Shaping Futures Press Release


February 9, 2016, Roundtable in Ottawa


An international knowledge exchange, knowledge building project based at Policy Scotland

By Sharon Chisholm

Shaping Futures is an International Knowledge Exchange, Knowledge Building project sponsored by its partners. The aim of the project is to provide a forum for dialogue on housing policies for the 21st century. Shaping Futures will bring together experts from Australia, Canada and the UK with input from the US, the Netherlands and France. The partners in the project range from housing and urban academics, to housing practitioners, to local and regional governments to foundations. It will initially build on existing research and knowledge and create new insights and directions for policies. The process of discussion and guided research in critical topic areas will build knowledge in the participants that can be shared through knowledge exchanges in their communities. It is clear that new finance mechanisms are needed, that housing does not stand on its own as a discipline or as a sector and requires an interdisciplinary approach. We need a new story on housing, one that incorporates its roles as economic infrastructure and place builder.

The social housing sector in advanced economies is being faced with unprecedented even existential challenges. The changes being posed could spell the end to social housing programs as we know them and make it difficult for existing social housing agencies to survive and thrive. The belief that everyone should own their own home continues to dominate policy discussion, while inequalities increase and housing options diminish. Seven years after the GFC, governments are still reducing fiscal budgets which in turn induce cuts to housing and welfare budgets, both of which threaten the fiscal capacity of housing providers and diminish hopes for those unable to purchase homes or access affordable rental. But it is not only social housing that has been impacted. Increased demand for a limited supply of rental housing comes as a result of both shortages in social housing and increasing house prices putting more households in the rental market. House prices, student debt and low starting wages have increasingly shut young households out of the market.

Major trends in economic and social change are worrying. Current housing market outcomes reinforce inequality and wealth.  At the same time, housing programs for the least well off are diminished in scale and generosity.  What is housing policy to become in the decades ahead? We learned from the New Times, New Businesses project (Canada, UK, Australia, 2012-2013) how non-profits responded to cuts by evolving their business model. ‘Hybrid’ non-profits emerged as a result with new business lines which allowed them to continue to subsidize low income tenants despite cuts to government sponsored programmes. They found ways to increase their stock by leveraging the value of their assets. They increased incomes by adding new business lines. But businesses need assets to grow and recent announcements will bring about the reduction in their overall stock.

Welfare reform, which is underway in the UK, Canada and Australia will undoubtedly create more rental arrears by low income households, threatening the disadvantaged as well as the capacity of non-profit providers to cater for them. Are cuts to social programs and housing actually resulting in cost savings for governments or do they represent lost opportunities to improve the economic prospects of places? It is clear that freezing young households out of homeownership, not supporting private and non-profit rental construction, and failing to act on escalating house prices have resulted in huge issues for cities which they in turn look to national governments to resolve. In the UK, the very system of community based housing practice is threatened. In Canada and Australia, we see a net loss in the number of affordable rental homes that are available. It is time for a transformation.

It is clear that the capital programs that allowed our countries to build a substantial stock of social housing are not going to be resurrected. While some groups have found ways to leverage their assets, too many groups do not have the size or capacity to take advantage of growing assets to leverage new investment. We need to learn how to make clear and concise arguments around the instrumental role housing plays in building modern economics, economies that see Greenhouse gas reductions, improved productivity and the right infrastructure for places to be resilient and competitive in the future.

The non-profit housing sector has made significant contributions over the past fifty years in putting labour close to jobs, families close to services and security of housing in front of profits. If it weren’t for their work, gated communities would be more prominent and vulnerable families less successful in the marketplace. But what is the extent to which places would have suffered if it weren’t for the intervention and investment of non-profits? When we look at the success of Canadian non-profits at integrating families into a variety of neighbourhoods since the 70s, it is clear that places and businesses have benefited as well as individuals. But more than that; Recent research by Policy Scotland, AHURI in Australia and the University of Toronto is opening up a dialogue on the role of the housing system in creating dynamic, productive places and is conclusively demonstrating the effects of housing shortages and poorly located housing on the productivity of regions.

The research work being done in centres like Policy Scotland, AHURI, the University of Toronto and others will be tested in an international context. The knowledge exchange model of New Times, New Businesses worked well to help academics and practitioners understand what community housing groups could achieve. Together they strengthened their individual knowledge. Now a collective understanding of productivity effects of housing and its critical role in economic infrastructure and easing inequity is needed. By involving practitioners with academics, this project will enhance the mobilization of this knowledge at an international level. And by integrating the work of world leading non-profit housing groups with academic learning and policy reflection, it will add credence to those seeking better housing outcomes at a national level.

We live in a time in which knowledge is made global at breakneck speeds. We will seek to use the same systems to exchange the ideas that are so needed to reshape housing policies for the 21st century. This will allow countries to utilize the ideas and practices that are already in place.

A project such as this will help to underline the critical importance of a comprehensive housing strategy that is rooted in building an infrastructure for the future and that considers housing as part of a system. The strategic importance of the continued role of community building bodies must be understood before such practices are relegated to history.

Professor Duncan Maclennan will Chair the project while Professor Ken Gibb at Policy Scotland will be its Principle Investigator. It will benefit from the academic leadership of Professor David Hulchanski, University of Toronto, Professor Duncan Maclennan, Universities of St Andrews and Glasgow, and Professor Hal Pawson, University of New South Wales. Sharon Chisholm, an Affiliate with Policy Scotland, who was the originator of the project and provided its conceptual framework will be the Project Director.



Craig Sanderson, Chief Executive, Link Housing

David Bennett, Chief Executive, Sanctuary Housing

Joe Frey, Northern Ireland Housing Executive

Graeme Browne, Director & Rosemary Brotchie, Shelter Scotland

Barry White, Chief Executive, Scottish Futures Trust

Martin Armstrong, Chief Executive, Wheatley Group

Michael Newey, Chief Executive Officer, Broadland Housing, UK

Policy Scotland, University of Glasgow


Michael Lennon, Managing Director, Housing Choices

Steve Bevington, Managing Director, Community Housing Limited

David Cant, CEO, Brisbane Housing Company

Professor Hal Pawson, Associate Director, City Futures Research Centre, University of New South Wales


Abigail Bond, Director of Housing Policy & Projects, City of Vancouver

Professor David Hulchanski, Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work & Dr Chow Yei Ching Chair of Housing, University of Toronto

Alan Broadbent, Chairman and Elizabeth McIsaac, President, Maytree Foundation

Academic Team

Chair: Professor Duncan Maclennan

Principal Investigator:

Professor Ken Gibb, (Housing Economist) Director of Policy Scotland, Glasgow University

Academic Leaders

Professor David Hulchanski, Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work & Dr Chow Yei Ching Chair of Housing, University of Toronto

Professor Duncan Maclennan, (Housing Economist and Public Policy), Policy Scotland, Glasgow University

Professor Hal Pawson, (Housing & Urban Renewal), Associate Director, City Futures Research Centre, University of New South Wales

Project Director

Sharon Chisholm, Affiliate, Policy Scotland, University of Glasgow


National Housing Federation, David Orr and Shane Brownie

Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Big City Mayors

Amsterdam Federation of Housing Associations, Jeroen van der Veer

Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, Mary Taylor














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