Once again 24housing magazine is proud to present its list of the most influential people in housing and,
sure enough, the man who topped last year’s top 50 is nowhere to be seen.
As Conservative Party chairman, former housing minister Grant Shapps would like to think he has bigger fish to fry than defending weak housebuilding figures or attacking association pay packets, which dominated his time in his previous job.
This time around we have a new figure at the top of the list: National Housing Federation chief exec David Orr. He’s had a big year, particularly with the federation’s high-profile campaigning on welfare reform and the bedroom tax. As you’ll see in our profile, he’s determined that the NHF will keep arguing the sector’s case in the months to come.
Welfare reform is the biggest thing to hit housing providers and their tenants for years and it’s also responsible for the high placing of two other figures on our list – Lord Freud, who’s in charge of implementing the changes, and his boss at the DWP Iain Duncan Smith. Their impact on the sector is undeniable.
The rest of the list is made up of people who are all making their mark on housing in different ways. Once again we had an excellent response after asking hundreds of people across the sector to tell us who they thought was most influential. This year we suggested they could nominate figures who inspired them too. That might explain why there’s a slightly different feel to this year’s top 50: a lot of the housing world’s big hitters still feature, but there’s also room for people at smaller organisations, for some real innovators and, significantly, for a tenant too.
Surprisingly, there’s no local authority or ALMO representation this time around, although some, such as Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson, Newham Mayor
Sir Robin Wales, Lewisham Mayor Sir Steve Bullock, National Federation of ALMOs chair Sue Roberts and Brian Reilly of Wandsworth Council, only just missed out. Is the housing association domination of the list down to the work they do – or are they just better at telling each other about it?
Politically, those who are in power still dominate the list, with Boris Johnson, Nick Boles, George Osborne, Mark Prisk and David Cameron all picking up votes. But it’s better news for Labour this year, with shadow housing minister Jack Dromey and Karen Buck MP featuring for the first time. There’s also strong representation from Wales – where housing
is a hot topic ahead of the housing bill – and a place for relatively new Scottish housing minister Margaret Burgess, who’s already making her voice heard in her first year in the job.
There were some interesting choices who didn’t quite make the top 50, including TV faces Jon Snow (for his personal commitment to housing issues) and George Clarke (for making housing ‘look cool’) and former paralympic athlete and peer Tanni Grey- Thompson (for her work on disability and welfare reform issues). Poignantly, many are still inspired by the late Sarah Webb, former CIH chief executive.
As for the future, the voting process threw up some encouraging signs, with a number of young housing professionals picking up votes – suggesting they may become the Power Players of the future. With challenging times ahead for housing, that’s no bad thing.
1. David Orr
Chief Executive, National Housing Federation
When times are tough, you need a strong voice speaking up on your behalf. Housing need look no further than David Orr.
The National Housing Federation (NHF) chief has been particularly vocal this year, making the case for more affordable homes and, in particular, highlighting
the dangers of the Government’s welfare reforms. His championing of the sector has won him high praise from housing professionals. As one puts it: “He’s fighting the battles that matter.”
His strong grasp of the issues, built up over more than seven years at the NHF and before that as chief executive of Newlon Housing Trust and the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, was remarked upon by many who voted. He is, according to one, “usually considerably better informed than the ministers he’s put up against.” A housing association chief executive summed him up as a “robust and eloquent advocate for people in need.”
Orr says he’s very pleased to have topped our list, not just for himself but for the recognition it gives to the work of the NHF. “I think we’ve been doing a very good job, forcefully where necessary but always on an evidence base, on the things we think are important,” he says.
It may sometimes mean conflict with the Government, but the federation won’t shy away from that when it’s necessary: the bedroom tax, he says, is a particularly clear example of a bad policy that needs to be challenged. “It doesn’t mean all welfare reform is bad or that we shouldn’t be thinking about these things, but this particular measure is outrageous,” he says. “We have been clear and rational throughout but we have kind of nailed their feet to the floor on this issue.”
Orr says the NHF has very positive and constructive relations with government and policy-makers: “It is a positive agenda we are working on but where something is clearly wrong and bad policy and incompetent and unfair, we would be doing no-one any favours by not saying so.”
For the future, Orr says the NHF will be continuing its lobbying work on welfare reform and other issues and will also work closely with its members to help them and their tenants cope with the impact of benefit changes. It is also looking ahead to the housing landscape post-2015.
