Housing associations play powerful role in vulnerable neighbourhoods

News - 17 February 2016

Housing associations have an important role to play in supporting vulnerable neighbourhoods. This is one of the findings from Gerard van Bortel’s research entitled ‘Netwerken en Breuklijnen’ (Networks and Fault Lines), which examines the role of housing associations in the decision-making processes of neighbourhood strategy. Gerard van Bortel will hold his thesis defence on Friday 4 March. 

Thesis defence Gerard van Bortel
04 March 2016 | 10:00
Aula TU Delft

His research shows that associations can play a stabilising, connecting role in the neighbourhood strategy in times of crisis and government cutbacks. It also clearly demonstrates the decisive (and sometimes disruptive) effect of national government policy suddenly being introduced, or abruptly and prematurely withdrawn, during neighbourhood redevelopment programmes, such as the neighbourhood strategy of former minister Ella Vogelaar.

The thesis puts the negative image currently clinging to housing associations and their role in the neighbourhood strategy into another perspective. Affairs that have come to light in recent years and the damning conclusions of the Parliamentary Enquiry into Housing Associations in 2014 would suggest that housing associations have a negative impact on vulnerable neighbourhoods. But the thesis highlights the positive contribution that housing associations have in supporting vulnerable neighbourhoods. Improving a deprived neighbourhood needs a long-term approach. Their property ownership in the neighbourhoods gives housing associations a lasting commitment to them. Their position in the social mid-field allows them to continue focusing on the neighbourhoods, even when politicians and media stop paying attention and the market parties see no point in further investment.

Gerard van Bortel pays extra attention to the role of local residents in the neighbourhood strategy. Despite a lot of good will, housing associations often have trouble getting residents involved in their neighbourhood strategy. The dissertation analyses the background to these problems and makes several recommendations.

The results of the PhD research are particularly relevant at the moment, since the introduction of the new Housing Act in July 2015 restricted the associations’ potential to invest in neighbourhood themselves. At the same time, recent research has shown that the number of people living in vulnerable neighbourhoods in the Netherlands is on the increase. The Molenbeek neighbourhood in Brussels is a harrowing example of what can happen if vulnerable neighbourhoods and the people who live in them are simply left to get on with it. The importance of strong networks in neighbourhoods is becoming increasingly important.

The thesis makes recommendations about how associations can support vulnerable neighbourhoods: not as the dominant party that will ‘sort things out’, but as a party that shows patience and perseverance by helping to forge strong ties between residents, local organisations, housing associations, municipal authorities and other relevant parties. 
Gerard van Bortel’s research also draws attention to the diversity of the parties investing in social housing in England and the Netherlands. This is allowing associations to play an important role in vulnerable neighbourhoods, and make other choices. It is up them to take up the challenge in these neighbourhoods.

Van Bortel studied decision-making processes and policy networks in the neighbourhood strategy for almost 10 years, analysing developments in two vulnerable neighbourhoods: Lozells in Birmingham and De Hoogte in Groningen (one of 40 neighbourhoods in the Netherlands identified as particularly disadvantaged by the then Minister of Integration and Housing Ella Vogelaar).

More information