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Implementation of housing management strategies

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Implementation of housing management strategies

Due to change in regulations in the 1990s Dutch housing associations have become much
more independent from government policies. As a result they have to formulate their own
strategic goals on how they want to deal with their properties. Several models have been
proposed to set up housing management strategies. At this time a huge number of social
housing associations have developed a long-term strategy for their housing stock. This
paper focuses on how these strategy goals are implemented inside and outside the
organisations of housing associations in the Netherlands. The paper presents results from
an in-depth case study at a Dutch housing association. Actor Network Theory (ANT) was
used to guide the research method. From that point of view the research is very much
grounded in the documents and interviews from the fieldwork. For ANT the connections
between the details in the case together build the whole. The establishing of these
connections can be done through different instruments. The paper will conclude that
especially municipal cooperation is very important during the implementation process. In
order to connect the relevant actors and factors to the implementation of the housing
management plan, the paper will indicate the instruments that were used by the housing
association in this case study.


A lot of research has been done on the development of policy and strategy. However, not much is known about implementation of these strategies (Noble 1999:19;

Torenvlied 1996:2). Due to change in regulations in the 1990s this is even truer for housing associations in the Netherlands. Only since the 1990s they have to formulate their housing management strategies by themselves. Till then this was mainly prescribed by the government. In this short period only some elementary research has been done on the issue of implementation of housing management strategies. This paper will go into the results of an in-depth case study on this issue from a Dutch

housing association. Based on Actor Network Theory documents and interview excerpts have been analysed to sketch the development of the housing management strategy and

four housing projects is followed through the period from 1996 till 2007.

The aim of the paper is to investigate how strategy goals are implemented inside and outside the organisations of housing associations in the Netherlands.

Housing management strategies deal with the properties of a housing association. Housing management is about (changes in) the housing stock. Following Van Driel (1998)

we can make distinction between three levels of housing management: the strategic, tactical and operational level. On the strategic level, housing management deals with

portfolio management (Van Driel 1998:39). Portfolio management is about coordinating goals on how the portfolio is assembled in some general outlines, especially about

location and market segment. On the tactical level, these portfolio outlines are translated in asset management. Asset management is about the decisions that have to be

made for the different projects. In Dutch practice building blocks are labelled in terms of for example consolidation, improvement, sale or demolition (see Gruis and

Nieboer 2004). Finally measures at the level of the building block have to be implemented through operational actions. In this research we will focus on the physical

outcome of the implementation of housing management strategies. Therefore, only measures that have at least some impact on the physical state of a building are taken

into account. This means for example that the separate implementation of rent policies and such is excluded.

In order to investigate the implementation of housing management strategies, I take a grounded perspective through the use of Actor Network. Inspired by this theory a

case study was conducted at a Dutch housing association. This housing association owns about 2000 dwellings and developed a housing management strategy in 1999. Through

analyzing documents and conducting in-depth interviews I was able to trace back the implementation process of four projects, three of which were initiated by the

housing management strategy in 1999.

In the next section the paper will address the definitions of both housing management strategies and implementation. Then the research design will be described. After

that a description of the most important lessons to be learned from the case will be addressed. To close the paper will go into some conclusions.

Actor network theory on implementation

In this section I will introduce the most important characteristics of Actor Network Theory (ANT). There are four ANT characteristics and terms that are frequently used

in this paper and that need some explanation.

A first characteristic of ANT is that the theory is indiscriminate between human and non-human entities. Actor Network Theory points out that not only humans, but also

non-human entities are influencing us constantly. Some people ‘have to’ watch when a television screen in their surrounding is turned on, and a computer that crashes

from time to time can make you really desperate. To make clear that both human and non-human entities can practice influence on others Latour (2005) introduced the word

actant. This word is now used by most ANT scholars instead of actor to designate an actor/actant. In the literature on ANT both terms are used. However, in this paper I

will only use ‘actant’.

Another characteristic is the somewhat unusual way in which it uses the word network. For ANT, the word is always used in combination with actant. In an actant-network

humans and non-humans are connected in such a way that they form a coherent whole. At the same time this coherent whole is constantly changing (Law and Hassard, 1999).