“We have to think creatively about what will be a paradigm shift and look for some completely new approaches. We can’t just sit back and wait for others to come up with solutions,” he says.
“The strongest voice advocating the role and importance of housing. He has increased the penetration of housing issues beyond the housing cognoscenti to a wider public” Steve Douglas, partner, Altair
“He is our best communicator and we need more like him” Colin Wiles, consultant
“Forever championing the sector – like a Jack Russell, once he gets his teeth into a subject he does not give up” Peter Lunio, Associate Director, Baker Tilly
2. Grainia Long
Chief Executive, Chartered Institute of Housing
Grainia Long’s energy and commitment have won her a lot of fans in the short period of time she has
been CIH chief exec.
“Inspirational” was the word used
by several contributors to the 2013
list. National Housing Federation chief David Orr praises the “great work she is introducing and the positive change she is overseeing at CIH”, while HACT’s Matt Leach says Long will have a critical role to play as the sector “starts to reassert its identity, purpose and direction.”
Long says she is an optimist: despite the challenging environment, housing providers are extremely well placed to make a difference, she believes. For the CIH itself, she is keen to build on its new governance structure to make it relevant to housing professionals across the sector and a centre of excellence for all.
Long has described her current role as “the best job in housing”. She began her career in housing at the Housing Rights Service, Northern Ireland and also worked at Shelter Scotland before becoming CIH director in Northern Ireland and then interim chief executive after the death of previous CIH chief executive Sarah Webb. She was appointed permanently in February last year.
“I’m looking for CIH to make a big mark this year. There’s a restructure at the top which will need to bed in quickly. The Government’s record demands challenging and we need to step up to the plate with
a constructive agenda. It will be a test of Grainia’s leadership but she’s up to it” Paul Diggory, chief executive, North Wales Housing and former CIH president
“For shaking up a dusty institution and making headway in making it relevant to today’s housing professional” Clare Lawrance, supported housing manager, Colne Housing
3. Lord Freud
Minister for Welfare Reform
The man charged with steering through welfare reform couldn’t fail to have a huge impact this year – jumping above his boss at the DWP,Iain Duncan Smith, on our list.
David Freud says 2013 is about making the Government’s reform plans a reality. Many fear that in doing so, there will be huge damage to some of the most vulnerable in society. But, despite the criticism, the minister has been busy making the case for reform, saying that “change cannot come soon enough”.
Freud’s career as a politician is a relatively new one: he worked in the City as Vice Chairman of Investment Banking for UBS and before that as a journalist on the Financial Times. But he has been working on welfare reform issues for some years, acting as an advisor to the previous government and authoring
an independent report ‘Reducing Dependency, Increasing Opportunity’back in 2007.
“Sadly the most influential, certainly notinspiring.Asthearchitectofwelfare reforms, he is affecting both tenants and landlords, but there is little evidence he’s a listener” David Rigby, David Rigby Communications
“The architect of the most expensive cuts exercise in history. He should just have chopped the revenue for social landlords by a few percent. Instead we have to go through years of shuffling folk between bedrooms like a Brian Rix farce and pretending that the Universal Credit computer will work: it won’t” Alistair McIntosh, chief executive, Housing Quality Network
“The whole sector is having to respond to welfare reform. No single person has exerted such influence on the sector for a generation” Peter Hall, managing director, PHHS
4. George Osborne
Chancellor of the Exchequer
The man who holds the purse strings will determine the shape of the housing sector over the next few years.
Relax those strings and we could see a whole new wave of housebuilding to boost the economy. Keep them pulled tight and we will see a continuation of the austerity which, the Office of Budget Responsibility has warned, is stunting growth.
Ahead of the budget, the CBI weighed into the debate, saying spending £1.25 billion on building an extra 50,000 affordable homes would generate £18 billion for the wider economy and create 75,000 jobs. The housing sector is hoping Osborne, who has long argued that his policies are the only way to right the economy, will have got the message ahead of his next spending review.
The decisions the Chancellor takes on investment and spending cuts, including welfare, will have a profound impact on housing providers and the people theyhouse. Will he stick to the “long and hard road” to recovery, or will he follow the sign marked ‘new homes’?
