or increases its value. As one source explained, “Property Maintenance has long been viewed by many as a necessary evil; something that, grudgingly, has to be done; a source of complaints from customers; a headache for the Board or Council and a constant source of gripes for tenants” (NHMF, 2004: 1).

With this perception, the concept of asset management cannot be properly fulfilled. In order to achieve a proper level of asset management and therefore achieve the intended standard of decent property standard, the right perception of asset management is that it “looks beyond the traditional property management approach of bricks and mortar. Successful asset management requires a thorough understanding of all issues that could affect a property; the physical, structural, economic and demographic needs of a property and its surrounding community” (NHMF, 2004: 1).Within the area of perspective challenges is the idea of conflicting goals related to financial targets, different timelines and forecasting conclusions, and contrasting approaches to work toward asset management on a network versus project viewpoint (Vanier, 2001).

3.2 Fundamental Operations Challenges

Beyond the perspective challenges, there are also fundamental operations challenges that exist with asset management (Lloyd, 2010). As one source noted, “For most organisations, the adoption of asset management will mean developing mechanisms to enhance, encourage and facilitate coordination between previously distinct functions” (Lloyd, 2010: xix). Overall understanding of asset management is often weak, which creates challenges in terms of making smart decisions and investments. Technical challenges include determining exactly what they own, the true value or worth of those buildings, their current condition and expected service life, and what types of repairs should be the priority over others (Zhang et al., 2009). Nath (2009) also identified specific challenges with asset management tied to lack of information, integration, technology, balance and risk. The result is miscommunication and incompetence, which further exacerbates these challenges and leads to less support (Nath, 2009).

Like maintenance management, the problem lies in the lack of a formal set of tools to collect, assess, and track data about properties to better understand when and where maintenance might be needed in advance so as to cost effectively uphold the value of these assets (NHMF, 2004). This includes the inability to model different scenarios in relation to repair and maintenance because there lacks the resources to create such a tool box (NHMF, 2004). For instance, if owners and operators of buildings incorporated such tools as Building Information Modelling (BIM) or GIS into their asset management processes, they could “facilitate data collection, processing, and display” as well as “integrate asset mapping with project management and budgeting tools so maintenance, inspections, and expenses can be accounted for in the same place” (Zhang et al., 2009: 13). This challenge is also linked to the fact that maintenance management may not be integrated within the overall asset management system again due to the aforementioned perception, making it less efficient and reinforcing the opinion that it is a ‘necessary evil’ rather than essential tool (NHMF, 2004). This includes both process and operational integration, including existing “computerized maintenance management systems, geographic information systems and corporate legacy systems” (Vanier, 2001: 35).

3.3 Overcoming Barriers

In order to maintain a consistently high value on these assets, there are many barriers that can get in the way, including the characteristics of the tenants and their viewpoint of the care and concern of the building (El-Harman & Horner, 2002). There are also political and regulatory measures that have put greater pressures on the construction industry, including energy costs and sustainability measures (El-Harman & Horner, 2002). Budget constraints due to economic pressures, such as lack of financing and investors, are further challenging the construction industry and leading them to minimise their focus on maintenance as an integral aspect of social housing. Further challenges are the idea that the construction trade is fully aware of the consequences of what could occur if they decide to cut out maintenance, which is greater costs in the future (Horner et al., 1997). However, they are willing to risk those costs in light of saving money in the short term (Horner et al., 1997).

Other research has identified critical success factors that play a role in overcoming building maintenance management challenges, which can help address all perspectives involved – from the customer to the internal to the financial (Zulkarnain et al., 2011). These critical success factors have some patterns that overlap perspectives, including customer satisfaction and complaints, service quality, staff development, technology capability and asset utilisation (Zulkarnain et al., 2011). These factors are embedded into a larger framework known as a whole life asset management approach to maintenance management that addresses the challenges listed in this chapter and provides a way to spend less whilst getting more with each maintenance action, managing risks in order to not waste resources, taking a whole systems approach rather than an equipment or component approach and ensuring all stakeholders share the same perspective (Lloyd, 2010).To adopt this approach and work through the asset management challenges, research has recommended restructuring organisations to work as a whole life asset management model (Lloyd, 2010).

Chapter 4: Maintenance Management in Social Housing

Maintenance management, as linked to an overall asset management system, has become increasingly important in relation to social housing because UK government initiatives are driving the goal for more efficient and economical means of creating high-quality housing stock (Kempton & Chapman, 2003). Yet, the literature suggests ongoing challenges with making this work in a way that leads to the higher social housing stock. Problems identified include an ongoing short-term perspective about the social housing assets by those in charge of them despite being directed to take a more long-term strategic approach to maintaining these assets (Kempton & Chapman, 2003). Additionally, there is a large discrepancy in the standard of quality in regards to maintenance management across the geographical area of the UK, reflecting the fact that there is no formal framework in place to guide the maintenance management process (Kempton & Chapman, 2003).

4.1 Key Challenges

There is considerable maintenance management that goes into taking care of the UK’s sizable social housing stock, including repairs and improvement work to bring it up to a certain standard as the homes age or undergo abuse from tenants (Audit Commission, 2000). The level of care and uptake also varies widely across the UK in terms of performance and quality due to a number of reasons, including uneven resources, ill-conceived maintenance programmes, and lack of control and oversight when it comes to repairs (Audit Commission, 2009). Other problems include a lack of participation by tenants and leaseholders in the process, no use of performance management tools and basic monitoring or feedback mechanisms as well as a lack of value for money when establishing letting contracts (Audit Commission, 2009).

As part of the maintenance requirements issued by the UK government for social housing has been for landlords to provide what are known as Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs), which is intended for the potential tenant to understand what type of energy efficiency upgrades have been completed on the housing and ensure that it is decent (Macphail, 2009). However, the challenge has been for landlords to be able to gather the energy data, understand how to do so and how it needs to be used and presented, and decided on how this should be integrated with other maintenance management responsibilities that should be undertaken (Macphail, 2009). This is one example of the challenges faced with social housing in terms of making it both decent and now fulfilling the UK government’s energy initiatives.

The challenges associated with achieving this by social landlords was documented in a comprehensive set of interviews conducted by researchers at the University of Greenwich (Cooper & Jones, 2009). The conclusions from the interviews with social landlords about the various responsibilities and challenges they face were that the government’s sustainability agenda is beginning to impact the scope of what social housing maintenance managers must do and make decisions on in regards to social, economic, and environmental aspects of this new agenda (Cooper & Jones, 2009).

4.2 Integration Approach to Challenges

Despite the challenges, new models of maintenance for social housing have been proposed that are aimed at integrating sustainability objectives into the decent homes initiative in order to fulfil all levels of responsibility placed on the social housing sector. The University of Greenwich presented a performance-based sustainability housing maintenance model that linked policy/strategy, needs identification, causes, actions, solutions and evaluations/feedback (Cooper & Jones, 2009).

This level of integration has been viewed as the only identifiable means of addressing all the factors and issues that have now become embedded


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