The implementation of measures from the housing management strategy can be seen as the establishing of an actant-network. In that case the coherent whole will be a

building. The building is a changing actant-network. At the beginning of the implementation process it only exists in the form of a plan, a measure on paper. However,

implementation is about turning plans on paper into buildings of stone.

Thirdly, ANT states that actants need to be ‘translated’ before they can be a part of the actant-network. Callon and Latour (1981:279) understand translation as “all

the negotiations, intrigues, calculations, acts of persuasion and violence, thanks to which an actor or force takes, or causes to be conferred on itself, authority to

speak or act on behalf of another actor or force; ‘Our interests are the same’, ‘do what I want’, ‘you cannot succeed without me’.” Through translation actants are

‘displaced and transformed’ (Callon 1986) in order to make them fit into the actor-network. When actants have not been translated (or translate themselves), they are

not part of the actor-network. In the case of implementing housing management plans, through translation connections have to be made between visions of the alderman and

the director of the housing association. And also connections between the rule of law and the floor plan. When translation is successful, the actants work together in

order to change the actor-network from a plan on paper into a building of stone.

A last term from ANT that has to be introduced before we can go on is ‘action net’. The term action net, as introduced by Czarniawska (2004), is only slightly different

to actant-network. However, by using ‘action net’ Czarniawska concentrates on interaction – or more specific: organizing – rather then on the actants themselves. On the

opposite, action-network lays more focus on the temporary results of this organizing. A new built dwelling can thus be seen as both an actant-network, and the outcome

of an action net. Following Czarniawska, in doing research on implementation of measures we have to focus on the translation work.

Research design

During the research different important choices on the method had to be made. In the following section I will go into these choices.

Before starting the research two issues are of importance. In the first place, the point of view of the housing association has been chosen to be central to the

research. In the implementation process other organization, like the municipality, are also of big importance. A story about the process can be told also from their

perspective. However, the centrality of the housing association follows from the aim of this paper: to see how a housing association implements it strategy. The second

issue to be addressed before starting the research is that a case study organization had to be selected. The case study was conducted at Groenveld Wonen, a housing

association in the Netherlands. This housing association was selected for the following reasons. In the first place the research aims to focus on small and middle size

housing associations as they are most common in the Netherlands. This means that the housing associations in this study should own about 1500 to 10000 dwellings.

Groenveld Wonen owns about 2000 dwellings. Furthermore, the organization was selected because it had a formal housing management strategy that had been established some

years ago in 1999. Finally, there were three concrete projects emerging from the 1999 strategy that were completed (or abandoned) by the time that the case study


The research itself can be split into three phases. The first phase of the case study focused on the documents. From the archives of the housing association all kinds

of documents were retrieved. The documents were summarized and put into a chronological order. In that way it was possible to make sense of all the different occasions

that happened along the way. The information from the documents was used to see what important issues had to be addressed in the interviews. The chronological approach

also showed where information was missing. These gaps were also taken as input for the interviews

The second phase of the case study dealt with in-depth interviews with respondents from different organizations involved. Respondents were selected based on their

appearance in the relevant documents and also by the information gathered through other interviews. Eight respondents were interviewed as an employee of the housing

association. There were five respondents from the local municipality. Other respondents were representatives of the local council (2), the local care organization (1),

the architect (1), the builder (1), the tenants (1), the real estate developer (1) and the people living next to one of the buildings that were renovated (1). Two times

a respondent was asked to have a second interview.

The third phase of the research focussed on the analysis of the data from the previous phases. The information from the documents and the interviews was organized in a

chronological order, sometimes zooming in on the important issues for the specific project. This information was presented to the respondents at a workshop and through

a concept version of the results on paper. Some remarks and misinterpretations were thus prevented from ending up in the definitive version of the results (see Dankert,

2007). As a final step, in this paper the most important lessen to take from that chronological results will be presented.

The case organization

In this paragraph the characteristics of the housing association studied will be addressed. Also some relevant characteristics of the municipality are described.

Furthermore the overall goals of the housing management strategy will be addressed.

