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.
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.
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.
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 packet. On 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.
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.
Originally published on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing
My look back at the year in housing on my blog concludes with five more big issues including the future of social landlords, welfare reform and poverty. For Part 1 go here.
6) Wrong or right to buy
Nothing sums up how just much turned on the election result as what happened with the Right to Buy. In February I blogged about the clarification that meant even fewer homes sold under the existing policy were being replaced than previously thought. April brought a buccaneering Tory pledge to extend it to housing association tenants and fund it by forcing councils the sell their ‘expensive’ stock. It was hard to see how it could possibly stack up except as a political gimmick but that was pretty much the point. It was an eye-catching election promise by a party desperate for victory and it seemed designed as a manifesto commitment that could be traded away in coalition negotiations.
Except that it worked. The Tories were unexpectedly elected with an overall majority and the mash-up of think tank proposals written on the back of an envelope somehow had to be implemented. The results would be disastrous for local authorities and the government faced a long battle in the House of Lords. And then everything changed all over again as the most vociferous opponents of the policy decided to accept it voluntarily.
Originally posted on December 30 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing
Has there ever been a year quite like it for housing? Here’s the first part of my look back at the issues I’ve been blogging about in 2015.
1) Be careful what you wish for
It was the year that Homes for Britain became Home Ownership for Britain as political campaigning turned into political salvaging. Housing professionals may made their case from Land’s End to London, filled the Albert Hall and secured wide ranging support for its case for more homes. But the election result changed all that – and many of them had booed the representative of the party that won.
True, housing and the need for new homes moved up the political agenda as the year went on but not quite in the way campaigners had imagined. As the election neared the Tories promised a ‘housing revolution’. What amounted to Plan C, the third revolution in five years, took a poor record on supply, and traded it in for what amounted to homes for votes on a grand scale. The campaigners who had filled the Albert Hall found themselves facing the extension of the Right to Buy to housing association tenants.