“The fact that the next general election and the end of the spending review coincide has created uncertainty
and Osborne is the man to settle it by indicating how much funding housing will get after 2015 – hopefully in a mini- spending review later this year” Henry Gregg, head of strategy, planning and public affairs, Circle Housing Group
“As housing becomes more central
to the Government’s growth strategy
it’s increasingly the Chancellor who
calls the shots about the direction of housing policy. The housing system is strongly influenced by the wider economic and fiscal context which arguably the Chancellor at least partly controls” Gavin Smart, director of policy and practice, Chartered Institute of Housing
5. Mark Prisk
The housing minister hasn’t yet made the mark on the sector that his high- profile predecessor Grant Shapps did.
One of those who voted for Prisk did so despite saying he was “an unassuming housing minister who’s keeping a very low profile.” But Prisk can claim to know a bit about housing: he is a chartered surveyor by profession and a former construction minister.
His appointment has therefore, some feel, put a much-needed ‘deliverer’ into office to help get housebuilding moving; a foil to the ex-think-tanker Nick Boles
as planning minister. Certainly some six months into their jobs, Boles has been getting more of the headlines in his battle with the nimbys (see No. 12), while Prisk has been out and about talking delivery.
He told the Home Builders Federation conference in March that his focus was firmly on “getting new homes built and in particular on unlocking large schemes”.
“There is still a long way to go before
we reach the sort of levels of growth we need,” he admitted, adding: “However, by promoting a comprehensive programme of reform and investment, we are determined to lay the foundations for a sustained improvement in our housing markets, regardless of tenure… It won’t be easy, or quick. But together I believe we can build more homes.”
“A rising politician with a key role in putting housing on the government agenda” John Cross, chief executive, BPHA
“The minister will play a key role in shaping what comes after the affordable rent model in 2015. It is crucial he realises that funding the sector is an investment, not a subsidy. If he does, he can be a big player in helping us deliver more homes” Steve Howlett, chief executive,
6. Boris Johnson
Mayor of London
Johnson has talked big on housing in the capital, saying new homes have to be a top priority. Despite a fall in the number built last year, the Mayor insists he is on track to deliver 100,000 affordable homes during his time at City Hall.
“A popular politician who understands the importance of housing and who’s well- positioned to influence the Government in the second half of its term” Ian Hembrow, account director, Creative Bridge
“In the absence of a full-time or visible housing minister, Boris alone has remained consistently vocal [about housing provision]” Lara Oyedele, chief executive, Odu-Dua
7. Iain Duncan Smith
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
The ‘quiet man’ of the Conservative Party has been consistently high profile over the last year for his welfare reforms. IDS insists fairness is at the heart of his overhaul of the system. The housing sector may not agree – but his impact is undeniable.
“For his power in determining the future of welfare and its impact on people’s lives and communities” Gareth Swarbrick, chief executive, Rochdale Boroughwide Housing
“Welfare reform is the single most important and far-reaching change affecting the social housing sector in the last two decades. It is bringing into question the sustainability of social tenancies” Kevin Gulliver, director, Human City Institute
Chief Executive, Riverside
Top of the pile among housing association chief execs, Carol Matthews has made a big impression since taking charge at Riverside in February 2012. She is described by one of those who voted for her as “the first of a new generation of leadership in the very large associations” and by another as “head and shoulders above her peers… genuinely grounded in her focus on service to tenants.” Matthews began her career with Sheffield Council and spent five years as chief executive of Guinness Northern Counties.
“If you spend five minutes with her, you feel like you could change the world” Abigail Davies, assistant director of policy and practice, Chartered Institute of Housing
9. Lord Richard Best
Peer, chair of Hanover Housing and president of the Local Government Association, Richard Best is seen by many as the moral guardian of the social housing sector and his campaigning over welfare reform in the Lords has been particularly influential. He has deep roots in housing, after stints as chief executive of the National Housing Federation and the Joseph Rowntree Trust.
“Richard Best has played a huge role in both focusing the debate on welfare reform, and as a voice advocating social purpose at the heart of housing providers’ missions” Matt Leach, chief executive, HACT
“For a lifetime of dedication to the sector and for highlighting the serious implications of welfare reform” Dawn Prentice, Dawn Prentice Communications
10. Geeta Nanda
Chief Executive, Thames Valley Housing
Geeta Nanda is determined to make her association a strong business with a social purpose, growing commercially in order to invest more to help those who need it most. ‘Fizzy Living’ – a project which aims to produce 1,000 high quality market rented homes over the next two years – is just one of Thames Valley’s initiatives which are making waves across the sector. Her determined leadership and progressive thinking, says one who voted for her, have made her a great inspiration for women housing professionals.