Groenveld Wonen is a housing association that owns about 2000 dwellings in and around the village of Groenveld. This is a suburban area near to a big city. The

character of the village of Groenveld is quit unique. The natural environment is prominent and the people who live in Groenveld are relatively rich. Local politicians

have other ambitions that the housing association. Plans for buildings of three stories or higher are problematized by the municipality and by the most important

political party in the village. The consolidation of the green neighbourhood and the urban structure has definitely more priority than housing policy issues. In the

village also another housing association is active in social housing. Attempts from the side of Groenveld Wonen to merge into one housing association did not take

effect. Whereas Groenveld Wonen can be characterized as pro-active, the other housing association is rather conservative. Most other stakeholders of Groenveld Wonen are

also active on the scale of the rural district.

At the moment that the housing management strategy had been put into effect, the housing association was a rather flat organization. The director directly managed the

about 20 employees. During the implementation process of the housing management strategy there has also been a transformation of the organization. The housing

association now has a team of managers, distinctive sections for services and development and a few employees specialized in financial and policy issues.

Groenveld Wonen has set up a housing management strategy in 1999. It consists of a part that goes into the strategic level and a part about the tactical level. Most

important goals on the strategic level in this document are about the focus on the elderly. An earlier organizational policy plan already pre-sorted on that focus. In

the housing management strategy this is focus is specified for the housing stock. Besides the fact that there are more elderly houses necessary in the future, they make

also a contribution to the ability for more people to move to a more decent house. By building elderly houses, also existing family houses get available again. It was

expected that elderly would move from a family house to more decent new apartments. Another important statement in the policy document is on the status of the document.

The housing management strategy is considered as a dynamic policy. In the 1999 strategy the position is adopted that discussions with stakeholders and other new

developments can lead to a change in plans. At the tactical level these considerations have been worked out in two different types of projects. Some of the chosen

adjustments of the housing stock are implemented through projects. Three of such cases have been investigated. Smaller adjustments, however, are made through void

repairs. At hand of chosen void repairs in one building, the void repairs process has been followed through the organization of the housing association. Below, both the

projects and the void repairs will be shortly introduced.


The first project was the renovation of three blocks of apartments for the elderly. The dwellings, originally built in 1980 were upgraded. Furthermore an extra level

with new apartments was built on top of each of the blocks. Another important part of the plan was to add elevators and a service point on housing, care and social work

for the neighbourhood. A lot of problems arose along the way. Due to strict interpretation of building regulations by the municipality, disagreement with tenants and

the people living in the neighbourhood of the building and new policies implemented by the housing association the project was delayed for about three years.

Furthermore, during the building phase distrust between the housing association and the builder lead to the implementation of suboptimal solutions. After the completion

of the building it became clear that activities of different departments at the housing association were not adequately geared to one another.

The second project followed in this case was the plan to build new apartments for the elderly in a district that did not have much decent housing for the elderly.

However, the municipality made the housing association to build more new family houses instead of apartments for the elderly on the location concerned. This project

will be referred to as the ‘new built dwellings project.’ In the case study only the first part of the process, up until the definitive decision from the local council

to abandon the plan of the housing association is included. In the discussion between the housing association and the municipality it appears that both organizations

have very different views on the project. The housing association tried to convince the municipality with a comprehensive vision on the whole district. Based on

research in this document the project was part of a broader package. However, in the discussion it became clear that the municipality stuck to its own ideas. As the

municipality could easily have carried out the project with other partners, the housing association did accept this outcome relatively fast. They saw this outcome as

second-best as they now still got ten new family houses from the project.

The last project encloses the new building of thirty apartments, fifteen of which especially for disabled people. It is this element of care that makes the project fit

into the main principles of the housing management strategy. This project will be referred to as the ‘specially adapted apartments project.’ This project did not

originate directly from the housing management strategy. It was initiated by the municipality. However, the project encloses the main principles of the housing

management strategy. It was taken into the case study to see how the housing association copes with projects that did not originate from their own strategy. From this

project it appears that the housing association had both strategic and pragmatic reasons to adapt the project. In the first phase of the project the housing association

and the municipality had a lot of discussions about the details of the development plan. This eventually led the municipality to invite a commercial real estate

developer to cooperate with the housing association. After this cooperation turned out to be fruitful, the plan was developed quite fast. It was agreed that the real

estate developer would build the whole plan, and that the housing association would buy the thirty apartments after the plan had been established. Just before the

building was completed it was decided that 15 regular apartments were to be rented out to young people. This was also caused by the outcomes of the yearly stakeholder

day, which is organized by the housing association each year to consult their stakeholders.

