Originally posted on October 11 on my blog for Inside Housing.
For all the government’s new-found enthusiasm for social housing and local authorities, the politics of the housing crisis are still fundamentally about home ownership.
Anyone pleasantly surprised by the change of tune in the green paper will still have found two particularly discordant notes: the convictions that welfare reform is ‘empowering tenants as consumers’ and that social housing should be a ‘springboard to home ownership’.
Housing may have been the dominant issue at fringe meetings at the Conservative party conference but two reports out this week highlight the fact that the frustrated aspirations of young private renters are still the dominant concern.
The new Tory think-tank Onward brought forward publication of a proposal for new tax incentives for landlords to sell to long-term tenants following reports over the weekend that the government is considering it as a new form of Help to Buy.
And a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies put the problem of frustrated ownership into perspective.
Over the last 20 years owner-occupation among the 25-34s has fallen from 55% to 35%. Their incomes are up by 19% in real terms but rents have risen 38% and house prices 173%.
Originally posted on my blog for Inside Housing on September 24.
While all eyes were on the prime minister’s speech at the National Housing Summit you may have missed news that landowners are now making an astonishing £13 bn a year pre-tax profit just from getting planning permission for housing.
That is the estimate in a new report from the Centre for Progressive Policy (CPP) and the National Housing Federation (NHF) published on the same day as Theresa May was telling housing associations what they wanted to hear.
The £13 bn profit made by landowners in England in 2016/17 is up £4 bn on 2014/15 thanks to a huge increase in residential land values in the last two years.
Seen from one end of the telescope, that was already more than the profits of the entire UK housebuilding industry and it is now more than the global profits of Amazon, Coca Cola and McDonald’s combined.
But the impact can also be seen from the other end of the telescope, with housing association after housing association quoting examples of where they have been outbid by private developers for land.
The sites are often public land but individual associations report examples of developers who bid a higher price than them only to do nothing with it or sell it on for a profit shortly afterwards.
Originally published on September 13 on my blog for Inside Housing.
How does land worth £21,000 or £482,000 per hectare suddenly become worth £1.95m? And who should get the windfall?
The answer to the first question is, of course, when agricultural or industrial land is granted planning permission for residential use (all three figures are estimates in government statistics).
The answer to the second is much more complicated – getting it right could boost construction of new homes and provide a new source of funds for infrastructure and affordable housing; getting it wrong could destroy incentives for landowners to bring land forward and mean housebuilding dries up.
Now the all-party Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has published a report on an issue that has a long history dating back to Winston Churchill’s criticism of the ‘unearned increment’ made by landowners following public investment in infrastructure – and even right back to Henry VIII.
Support for reform has grown across the political spectrum and even the last Conservative manifesto promised to ‘work with private and public sector housebuilders’ on the issue.
Supporters note, correctly, that the success of the post-war new towns was based on their ability to buy land at existing use value and use the uplift to fund infrastructure but that all this was stymied by legislation such as the 1961 Land Compensation Act that entitled landowners to the ‘hope value’ after their land is developed.
At the same time history is littered with examples of governments introducing uplift levies and tariffs and supplements that failed to deliver and sceptical landowners and housebuilders argue that reform will be prove much more complicated than supporters make out.
Originally posted on September 10 on my blog for Inside Housing.
So what is the state of the private rented sector – and what can be done about it?
Ten years on from their official review for the government, Julie Rugg and David Rhodes of the University of York are back with an update for the Nationwide Foundation.
Despite finding some progress – the average condition of rental property has improved, the average tenancy has got longer and Build to Rent investment is at long last producing results – the problems remain depressingly familiar and in many areas things have got worse.
The private rented sector is now 40% bigger but that growth is more down to the decline of home ownership and social renting than a wave of new construction or an expansion of choice. Perhaps half a million homes sold under the Right to Buy are now private rentals.
Thanks to Buy to Let, the sector is even more dominated by individual ‘investors’ looking to boost their wealth by getting tenants to pay the mortgage – mainstream commercial property companies account for just 3% of the stock.
The review estimates there are now 2.3m adults in England who are landlords – of those, 9% are themselves also private tenants and (surely some mistake?) 1% are social tenants.
And the bottom end of private renting – the only option for tens of thousands of tenants on benefit – is under such pressure from welfare reform that it is becoming ‘a residual slum tenure’.
Originally published on August 29 on my blog for Inside Housing.
The freeze on the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) is a £1.2 billion question for which the answer seems obvious.
The problems detailed in analysis by the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) published on Wednesday are severe and they are getting worse.
LHA rates are midway through a four-year freeze that is the culmination of seven years of austerity. The result is that they have completely lost touch with the rents they were meant to cover.
The CIH analysis shows that 90% of LHA rates now fail to cover the rent of the cheapest 30% of private rented homes (bear in mind that this was itself a cut from the 50th percentile and that LHA was originally designed to enable tenants to ‘shop around’ for cheaper rents).
That leaves tenants facing rent shortfalls that grow larger with each year of austerity: outside London, two out of every three LHA shared accommodation rates have a weekly shortfall of £4 or more and half of other LHA rates are short by £10 or more; in London, the shortfalls for shared accommodation are more than £10 a week in every LHA area and at least £30 for all other homes.