“Her innovative approach and thinking is crucial to strengthen the housing sector in a tough economic climate” David Orr, chief executive, National Housing Federation
11. Huw Lewis
Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Heritage, Wales
“Ambitious yet achievable” is how CIH Cymru summed up the approach laid out in Wales’ first Housing White Paper, launched by Huw Lewis last year. Lewis, who represents Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, is determined that Wales should carve out its own direction on housing. He has condemned the welfare reforms introduced at Westminster as a “social atrocity” which would have a “destructive, destabilising effect” on communities in Wales.
“He is sponsoring the first housing bill for Wales that has the potential to develop a policy framework that deals with those issues that are of particular relevance to this country” Antonia Forte, chief executive, Cynon Taf Community Housing Group
12. Nick Boles
Trying to tackle the problem of finding enough land to build the homes we need is what Nick Boles says keeps him awake at night. He’s impressed many with his willingness
to take on the nimby brigade. Contrary to the media myths, he insists, there’s “plenty
of undistinguished undeveloped land to spare”. As founder of the influential Policy Exchange think tank, he’s got plenty of experience in blue sky thinking. But will he be able to turn his ambitions into reality and so get a good night’s sleep?
“The thinker in DCLG and good friend of Cameron – influential way beyond his planning brief” Boris Worrall, director of strategy and external affairs, Orbit Group
13. Tony Stacey
Chief Executive, South Yorkshire Housing Association
At the helm of SYHA since 1995, Stacey plays a key role in representing community-based housing associations on the national stage in his role as chair of the PlaceShapers Group. His is, according to one of those who voted for him, “an influential and distinctive” voice.
“Tony stands for everything I value in housing. He’s committed to its central role
in changing lives. He values the contribution that small and medium-sized housing associations can offer. He believes in strong partnership working to bring about the broadest range of improvements to communities” Tim Pinder, chief executive, Peaks & Plains Housing Trust
14. David Montague
Chief Executive, L&Q
L&Q celebrates its 50th anniversary this year – and David Montague, who has been with the organisation for 25 years, says it is now the “jewel in the crown” of social housing. With 70,000 homes and some £45 billion raised in private finance, it’s hard to argue with his assessment. Montague, formerly its finance director, says L&Q is as committed to its social mission as it was back when it was founded.
“David cares about the sector and has the ability to significantly influence development and therefore policy direction” Geeta Nanda, chief executive, Thames Valley Housing
15. Jack Dromey
Shadow Housing Minister
Last year, Labour’s shadow team didn’t make the top 50: 12 months on and Jack Dromey’s efforts to highlight what he calls “the biggest housing crisis in a generation” are getting him noticed. The former union official, elected to Parliament in 2010, is often seen around the country visiting housing providers and highlighting the big issues. He’s already pledged that Labour will put housing centre stage at the next election but, as some have pointed out, we’re still waiting to hear more details.
“He seems to ‘get it’: is he a future housing minister in waiting?” Nick Horne, chief executive, Arcadia Housing Group
16. John Denny
Chief Executive, Cosmopolitan Housing Group
It might come as a shock to see the boss of troubled Cosmopolitan make it so high in the list this year – one place above the chair of the HCA’s regulation committee. But, according to those who voted for him, it’s precisely because of the way he’s facing up to the crisis that Denny, formerly chief exec of Chester & District Housing Trust which merged with Cosmopolitan in 2011, deserves recognition.
“It is in dealing with major unforeseen issues which challenge both the economic sustainability of an organisation and its overall credibility that inspirational leaders come into their own” Martin Carey, chief executive, Urban Hope, Liverpool Hope University
17. Julian Ashby
Chair of the Regulation Committee, Homes and Communities Agency
A challenging environment for housing providers demands an experienced person
to oversee it and Ashby, with more than 30 years in social housing, is certainly that. According to Phil Morgan, former director of tenant services at the TSA, Ashby’s impact on the sector “has been and will be profound.” Morgan adds: “The importance of good governance can be traced back to him.”
“As the sector thrashes about in shark-infested waters, one man is in charge of keeping order. He’s like the police chief in Jaws – but will he tell some weaker associations ‘you’re gonna need a bigger boat’?” Alistair McIntosh, chief executive, HQN
18. Paul Tennant
Chief executive, Orbit Group
Many believe the positive outlook of the Chartered Institute of Housing’s new president will be good news for the organisation as it undergoes a restructure. Regarded as one of the most successful housing CEOs, during his time in charge at Orbit, turnover has grown 154 percent.
