Looking on the bright side

Originally published on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

There was a depressingly common theme at a conference in London on the future of housing organised by Shelter this week.

Speaker after speaker felt the need to apologise for what would be a litany of gloom and doom and attempted to find something, anything, to lighten the mood.

Toby Lloyd of Shelter started with the good news on the Housing and Planning Bill. There is some, believe it or not, in the small steps towards tackling bad private landlords. But even then there’s a worry that measures to help genuine landlords tackle abandonment could turn into a fast track for evictions for more unscrupulous ones.

Then it was time for the real gloom. From Starter Homes to Pay to Stay and fixed-term tenancies to forced council house sales, the bill looks set to accelerate the slow death of social housing. As Toby put it, up to now all forms of affordable housing provision have had two things in common: they remained affordable in perpetuity; and the subsidy was recycled into more housing. Housing Bill-style ‘affordable’ (Starter Homes and whatever Greg Clark says) does neither. What hope there is now rests on what improvements (if any) can be won in the House of Lords.

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Peer review – part 2

Originally posted on January 27 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

Part 1 of this blog covered the opening skirmishes in the Lords on the Housing Bill. This second part covers all-party criticism of the detail of the Bill where the sums don’t add up or don’t exist yet. What are the prospects for changes?

Starter homes. Peers criticised both their affordability and the fact that the discount disappears into the back pocket of the first buyer. As Labour’s Baroness Andrews put it:

‘We know from all the evidence that starter homes are not even affordable for most low and middle-income families, whether in rural areas or central London. However, it is not even a fair policy for future buyers. The 20% discount will apply only to the first tranche of buyers; they will be free to sell their assets after five years at market value. We will be minting a new generation of property speculators.’

Tory peer Viscount Eccles said the scheme had ‘not been thoroughly thought through’ and called for much more detail.

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Peer review – part 1

Originally published on January 27 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

The House of Lords gave a second reading to the Housing and Planning Bill on Tuesday. What struck me reading through the debate was not just the scale and breadth of the opposition to key parts of the Bill, not just the 34 new powers for the secretary of state to override local decisions, but the sheer number of provisions that either do not stack up or are not yet spelled out.

This two-part blog looks first at the debate on the overall principles of the Bill and then at the more detailed criticism and the prospects for amendments to its individual elements.

The fundamental flaws at the heart of the legislation were best summed up by two crossbench peers who will be familiar names to everyone.

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The Housing Bill: From bad to worse


Originally posted on January 13 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing 

If it is an achievement to pilot a Bill through the House of Commons and end up with legislation that is worse than what you started with, then congratulations Brandon Lewis and Greg Clark.

Back in October I blogged that the Housing and Planning Bill is written on the back of a fag packetOn Tuesday it completed its report stage and got a third reading with additions and amendments scribbled all over the front as well. It was hard to disagree with the verdict of shadow housing minister John Healey in his closing speech: ‘Usually, we hope to improve a Bill as it goes through the House. This was a bad Bill; it is now a very bad Bill.’

Healey cited late amendments to change the definition of ‘affordable’ to include starter homes costing up to £450,000 (‘the Government are not building enough affordable homes, so they are simply branding more homes as affordable’) and to force councils to offer fixed-term tenancies (‘meaning the end of long-term rented housing, the end of a stable home for many children as they go through school, and the end of security for pensioners who move into bungalows or sheltered flats later in life’).

It was hard to disagree either with his view that ‘the Bill sounds the death knell for social housing’. That much will be obvious to anyone working in housing or who has followed the progress of the Bill. The tab for the Conservative manifesto pledges of extending the right to buy and building 200,000 starter homes is effectively being picked up by councils that still own their homes, tenants and people who will not get the chance of a social tenancy in future.

The Bill accelerates the slow death of social housing through a combination of deliberate culling (forced sales, Pay to Stay and fixed term tenancies for council housing), euthanasia (voluntary right to buy for housing associations plus conversions) and redefining the conditions for life (‘affordable’ will now not just mean starter homes but anything the secretary of state says). It is also now official that a private rented home does not have to be fit for human habitation.

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Estate regeneration: trust and money

Originally published on January 11 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

It will take huge amounts of commitment, trust and money to deliver David Cameron’s vision of estate regeneration.

There is commitment but sadly only to the most simplistic of world views: lots of poor people live on council estates; therefore council estates must cause poverty. Never mind that much better funded area-based initiatives under Tony Blair largely failed. Never mind that poverty and even worse deprivation were concentrated in many of the same areas before the estates were built (just check the Booth poverty maps of London). The ‘so-called sink estates’ will be radically transformed or knocked down.

Trust is in such short supply after a series of controversial regenerations of estates in London (and we are mainly talking about London) that promises need to come from the very top to restore good faith. That applies both to the prime minister and to the Conservative candidate for London mayor Zac Goldsmith.

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The Housing Bill: just for starters

Originally posted on January 6 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

MPs staggered bleary eyed from the House of Commons at 2am last night without even getting to the most contentious parts of the Housing and Planning Bill.

Despite a series of obituaries for council housing and a ‘Kill the Bill’ protest outside, issues such as forced high-value sales, Pay to Stay and the voluntary Right to Buy will only be considered on day two of the report stage debate (set for next Tuesday, January 12).

Last night’s five-hour debate included starter homes, the regulation of housing associations, rogue landlords and the planning system. Opposition MPs complained that 65 pages of new clauses and amendments had been added at the last minute to a Bill that was only 145 pages long.

I blogged back in October that this a Bill written on the back of a fag packet and last night only confirmed that impression. The Bill also leaves a series of crucial decisions to be made by ministers by regulation later.

Nothing sums this up more than new clause 31 on planning obligations and affordable housing. This adds starter homes selling for up to £450,000 to the existing definition of affordable housing: homes for people whose needs are not adequately served by the market. However, it also adds that:

‘The Secretary of State may by regulations amend this section so as to modify the definition of “affordable housing”.’

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Shifting sands

Originally published on January 4 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

So a New Year brings a ‘radical new policy shift’ for housing. Seven years after the crash and four years after its failed ‘radical and unashamedly ambitious’ housing strategy, the government now thinks it has what’s needed to boost housebuilding.

Hailed by David Cameron as ‘a huge shift in government policy’, today’s announcement that the government will directly commission 13,000 homes certainly seems to be a welcome admission that the market cannot fix housing on its own, that state intervention is required on a significant scale and that the major housebuilders alone will not deliver.

But what took so long? This much has been clear since 2008, when the Global Financial Crisis and credit crunch triggered a housebuilding slump and the Conservatives were drawing up their housing and planning policies in opposition.

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