Void repairs process

In one complex of the housing association, small family houses were made more suitable for elderly through void repairs. For the void repairs a procedure had been set

up. On two moments in this procedure a connection with the housing management strategy becomes visible. After the tenant terminates his contract with the housing

association, the head of the technical service department examines if and how the dwelling has to be changed according to the strategy. After the building contractor

has carried out the transformation, the head of the service department checks if the dwellings are advertised according to the specifications from the housing

management strategy. Because of the small size of the organization a simple spreadsheet software programme turned out to be an adequate tool for communication between

the employees involved in the void repairs process.

Connecting actants: the work of translation

In the last paragraph, the case organization, the projects and the void repairs procedure have been shortly introduced. In this paragraph I will go into the

translations that have been made along the way from the plan on paper to a building of stone. First, we will go into the implementation through projects. Different

phases of the projects and the connections made in these phases will be addressed. Secondly I will go into the void repairs process.

Implementation through projects

Three projects have been studied in this case. First I will go into the pre-implementation phase in which the projects come into being in the form of an idea. Secondly

there is the phase of making more detailed plans that are agreed on by the local municipality. The legal procedures for the building license makes up the third phase in

the description. After that the actual construction takes place. Finally something will be said about the completion of the building.


During the pre-implementation phase the general characteristics of the plan to be implemented are to be set. In the case of the renovation project this phase overlaps

with the making of the housing management strategy plan. At the time there were already different issues relating to the project discussed separately. In the first

place, the technical state of the building was not up-to-date anymore. Secondly from analysis had become clear that some of the dwellings were not popular among elderly

people anymore whereas at the same time demographic forecasts showed that this was a growing group. A third argument was the location of the building. It was situated

near a small but newly renovated shopping centre. The idea to renovate the building for the elderly finally was also written down in this plan by the director of the

housing association. By doing so he translated different rather loose arguments into a stronger actor-network: the housing management plan. That such plan is stronger

than the different loose arguments became clear in interviews held with employees of the housing association. Even eight years after the plan has been written

respondents refer to it to legitimate their actions. However, the housing management plan is not enough to translate al necessary actants into cooperating actants. In

all cases the housing association sought the willingness of the local municipality. In the case of the renovation project this was relatively easy. In a letter to the

bench of Mayor and Aldermen the director summed up all the arguments for the plan and asked for their cooperation. In the letter the support amongst the tenants and the

financial need to create an extra story with 18 dwellings on top of the building were stretched. Some of the Aldermen had their doubts about the plan because of the

height of the building. However, the director could convince them of the fact that the building would only be marginally higher than it was at the time.

In the case of the renovation project the housing management plan and the request for principal willingness of the municipality were thus strong enough to start the

plan. However, for the other projects this was not the case. In the case of the new built dwellings it was clear from the beginning that a plan for this location could

not be made by the housing association on its own. The municipality was owner of the location and had the legal instruments by which it gained much influence at the

plan for this location. In the housing management plan this project was not worked out already. Only some general goals were set for the district Molenwijk as a whole.

To persuade the municipality to cooperate with the new built dwellings project an additional district plan was set up. According to the district plan, the housing

association thinks about a combination of elderly apartments and family houses to be built at the sports park. The housing association had three reasons for this. In

the first place, from a demographic research in the district it appeared that there was a lack of decent housing for the elderly in the district. Furthermore, the

housing stock of Groenveld Wonen consists almost only of relatively small family houses. Thirdly, because of the residents being strongly emotionally attached to their

district, the housing association thought that it would be a good idea to facilitate the elderly people that now had to stay in their family house that did not fit to

their changing desires anymore. At forehand, Groenveld Wonen already foresaw that the municipality would not agree on a plan with elderly apartments only. That was the

reason the plan became a mix of elderly apartments and middle-priced family houses. During the discussion with the municipality it became clear that these arguments

were not enough to persuade the municipality. It appeared that for the local council it was very important how the residents’ association thought about it. They were

pleading for family houses in a higher market segment. The municipality also favoured low-rise buildings as this fitted better into the already existing urban

structure. During the housing association was not able to translate the arguments of the municipality into support for the plan of the housing association. Finally the

local council decided to go on with the plan of the municipality.