“Paul’s values and the emphasis he places on professional ethics mean he’s the right person for the role of president of CIH as we place renewed emphasis on professional standards and skills for the future” Grainia Long, chief executive, Chartered Institute of Housing
19. Keith Exford
Chief Executive, Affinity Sutton
More than 20 years at the top at Affinity Sutton have given Keith Exford real clout in the housing sector. As one contributor put it: “When he speaks, people sit up and listen.” Exford has taken his organisation from relatively modest beginnings to a national player, with a significant development programme and a track record of innovation.
“As the current chair of the G15 group, Keith has represented our commitment to tackling London’s acute affordable housing shortage. He has also overseen an excellent research programme which will demonstrate the economic value of the G15’s community investment work in London” Steve Howlett, chief executive, Peabody
20. Richard Blakeway
Deputy Mayor of London for Housing, Land and Property
Responsible for overseeing the Mayor’s statutory housing powers, Blakeway has pledged that the Mayoralty will deliver a record number of affordable homes for the capital,
and will also have a “determined focus” on ending rough sleeping and halving severe overcrowding in social housing. He will need to exert his influence to make London’s case with the Treasury ahead of the next spending review. Housing associations in London work closely with him and one chief executive says: “He understands the vital role housing associations can play in generating economic growth in the capital.”
21. Gareth Swarbrick
Chief Executive, Rochdale Boroughwide Housing
It’s no surprise that Gareth Swarbrick is picking up so many plaudits after steering through one of last year’s most significant housing firsts. Swarbrick heads up Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, now England’s largest housing co-op and the first to have both tenant and employee members. The move, according to Swarbrick, will engage both staff and residents in “shaping their own destiny”. It’s a vision for a new form of public ownership which could prove hugely influential. As one of those who voted for Swarbrick put it: “This could be the future of investment in council housing: housing management by the people for the people.”
22. Nick Atkin
Chief Executive, Halton Housing Trust
Nick Atkin – social media champion and self-confessed tie hater – is making his name as a forward thinker. His plans to ban all internal emails, which he says waste 40 percent of his staff’s time, have encouraged many in the housing sector to look long and hard at their own internal communications. Under his leadership, as well as delivering a multi- million pound investment programme, the trust has focused on issues such as getting residents online and enabling remote working for staff. More recently, the trust’s video for customers outlining the impact of welfare reform has proved influential way beyond its patch.
23. Julia Unwin
Chief Executive, Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Joseph Rowntree
“A decade of destitution”. That’s what Julia Unwin fears for the poorest in society as
a result of welfare reform. The JRF, with its programme of research on poverty and its impact, is tracking the impact of the tough financial environment on our communities. And Unwin, who took over as JRF chief executive back in 2007, has an increasingly influential role in getting the message out. According to one of those who voted for her: “The welfare reform agenda will ensure that Julia and others are well to the fore. Sadly her message will have increasing resonance over the next few years.”
24. Jules Birch
Journalist and blogger
Birch has some 20 years’ experience of writing on the housing sector, but his timely analysis of the latest hot issues, particularly on housebuilding and welfare reform, have brought him to the fore this year. As well as contributing to a number of publications – including this one – Birch has his own blog and is also a regular commentator on Twitter. A sample quote from his blog gives a flavour of his style: “One of the first things that any child learns is that 1+1 = 2. Not any more it seems. In the world of austerity 1+1 = 0.5.”
“The housing blogger’s blogger” Steve Hilditch, housing consultant and blogger at redbrickblog
25. Andrew Lycett
Chief Executive, Rhondda Cynon Taff Homes
As Wales’ first community mutual, RCT Homes is determined to live up to its mantra of “more than a landlord”. RCT was formed after a vote in favour from Rhondda Cynon Taff Council tenants back in 2007. Since then it has introduced dozens of initiatives to encourage community involvement and economic regeneration.
