And what does it mean for social housing tenants?

A new government-backed programme has been granted £7 million worth of funding to transform the sustainability and quality of the social housing environment in Wales. Here we dig into the Optimised Retrofit Programme and what it means for housing associations and their tenants.

Good news stories can feel a tad lacking at the moment, right? That’s why everyone here at Moxie People are pleased as punch to see that the decarbonising of social housing across Wales is finally getting the attention it deserves.

It’s all part of a pioneering programme involving a consortium 68 partners - including 26 social housing providers - to retrofit over 1,300 Welsh homes. It’s called the (catchy title alert) Optimised Retrofit Programme.

What is the Optimised Retrofit Programme? The programme will use a combination of building fabric improvements, low and zero-carbon technologies and sophisticated operational controls to take over 1,300 Welsh homes to their lowest achievable carbon footprint.

It’s an enormous, mega exciting task; one that’s going to mean weighty changes for the social housing sector. Read on to discover more.

home efficiency net zero emissions

Why is the Optimised Retrofit Programme so important?

The Welsh Government aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 95% by 2050, with the ultimate ambition of reaching net-zero emissions in the future. It’s become pretty apparent flashing the cash at the problem with a ‘quick fix’ won’t make it go away. Thankfully, they’ve instead decided to set the standard with purpose through a sustainable, long-term programme.

The Optimised Retrofit approach is designed to deliver a whole house, pragmatic route to decarbonising existing social housing in Wales. They’ll run the programme in line with incremental home upgrades - step by step - so that it can provide a more comprehensive level of genuine zero carbon while costing less to actually carry out.

This is key because the built environment contributes around 40% of the UK’s carbon footprint. If we want any chance of reaching a climate-neutral world by mid-century, then these are the impactful changes that we need to make.; no ifs, ands or buts.

What are the potential issues with the programme?

First and foremost, there’s no getting around the fact that this is going to be a programme with a hefty price tag. And while £7million may feel like a cushty amount of money, the full programme rollout could end up closer to the billions. You can’t help but wonder - who’s going to pick up the bill once the dollar runs out?

It’s also important to keep in mind that some of the social housing in Wales will need a lot of change in order to match up to the targets set for the retrofits. There’s going to be a very real temptation for landlords to knock them down and start again - which, unsurprisingly, isn’t a great option both for the tenants living there and for the environmental impact of deconstruction.

Social housing landlords may also feel a bit resistant to being the programme guinea pigs - that’s why the messaging around the programme is so, so important. If the consortium wants people 100% on board, they need to show that this is an exciting opportunity to be at the forefront and really lead the way of a housing revolution.

Builder working on retrofitting

How will the Optimised Retrofit Programme change the way housing associations approach their developments?

Let’s not beat around the bush - housing associations need to start designing and delivering higher-quality buildings.

Social housing needs to be given the same amount of attention and commitment as any other home. It’s crucial because while emissions from the social housing sector are falling, there’s no way they will drop anywhere near substantially enough to even reach an 80% carbon reduction target, let alone net zero.

The only way to have a chance of reaching this target is by raising the standards of new builds and applying a deep retrofit of existing social housing. They will also need to integrate low-carbon heating systems to their properties - and fast.

How will the programme help the housing sector and the wider community?

Alongside the enormous environmental benefits, the Optimised Retrofit Programme will change the lives of the social housing tenants and the sector as a whole.

Reports suggest that over 10% of UK residents - nearly 2.5 million households - are impacted by fuel poverty: this is the inability to afford adequate warmth in the home, and need to pay more than 10% of their income on energy bills.

A home with lower energy efficiency is going to leave bigger bills on the tenant’s doorstep. Therefore, by prioritising the decarbonisation of existing social housing, the Welsh Government can start to tackle fuel poverty. Homes will not only cost less to live in, but they will also be more comfortable and better in quality, supporting the mental health of the residents - something that needs to be accounted for.

Plus, as the retrofit programme is implemented across social housing in the next few years, we will also see a seriously promising rise in job opportunities, training and apprenticeship opportunities and new supply chains in Wales. There is even talk of higher education retrofit academies to be created across Wales, preparing students with the necessary skills to support this crucial industry.

Of course, this is music to our ears. The programme will play a vital role in developing the green economy - and the Welsh Government’s plans to decarbonise all 1.4 million Welsh homes by 2050 - which could lead to as many as 15,000 much-needed jobs here in Wales. YES!

So, is it a ‘Yay’ or ‘Nay’ from Moxie?

Oh, it’s definitely a yay! 👏

There is no reason that social housing should not be the number one priority when it comes to improving homes and living conditions. The programme will create better, more comfortable environments for tenants and produce lower fuel bills, enabling them to reduce the pressure and stress on their lives.

For landlords and housing associations, they will always feel the benefit. Lower fuel bills will lead to lower rent arrears. Plus, they will find themselves positioned as lead organisations in their locality as we see decarbonisation applied across the private sector.

And for the government - who may be quaking in their seats about the cost - the cost of not acting will be way, way higher.

We can’t wait to see how this plays out.

To find out how Moxie is playing their own parting in supporting social housing residents, take a look at the Moxie Foundation. Or, if you’re searching for your own way to leave a positive mark on your community, get in touch for an informal chat about our latest job seeker opportunities.