Sold out

Originally posted on August 17 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

Can the government afford to be complacent about the rate at which right to buy homes are falling into the hands of private landlords?

Pete Apps’s freedom of information investigation for Inside Housing revealed that 38 per cent of former council houses in 91 local authorities are now rented privately. The proportion is as high as 65 per cent in places like Milton Keynes and Stevenage. This figure is for leasehold council flats but there seems no reason to think that the rate for freehold houses will be significantly different, given that many were originally sold longer ago.

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State of the nation

Originally published on July 16 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

Results from the latest English Housing Survey reveal some fascinating details about where and how we live and how much we pay for it.

Headline findings from the survey for 2013/14 were published in February. As I blogged at the time, they revealed the full scale of the shift in tenure: this was not just about private renting overtaking social renting but outright ownership overtaking buying with a mortgage.

The results published on Thursday provide much more detail on that and much more besides. Here are some details that caught my eye:

100 years of changing tenure

Most of the 20th century was all about the decline of private renting from a tenure that housed three-quarters of us in 1918 to less than 10% of us by the 1980s. Until then, social renting was expanding almost as quickly as home ownership but it retreated again in the wake of the right to buy. But the 21st century has seen a big decline in home ownership too and the rebirth of private renting:

shift

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Two-way street

(Originally posted on June 30 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing)

What does the evidence say about the links between housing and poverty?

In an age of austerity, food banks and the bedroom tax, the links may seem obvious. A housing policy based on letting housing benefit take the strain – relying on private renting and rising affordable rents – at the same time as it is being cut looks like a pretty good mechanism for creating poverty.

But evidence emerging from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s housing and poverty research programme (see my summary here) shows a relationship that is both more complex and more troubling. The housing system can act as a defence against poverty and deprivation (as it has in the past through social housing, housing benefit and the homelessness safety net) but it can also be a cause of them (as it did before through high housing costs and poor conditions).

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If the cap fits

Worried about the impact of the benefit cap, social landlords? You should be because what happens next seems to be your responsibility.

As housing organisations slowly wake up to the dire implications of reducing the cap to £23,000, Iain Duncan Smith was asked about it at work and pensions questions on Monday. Labour’s Clive Betts asked what consultations the DWP had done with social landlords on the effects of the introduction of universal credit and the benefit cap on direct rent payments to landlords. After the usual guff about roll-outs from IDS, Betts pressed him with a points raised by Tony Stacey of South Yorkshire Housing Association (and Placeshapers):

‘Currently, if a household is in rent arrears and gets housing benefit, the benefit can be paid directly to the social landlord. When universal credit is introduced, if the family also gets a welfare cap, it is the housing cost element that is squeezed by the cap. No longer will the amount of universal credit be paid directly to the social landlord to cover the rent. Can the Secretary of State not see that that could lead to a rise in evictions? Is he aware of the problem, and what will he do about it?’

The context for this was highlighted ahead of this week’s CIH conference in Manchester in a UK Housing Review briefing on Monday. After allowing for other benefits and tax credits, the £23,000 cap will leave a couple with four children just £33 a week to spend on their rent and a couple with three children just £110 a week. Here are the impacts by family size:

impact of 23k cap

Effectively that means larger families will be priced out of even social housing throughout the UK and a couple with three children will not be able to afford the average housing association rent anywhere in the Midlands or South of England. The impact will be felt far beyond inner London and the CIH estimates that four times more households could be affected than under the current £26,000 cap.

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Role model?

If we have a Living Wage, why not a Living Rent? Well, now we do.

With due respect to the Scottish campaign of the same name, the report launched this week by Savills, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and National Housing Federation addresses directly what I’ve long thought to be perhaps the most important question in housing policy: how to make homes genuinely affordable to people on low incomes.

Current policy gets nowhere near that. Employment may be at a record high but millions of people are trapped in low paid work, in part-time jobs and zero hours contracts, and average earnings have only just begun to rise again after years of decline.

Yet private sector rents are too high, leaving families reliant on housing benefit whether they are in or out of work and vulnerable to cuts to come: projections by Savills suggest that one in four of us will be private renters by 2019. ‘Affordable’ rents are only affordable in relation to a market artificially inflated by speculative investment and the aftermath of the financial crisis. Even social rents rise by an inflation-plus formula regardless of what’s happening to earnings.

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Blind spot

Fiscal myopia: that’s the telling phrase in a report out this week on the long-term value of social housing.

In a way the verdict of Capital Economics merely confirms what we know intuitively: building social housing at low rents costs much less in the long run than not building it and instead subsidising high rents through housing benefit.

But the report for SHOUT and the National Federation of ALMOs demonstrates just how good long-term deal social housing represents. Capital Economics compared a programme building up to 100,000 social rented homes a year from 2020/21 with existing policies. Among the conclusions:

  • Looking over 25 years, lower housing benefit costs alone justify government investment in social housing in most parts of the country.
  • However, that takes no account of the value of the asset created that remains after 25 years. Once this is done, investment stacks up in most of the rest
  • In a handful of cases where the sums do not add up (mostly larger homes in areas where private rents are the same or lower than social rents) there are still good arguments for investment (urban regeneration, positive impacts on health and education etc).
  • Tenants will also be better off: the report estimates that families would see their net incomes after housing costs rise by £942 a year.

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Rentier nation

For all the political rhetoric about home ownership, official figures released today confirm that England continues to become a nation of private tenants.

The dwelling stock estimates published by the DCLG show that 137,000 homes were added in the year to March 2014. Of these, an astonishing 90 per cent were private rented (123,000). The owner-occupied stock increased by 24,000 but the social and affordable stock fell by 1,000 and the other public sector stock by 9,000. These figures reflect net changes in the stock, so they include existing homes changing tenure as well as new homes.

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