“Andrew has done a great job at RCT, winning a stack of awards, many from outside the sector. Their community mutual model has worked well and they have established a groundbreaking deal with Bellerophon to build new affordable housing which could have benefits across Wales” Paul Diggory, chief executive, North Wales Housing
26. Sir Bob Kerslake
Head of the UK Civil Service and Permanent Secretary at the Department
for Communities and Local Government
Kerslake kept his existing role as Permanent Secretary at DCLG when he became head of the civil service at the start of last year. The former chief executive of the Homes
and Communities Agency and of Sheffield Council, he takes his vast experience of local government and housing to the very top of Whitehall. He has a tough dual role at a time of deep spending cuts. But despite talk of falling civil service morale and rifts with politicians, Kerslake insists the civil service remains engaged and committed to “positive change”.
27. Matthew Bailes
Director of Regulation, Homes and Communities Agency
Matthew Bailes has described the changes to social housing over the past few years as a “paradigm shift”. He and his regulation team at the HCA are the ones charged with keeping an eye on housing providers as they get to grips with those changes. Bailes is expecting executives and boards to be at the top of their game, especially if they are going into new business areas. His own background is in the civil service, where he was Head of the Affordable Housing Division at the Department for Communities and Local Government. He’s also worked at the Ministry of Defence.
28. Campbell Robb
Chief Executive, Shelter
Shelter has been at the frontline of campaigning over poor housing and homelessness since it was founded in the ‘Cathy Come Home’ era. The scale of the housing crisis might suggest its work is needed more now than at any time since the 1960s: this year the organisation has been making waves in the national media over the human impact of rapidly rising housing costs, despite a squeeze on its own funding due to cuts to legal aid. Robb became chief executive of Shelter in 2010.
“He tirelessly campaigns for those without a voice in housing” Kate Henderson, chief executive, Town and Country Planning Association
29. Ruth Cooke
Chief Executive, Midland Heart
Since taking over the top job at Midland Heart last year, Cooke has impressed many in the housing sector with her approach. One of those who voted for her summed it up as: “She has a strong focus on creating an agile business that is flexible and best placed to take advantage of new opportunities.” Just 37, Cooke has a background in finance – she is a trained accountant and was finance director at Midland Heart before becoming chief executive. She says she’s committed to developing the organisation’s work supporting those who need it most.
30. Ian Munro
Chief Executive, New Charter Housing
Munro is a great advocate of housing providers taking a wider role than just providing good homes. New Charter, originally a stock transfer housing association which took on Tameside Council’s housing stock in 2000, has sponsored academies and invested in a local newspaper and radio station – all part, Munro says, of building strong, sustainable communities. He’s set out a vision of continuing growth for New Charter and his message that running an organisation “that just hunkers down and salts money away” would be far too “tame and pallid” surely has resonance in these challenging times for housing.
31. Gavin Smart
Director of policy and practice, Chartered Institute of Housing
Smart, who began his career as a researcher at Bristol University, says he’s been interested in policy and politics for as long as he can remember. His career has included stints in government, at the then Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, and at the National Housing Federation. His commitment to arguing the case for housing and the housing profession has impressed many in the sector.
“Gavin clearly understands macro economics and its influence on the country, its housing supply and the effect of housing as a generator of economic growth and recovery. A great asset to the CIH” Karen Armitage, chief executive, Stafford and Rural Homes
32. Cath Purdy
Chief Executive, Vela Group
As group chief executive of Vela, Purdy is a major player in social housing in the North of England. The group, which has more than 17,000 homes in the Tees Valley area, is building hundreds of homes in the North East and North Yorkshire. Purdy has more than 20 years’ experience in housing and was chief executive of Housing Hartlepool, which came together with newly transferred Tristar Homes in 2010 to form the Vela Group. She is a member of the NHF’s national board and a director of the Northern Housing Consortium. She received an OBE in 2011.
33. David Cowans
Chief Executive, Places for People
“It’s always worth watching this serial entrepreneur”. So says one of those who voted for Cowans, head of a housing association which prefers to call itself a property management, development and regeneration company to reflect the diversity of its business. A market rent arm, a financial services division, childcare operations and a landscaping company are just some of the results of that diversification. In November last year, PfP took
over private rented sector company Touchstone. Cowans, formerly director of housing at Birmingham Council, says the housing sector needs to relinquish its traditional specialisms and find bold new ways of meeting housing need.