In the case of the specially adapted apartments there was not a discussion like in the case of the new built dwellings project. This time the municipality made the

proposal to build specially adapted apartments and the housing association translated its global goals about housing and care into joining in with the municipal plan.

Detailed plans

After having assured that a plan is feasible in principal, the housing association moves on to make more detailed plans that can be used to really renovate or build.

The floor plans of the architect play an important role in this phase. All details and changes of the original plan have to be translated into the floor plan. Whether

it were adjustments due to regulations or adjustments caused by a rethinking of the goals of the plan, or adjustments to rule out resistance among tenants or local


The renovation project had to deal with four different sources of delay. In the first place there was a lot of discussion with the municipality about building

regulations. Meeting all the current building regulations by renovating the building was not possible. Nevertheless, the municipal civil servants asked for this. First

this became an endless discussion between the municipality and the architect. Only after the director of the housing association arranged a meeting with all people

concerned at the building, to show that the renovation plan might not meet all current regulation but nevertheless was an improvement when compared to the original

situation, a solution could be found. By making the situation less abstract through a visit of the building the housing association was able to translate the floor

drawings of the architect into floor drawings that were accepted by the municipality. The second source of delay was the opposition by the people living in the

neighbourhood of the building. They gained some extra influence because a prominent member of a political party lived in the neighbourhood. This resulted in a lobby in

the informal network of Groenveld. The housing association responded to this by an alternative lobby. It appeared that in one to one conversations the rational

arguments that were in favour of the renovation had more power than the NIMBY arguments from the neighbourhood. Thus the opposition from the neighbourhood became not a

political factor of big importance. A third source of delay was the difficult negations with the tenants. After the housing association proposed to financially

facilitate professional support for the tenants the discussions became more constructive. Although it was still hard to reach an agreement on the conditions for the

renovation, finally such agreement could be reached. The last source of delay was found in the need for some adjustments of the project after the cooperation with a

local care agency was realized. Although this was not taken into account in earlier drafts of the floor plans, now a service point with housing and care services was

added to the plan. In the end the four sources of delay were thus translated into adjustments of the floor plans.

In the case of the specially adapted apartments the discussion between the housing association and the municipality was on both urban structure and regulation issues.

It appeared that the municipal civil servants wanted to influence plan much more in detail than the housing association thought what was reasonable. After one year of

discussion there was an agreement with the concerned civil servants. However, the alderman involved asked a commercial real estate developer to see whether the plan

could be improved. After the real estate developer made some new drawings, the municipality was enthusiastic about it. They decided to let the real estate developer

work out the plans together with Groenveld Wonen. This move of the municipality, and especially the way it was made, first met a reserved response from the housing

association. However, after a few meetings with the real estate developer they turned out to be a cooperative partner and the goal of the housing association to get 30

apartments in the social sector without financial losses. Although not much changed in the plan, this sketch makes clear that he municipality was very powerful in

influencing not only the contents of the plan but also the process. In other cases, that could have had substantive consequences. Because of protests by the people

living in the neighbourhood of the location in this phase two minor adjustments to the plan were made. On this project, the real estate developer did the talking with

the neighbours of the plan. They could silence their protests by keeping an existing ditch intact and by moving the apartment flat about 10 meters.

Legal procedures

When the housing association, the municipality and the actants they are willing to take into account agree on a final version of the floor plans, the legal procedure

for giving out the building permitting can be started. From both the renovation project and the specially adapted apartments project it becomes clear that once the

housing association and the municipality agree, it is very hard to cancel the plan. In both cases some people living in the surroundings of the project locations did

not agree on the plans. However their protest did not change the plans (anymore). Nevertheless, in the case of the renovation project legal procedures delayed the

project about six months.

