Long-standing Incommunities’ CEO Geraldine Howley retires from role
THE long-standing chief executive of social housing provider Incommunities is to retire at the end of the month, after nearly two decades at its helm.
Geraldine Howley has served the social housing sector for more than 40 years, starting her career as a temporary housing receptionist with Bradford Council in the late 1970s, when she was based at Jacob’s Well. It was a career she fell into by chance after initially providing maternity cover, but it marked the start of a lengthy journey which would see her take on a number of high-profile roles in the district and receive an OBE in 2017 for services to housing, young people and the local community. She said: “I just loved the people side, the fact that you could help people and try and make a difference to people’s lives by helping them into decent quality housing. I just loved everything about it.” Geraldine worked her way up to becoming a housing officer, which at the time was very much a ‘man’s world’ and what she described as a “baptism of fire”.
The 1980s saw a change in the tenant-landlord relationship, bringing things like residents’ groups to the fore and the realisation that there needed to be more engagement with tenants.
In her time, Geraldine has covered key patches in the city including the Manchester Road area; Canterbury; Thorpe Edge and Buttershaw. She progressed with the Council and eventually became the local authority’s Director of Housing, before leading the new Bradford Community Housing Trust group in 2003. This saw the stock transfer, voted for by Council tenants, of more than 26,000 homes, which was a highlight for Geraldine. She said: “What that enabled us to do was invest, it allowed us to borrow. There’s no way we were going to get that investment going through Government funding. I think it’s allowed some massive regeneration in our communities and investment in the stock.”
It also saw the building of new homes and branching out into other parts of Yorkshire. In 2008, the group was rebranded as Incommunities, with Geraldine overseeing its growth through mergers, stock acquisitions and restructures.
One challenge over the years has been welfare reform, said Geraldine, particularly when the Bedroom Tax came into force. Making sure there is the right housing, in the right locations, of the right type is key and has been reflected in the decision to demolish some of the Manchester Road blocks of flats, due to consistently low demand. And while there is not a massive waiting list, Geraldine said, some flats are hard to let. She said: “For Bradford there’s an over supply in our stock of flats and what we need is more family homes. We need more affordable housing and that’s up and down the country, that’s really where it’s at.”
Geraldine said her time had sometimes been a “steep learning curve” from her first steps as a housing officer and added: “I’ve loved my time at Incommunities and delivering our vision of improving people’s lives has always been my guiding principle as its CEO.”
She will continue as Chair of the Chartered Institute of Housing Governing Board and will become director of the GEM programme, which she co-founded in 2009, which encourages people into careers in housing.
She will also join national social housing borrowing vehicle, MORhomes in April as a non-executive director.