34. Peter Walls
Chief Executive, Gentoo
Peter Walls was director of health and housing at Sunderland Council, steering through the stock transfer which created Sunderland Housing Group, now Gentoo. The association has some 30,000 homes and has carried out significant refurbishment and new build programmes. It has also built a reputation for innovation, particularly on the green agenda. It has become involved in education, through its sponsorship of an academy,
and launched Genie, the first scheme of its kind to help would-be homeowners onto the housing ladder without a deposit or a mortgage. Gentoo is also continuing to grow, with plans for West of Scotland Housing Association to join the group this month.
35. Matt Leach
Chief Executive, HACT
HACT has taken on a new direction under the leadership of Matt Leach, who joined the organisation in 2011. Focusing on helping housing providers better understand and respond to the changing environment, HACT has launched new mapping tools, to give landlords information on their neighbourhoods and the people who live there. It’s also undertaking a major project on measuring social impact. Leach, who previously worked at think tank ResPublica and the Housing Corporation, says it’s all part of a realisation that housing providers “cannot afford to hide behind the sofa” in the face of the challenges ahead. Instead they will need new ways of understanding the impact of what they do.
36. John Morris
Chief Executive, Trident
Trident calls itself a social investment group, bringing together housing, care and support and social investment agencies in the Midlands. Morris, who joined Trident in 2004, is also chair of think tank the Human City Institute. HCI’s research and development director Kevin Gulliver says: “John has continued to promote the key role of housing associations as social investors. Trident’s move to become a ‘social investment group’ to support disadvantaged communities through maximising community impact and enhancing life chances underlines what differentiates housing associations from private landlords.”
37. Nick Bennett
Chief Executive, Community Housing Cymru
Heading up the representative body for Welsh housing associations, Bennett is a strong voice for social housing in Wales. He has called for investment in housing in Wales to be maintained to continue to drive economic growth and has warned of the welfare reform “hurricane” about to hit the country. Bennett, who joined Community Housing Cymru
in 2006, has been praised for the way he has inspired his team and won fresh respect for the organisation across the housing sector. He oversaw the merger in 2010 with Care and Repair Cymru and Crew Regeneration Wales.
38. Peter Schofield
Director-General for Neighbourhoods, Department for Communities and
Schofield, who was appointed to the DCLG from HM Treasury, has been tasked with implementing housing strategy, reform to the planning system and delivering local economic growth. At the Treasury, Schofield led on the growth agenda. Since his arrival at DCLG last March, he has stressed the need to attract institutional investment for affordable housing and to stimulate housebuilding for private rent. As one of those who voted for him underlined, he will be a key player in the negotiations over future spending in the run-up to the next spending review.
39. Lara Oyedele
Oyedele, boss of 180-home Odu-Dua, has made a name for herself as chair of BMENational, promoting the role of black and minority ethnic associations. With a background in housing which takes in spells at Bradford Council, the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, Notting Hill Housing Trust and Pinnacle PSG, she has also built a reputation for her social media presence.
“As a speaker at HDN’s 2012 mentoring conference, it was very clear that to virtually everyone in the 100-plus audience she was seen as a really influential role model” Clifton Robinson, chief executive, Housing Diversity Network
40. David Cameron
It’s his government, as those who voted for Cameron to appear on this list recognised. Yet the fact he didn’t score higher underlines the fact that housing is not an issue the
PM has made one of his own. Despite vowing to “get Britain building” again, his most notable interventions into the housing arena over the past year have been on the thorny subject of welfare reform. So will we see more from the PM on housing in the next few months other than his attempts to rebrand the bedroom tax as the spare room subsidy? Optimists might see some hope in his comments at the last Conservative conference that: “Housebuilding isn’t just a vital engine of the economy – it goes much wider than that.”
41. Margaret Burgess
Housing Minister, Scotland
Burgess was only elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2011 but quickly made her mark, particularly in raising housing and welfare issues. She was appointed to the job of housing minister after just a year as an MSP. Burgess is tasked with helping to ensure the Scottish Government meets its target of 30,000 affordable homes over the course of the parliament. She is also a fierce critic of welfare reform, saying: “Anyone who thinks we are ‘better together’ with this sort of UK legislation is totally wrong.” Before entering the Scottish Parliament, Burgess was manager of East Ayrshire Citizens Advice Bureau.
42. Karen Buck
As the member for Westminster North, Buck sees more than many MPs the impact of the housing crisis. She’s a shadow education minister, so young people are a key concern, but she’s also raised a whole host of housing issues in the Commons over the last year, including homelessness, temporary accommodation, the private rented sector and
the bedroom tax. Buck, who has been an MP since 1997, has particularly highlighted the effect of housing benefit changes to residents in her patch – one of London’s most expensive areas. Housing, she says, makes up a significant proportion of her caseload.