Actual construction

In the phase of the actual (re)construction of the plan, the relation with the building contractor becomes more important. In the case of the specially adapted

apartments the housing association there was no direct formal relation with the building constructor. In this project the real estate developer commissioned the

construction. The housing association was only responsible for the individual conveniences in the dwellings for specially adapted apartments. However, this part was put

out to the occupational therapist of the local care partner. The project manager at the housing associations had to translate the needs of the future tenants, as

indicated by the occupational therapist, into instructions for the building contractor.

In the case of the renovation project, the cooperation with the building contractor was not that smooth. Already before the start of the work there was a conflict about

the estimate for the construction work that was submitted by the constructor when the actual construction was about to start. It turned out that the construction would

be much more expansive than could expected from earlier estimates. In the estimates all parts of the building are summed up. In addition to the floor plans, the

estimates are the instruments through which the plan is worked out in more detail. The housing association did not want to accept the higher estimate. To check whether

the price was not too high a second opinion from a building advisor was asked. It turned out that this second opinion estimate was much lower than the one from the

building contractor. Based on this outcome of research, the building team was almost abandoned. However, after a series of meetings a price somewhere in the middle was

agreed on by both parties.

After completion

After the project has been completed the story does not end. The maintenance (in a broad sense) of the renovated or new building still will need a lot of work by the

housing association. The larger part of this work has to be done by the Services department at the housing association. However, during the renovation or the building

the Projects department is responsible. Around the time of the completion of the responsibility for the building is handed over from Projects to Services. Based on

earlier bad experience in 2005 a new structure had been set up in order to let this process run more smoothly. Following this structure there was a group of employees

from both departments that had meetings regularly before and after the completion of both the renovation project and the specially adapted apartments project. During

these meetings the proceedings were discussed and actions were agreed. However, still a lot went wrong after completion of both projects. In the case of the renovation

project after completion still some repairs had to be done before the dwellings could be let again. As in specially adapted project only new built apartments were part

of the plan, this building was completed at a higher level of quality. However, another problem was relevant for both projects. The Services department was not enough

involved in the process before the moment of completion. Therefore it was more difficult to anticipate on the wishes of future tenants. On the other hand, the Projects

department was not enough involved in de process after completion. Therefore it was not always clear what kind of additional repairs had to be made, and who had to do


Implementation through void repairs

Implementation of measures from the strategic housing management plan through void repairs seems to be less complicated when compared to projects. However, these

measures also cause less dramatic changes in the housing stock. For this study void repairs in one building of Groenveld Wonen have been followed. The measure that was

to be implemented was about a change in the floor plan of family houses. The goal of this change was to make the dwellings more suitable for elderly (toilets on both

levels; bigger bathrooms) and smaller households (less but bigger rooms).

In order to make sure that this measure was implemented, on two moments of the void repairs process it has to be checked with the strategy plan. When a tenant

terminates the contract with the housing association, the dwelling will be put on a list. This list will be checked by the head of the technical service department in

order to assign the dwellings that have to be adjusted according to the measures from the strategy plan. In the case of the adjustment of the floor plans, a constructor

is hired to carry out the changes. After the floor plan of the dwelling has been changed, an employee from the Services department makes the advertisement for the

letting of the dwelling. After this a second check with the strategy plan has to be made the manager of the Services department. After this check has been made the

dwelling can be let again.


The paper has shown that housing associations need other actants to implement their strategies. Together, these actants from inside and outside the organizations form

the action net that has to do the job. Conclusions can be drawn both on the actants themselves and on the translations that have to be made to include the actants in

the action net.


As we have seen in this paper, different actants are involved in het action net. However, the municipal actants are most important. Turning a plan into reality cannot

be done without the municipality. For the housing association it is thus an obligatory passage point (Callon 1986). The housing associations in this study had to deal

with two aldermen, civil servants from different departments, the fire-brigade and several political parties. To make the municipality act as a part of the action net,

the housing association had to bring in actants like the building proposed for renovation, financial arguments, demographic research, the strategic housing management

plan, a district plan, location visits and so on. As we have learned from the new built dwellings project it is important to connect with the actants that are seen as

important by the municipality. Whereas the housing association tried to win the discussion with demographic research, the municipality was more interested in the

opinion of the political parties and thus in the opinion of the residents’ association. Another difficulty is that the municipality is not one actant but consists of

different actants. Those actants did not always tell the same story. The coordination of this different actants from the municipality had to be done by the housing

association. Other important actants involved were the tenants, people living in the neighbourhood of the projects, the co-developers, the architect and the constructor

and the local care agency. By having actants like financial resources, professional support, informal one to one conversations and pragmatic agreements tied up in the

action net also the human actants got interested to join in.


