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Digital innovation within housing associations: 3 inspiring examples from 2024

December 20, 2022

More and more housing associations are using innovative technologies such as AI. In 2022, such innovations in the sector were mainly driven by urgent themes like sustainability, the shortage of affordable homes and an aging workforce. The results of the use of AI are impressive. So it’s time to look at 3 inspiring examples of housing providers who successfully implemented innovations in 2022: the Alliantie, Arcade and KleurrijkWonen.

What happens if you ask housing associations: ‘how can we ensure that we absolutely never achieve sustainability goals set by the government?’ Perhaps it’s a strange question, but it came up during the latest Spotr event 'WoCo Innovators Club' and, in addition to hilarious answers like 'Everyone gets a jacuzzi', also provided some confrontational answers. Such as: 'Don't focus on a well-thought-out data strategy' or 'Keep on thinking we will achieve our goals with the current workforce'.

Aedes benchmark report: housing associations are coming short

The fact that these concerns are not unfounded was again apparent from the 9th benchmark report from Aedes (the association for Dutch housing providers) that was released last month. It was striking that housing associations again failed to balance their budget. Housing associations are now on average 20 euros short per rentable unit per month, partly due to more expensive building materials and higher personnel costs. However, other goals in themes like sustainability and new housing are also not yet achieved.

Underlying problem: the current way of working is out of date

This exposes a bigger problem: housing providers are under pressure and the current way of working does not suffice. It is part of a struggle that is common among housing associations: resources are limited, staff is limited, but the workload continuously increases. The limits of what housing associations can handle as organizations are often exceeded. They have been under pressure for years. Now, how do we best deal with this?

What happens if housing associations don't innovate?

Two options arise: innovate and change the current way of working or leave things as they are. Innovation sounds like a nice buzzword, but… it is often complicated to change ‘the way things are done’ with new technology.

But what are the costs of nót innovating? What would happen if we just left things as they are? We can think of a few consequences:

1. Senior employees retire and knowledge is lost

Often much of the knowledge that surveyors, asset managers or maintenance partners have is locked inside their heads or in poorly searchable PDFs somewhere on a Sharepoint. With that, major blind spots are created in a housing portfolio. Consequentially, when this situation arises, new expensive inspections are needed.  Once again, a pile of PDFs will be produced of which 1 or maybe 2 people have an overview. And if these people leave the organization? The whole costly process starts again.

2. Having to go on-site for every little question

What if you want to quickly scan the state of a certain building? Or you want to discuss building a scaffolding with a contractor. Keeping things the way they are means: making an appointment, get in the car, drive to the location, discuss your point and drive back. Hours are lost, not to mention the costs of gasoline and parking.

Then there’s the workforce challenge. Hiring young talent in this labor market is not easy. How attractive is a job for them in which they need to go on site for very little question, and do all the admin themselves?

3. Predictable budgeting remains impossible

Even though housing surveyors might know the state of their homes, the rest of the organization might not. Can strategic advisors and managers make decisions based on data to make sustainability investments? Or build new homes? Without the right data, it is impossible to plan for the future, meaning predictable budgeting will remain an unachievable goal.

Innovation: the business case

Integrating AI and other technologies into a new way of working is no longer a thing of the future. It is already being used by many housing associations and we also know what it brings them: millions of extra investment budget. For example:

  • By making a visual twin of the entire property portfolio, including roof, facade, context and interior, the number of days necessary for on-site inspections can be almost halved.
  • By getting your data house order, unnecessary admin can be prevented and administrative work can be done much more efficiently. For example: an investment for drawing plans traditionally is on average four times more expensive than with new methods such as Spotr.
  • With data-driven programming it is possible to make well-founded choices and spend budget where it delivers the most value. Because, for example, it is possible to prioritize all buildings from high to low risk or on specific themes like sustainability or upwards extension.

What innovation has brought housing associations in 2022

So what ís the return on investment when implementing new innovations in your organization? Fortunately, there is good news in this department. In 2022, the impact of implementing digital innovations became quite clear. There are many examples of housing associations that have been working on this process for some time and are actively involved in the Digital Transformation and the use of AI in this process. Let’s have a look at three of them:

Innovator #1: The Alliantie – far fewer site visits due to a visual twin of their real estate

The Alliantie created a visual twin of their entire property portfolio. Meaning: a visual replica of all homes, including roof, facade, context and interior images, in Spotr. Existing images were used from, for example, Google Streetview, but also self-uploaded images. These are pictures made by contractors or tenants by telephone or images from their in-house drone pilot.