43. Kate Davies
Chief Executive, Notting Hill Housing Trust
Kate Davies is known for her willingness to challenge the status quo in housing: in, for example, promoting the debate on ending tenancies for life and more recently calling for an allocations system across the whole of London to help meet housing need in
the capital. She is, according to one who voted for her: “an influential and refreshing personality who could hold the answer to many of London’s housing problems.” Davies joined Notting Hill as chief executive in 2004, after leading Servite Houses and working as director of housing at Brighton and Hove Council.
44. David Bennett
Chief Executive, Sanctuary Group
Bennett, who has been in charge at Sanctuary since 1992, is described by one of
those who voted for him as the Sir Alex Ferguson of housing. “He doesn’t have a huge London asset base to bankroll success like many of the big associations, yet he keeps on delivering.” Sanctuary manages more than 80,000 homes across England and Scotland and has a significant care and support business.
“Runs the largest housing association very effectively: commercial acumen, social values – if anyone can lead the rescue for Cosmopolitan, it’s Sanctuary, and that is vital for the sector” James Tickell, director, Campbell Tickell
45. Michelle Reid
Chief Executive, TPAS
Tenant involvement specialist TPAS is 25 this year – and its chief executive Michelle Reid has set out a new vision for the organisation’s future, with a new “business-focused” board due to be put in place. Reid was appointed to head up TPAS in 2009, joining from HIV charity George House Trust, where she had been chief executive for seven years.
CIH chief executive Grainia Long says Reid has “brought energy and level headedness to TPAS”, adding: “She has the ability to think about the long-term future of the organisation while also providing leadership through the day to day challenges.”
46. Matthew Walker
Chief Executive, Leeds Federated Housing Association
“A really strong turnaround” is how one of those who voted for Walker summed up
his record as chief executive of Leeds Federated. The association had been placed in supervision a few years back by the former regulator, the Housing Corporation, but rapidly improved and now prides itself on its strong customer focus. Walker, previously finance director of the association, says his vision is for Leeds Federated’s neighbourhoods to be places people want to move to, live in and stay in. The association has some 4,000 homes in Leeds, Harrogate and Wakefield.
47. Ann Santry
Chief Executive, Sovereign
Santry, who has worked in housing since 1980, joined Sovereign in 1999. Her association manages homes across the south of England and has a development programme of around 1,000 homes a year. Santry, who is a popular figure in the housing sector for
her determination and pragmatism, was last year awarded a CBE for services to social housing.
“Ann has extensive knowledge and awareness of the need to provide good homes. She is a very humble person who describes herself as a guardian of Sovereign” Hannah Allen, head of customer involvement and community development, Aster Group
48. Peter McCormack
Chief Executive, Derwent Living
Derby-based Derwent Living prides itself on innovation, most notably on attracting pension fund investment in social housing. Peter McCormack, who joined as chief executive in 2008, says the organisation is a “true social business”, with its affordable housing work supported by successful commercial arms, including student housing and facilities management.
”Peter leads an association which has shown itself willing to think differently. It was the first association to finance the purchase of a £50m social housing property portfolio through a pension fund route” Gary Moreton, head of social housing, Baker Tilly
49. Steve Meakin
There were honourable mentions for a number of tenants this year but it’s Aspire Housing tenant and TPAS chair Steve Meakin who makes our top 50. Meakin joined the board of TPAS in 2011 and took over as chair of the organisation last year. He became a board member of Aspire back in 2000, later taking on the chair’s role for the customer panel and grounds maintenance group. He takes an active role in his community, organising a successful annual festival which attracts more than 13,000. He was awarded the MBE for his community service in 2006. He says he is passionate about tenants’ voices being heard.
50. Mark Henderson
Chief Executive, Home Group
Former pro motorbike racer Henderson has presided over significant growth in his four years in charge at Home. The association has been undertaking a number of significant regeneration and development schemes. But despite the organisation’s size Henderson is committed to not losing his focus on services to tenants. He’s also made the housing sector sit up and take notice by becoming the first association to publish details of
all financial transactions over £500, part of what he says is an organisation-wide commitment to transparency.
”His motor racing background gives him a non-traditional outlook” Martin Pollhammer, chief executive, East Lothian Housing Association