Different kinds of translation were made by before the plans on paper could turn into buildings of stone. To begin with, the housing management plan itself is the

useful outcome of a set of translations in which among others demographic research is attached to the technical state of buildings and the amount of elderly houses that

already exists. The housing management plan turned out to be an actant with strong influence on the employees of the housing association. It translates them through the

combination of different arguments in favour of the measures that have to be implemented. However, in the direction of actants outside the organization of the housing

association its powers dissolve. The bigger the project the more there is a need for additional agreements with the municipality. Knowing this, the housing management

plan can be made stronger to incorporate the municipal goals at forehand. If the plan was discussed with and agreed on by the municipality al the additional discussions

would not have been necessary anymore.

To make plans more concrete so that they can be constructed, floor plan drawings play an important role. Al negotiations with the municipality, the tenants and other

actants involved are translated in (adjustments of) the floor plans. Asking for the problem behind the problem turned out to be a fruitful basis for translating

actants. For example, the rule keepers of the municipality and the architect discussed the floor plans over and over. They did not agree whether the rules were met or

not. However after asking for the problem behind the problem it turned out that both parties could agree on a solution that both met the rules and the demands of the

housing association. Another way in which translation was realized was by making the arguments visible. For example, the rule keepers from the municipality visited the

location of the renovation building to see why it was not possible to meet the contemporary regulations on day light entering the building. Only after this visit they

were willing to find another solution to this problem. This way of translating was also used in order to persuade the tenants and people living in the neighbourhood of

the building to cooperate. For them it turned out to be very important to know how the building would look like after the renovation.

Research is another ally through which the housing association tried to translate the municipality from obstacle to ally. Arguing in favour of elderly housing, based on

demographic research in the case of the new built dwellings failed. However, in order to strengthen the ingredients of the housing management plan, market research and

some elementary technical research on the building blocks was a very useful actant. It endowed the housing management plan with the power to translate employees of the

housing association into a coherent team working on the projects and the void repairs.

Yet another translation was the simplest kind of translation Latour (1987) has recognized. This translation is nothing more than saying: “I want what you want.” The

housing association practiced this way of implementing its strategy several times. They followed the plan of the municipality in setting up the specially adapted

apartments plan. Furthermore the knowledge of the local care agency about translating care needs into housing facilities was recognized and followed. As we have seen

from the story above, it is very hard for the housing association to translate other actants: especially the municipality. In that respect the “I want what you want”

translation method can be much more productive.

A last actant that is powerful enough to translate is the structure that was designed to hand over the responsibility for a project around the time of completion. This

design was strong enough to translate the employees in order to make them cooperate with each other. However there were no powers that were strong enough to translate

all of this cooperation into concrete actions. When nothing is translated, the network falls down.

We have now seen that translation is needed in order to knot all actants together in one action net. An action net is needed in order to implement the measures from the

housing management plan. In his book on the Aramis metro project in Paris, Latour (1996:292) puts it like this: “Either you change the world to adapt it to the nominal

Aramis, or else, (…) you need (…) to change Aramis.” In this paper we have seen that the same is true for housing associations that want to implement their

strategic housing management plan. Either you change the actants involved to adapt them to your plan, or else, you need to change your plan. Only then plans on paper

can evolve into buildings of stone.


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Ritske Dankert
Ritske Dankert is oprichter van De Beleidsexpert en De Corporatiestrateeg. Hij helpt beleidsmakers en corporatiestrategen met tips voor meer impact en draagvlak. Ritske heeft 14 jaar ervaring met het maken en uitvoeren van beleid voor meer dan 30 overheden, corporaties en andere maatschappelijke organisaties. Hij vindt het leuk wanneer je reageert op zijn blogs :-)

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