This works as follows: when contractors are carrying out a survey, they take a specific camera with them. The camera records the entire interior of the house in less than 10 minutes. One room takes one push of a button. This way, the Alliantie can see every angle of the building from behind their desk and it is no longer necessary to always go on-site.

All in all, the use of a visual twin during surveys saves on average half the number of visiting days. For most housing associations this means a saving of millions that can be used for something else.

But there are many more benefits. For example: in the event of a change of tenants, the visual twin makes a complete document of the original state of the home. Besides images, you’ll also have a certified floor plan available including m2. All in all, with digital solutions like Spotr you’ll have one place for all data about a property, which is available to everyone in the organization.

Fred Jak, program manager at the Alliantie, talks about their innovation process in this interview.

Innovator #2: Arcade – Data-driven programming with all correct, up-to-date data in 1 place

Arcade has also set up a complete image bank of their property portfolio, including measurements. All data and images are collected in one place, to make sure Arcade and its partners always have access to the same, up-to-date data. This data helps them answer basic questions like ‘what does the estate look like?’, ‘what is its condition and quality?’ or ‘what maintenance is required?’, but also more strategic questions such as: ‘which roofs are suitable for placing solar panels?’.

Data-driven programming offers many more opportunities, including:

  • Logistic efficiency by bundling similar estates;
  • Just-in-time maintenance by updating properties at the right time;
  • Integral maintenance plans by combining data from different sources;
  • Targeted investment in estates with the highest potential to achieve policy objectives.

Ronald Rouwendaal, Portfolio Manager at Arcade, talks about their sustainability challenges in this interview. “As an organization, you hardly have to invest any time or resources to get it working.”

Innovator #3: KleurrijkWonen – getting their data house in order

Another innovator in the market is KleurrijkWonen, where various departments work together to fill in the data gaps in their property portfolio. KleurrijkWonen used Spotr to determine measurements, among other things. Square meters of masonry, square meters of flat roof, square meters of window frame could all be calculated quickly by analyzing their images with computer vision. This data is used by KleurrijkWonen to plan their budget more efficiently. Their financial planning is now more predictable, because they can see and analyze every nook of all their properties at scale. For example, with this information they prevent unpleasant surprises like self-installed facilities, that will delay maintenance projects or make them exceed budget.

Having their data house in order makes it possible for KleurrijkWonen to make predictable plans for the future. Data analyst at KleurrijkWonen, Kevin van der Vliet, explains more about it in this interview.

The extra impact of innovation

The application of an innovative new way of working not only helps housing associations budget more efficiently, but it also has a direct impact on other themes, such as:

1. Tenant satisfaction

Because you know what an estate looks like, it is easier to combine repairs and renovations, to prevent going back to the same house several times. When having a digital database of your property portfolio, you can also view buildings from behind your desk - even the interior - so you don't have to bother residents with unnecessary site visits.

2. Accelerate sustainability plans through extra investment budget

It is possible to create more investment budget for sustainability plans by optimizing maintenance in the current portfolio.

Suppose you save 15% on maintenance by, among other things, logistically efficient, just-in-time maintenance and combining interventions. This can save as much as much as €24 million on a budget of €95 million, which could be used to create more than 1,200 extra energy label steps (assuming an average label step cost of €20,000).

If we look at the entire maintenance budget of Dutch housing associations (€8 billion in total), this could create an additional investment budget of €1,2 billion, or 60,000 energy label steps. With just this saving in one year, all remaining G label homes in The Netherlands could be upgraded.

3. Build new homes faster

There are many untapped opportunities for new construction, namely: homes with the possibility of upwards extension. However, especially in large real estate portfolios, it can be challenging to identify the right properties. If you have your data house in order, making a first selection can be as simple as 1 push of a button.

Want to know more?

In short: we see that housing associations have embraced innovation in 2022, and there’s much more to come in 2023 and beyond. Would you like to know more about our lessons learned regarding innovation in the housing association industry in 2022? We are happy to tell you more. Please request more information here: