What will a new PM mean for housing?

Originally posted on May 20 as a column for Inside Housing.

What are the chances that the government’s shift to a more pragmatic position on housing will survive a change of Conservative leader?

The papers are already full of news and polls about the leadership race before Theresa May has even resigned, mostly reporting Boris Johnson as the overwhelming favourite but also noting the poor record of overwhelming favourites in previous Tory elections.

The stakes for housing start with the record of May’s government. While much of it is about rhetoric and saying the right things, especially since Grenfell, there is also some substance: the first funding for social housing since 2010; u-turns on key elements of the 2016 Housing Act; reforms to private renting culminating in the consultation on ending Section 21; and a willingness to consider new thinking on issues like land.

Does all of this represent a permanent shift in Conservative thinking on housing or will the Tories revert to type once May and her chief of staff, former housing minister Gavin Barwell, have vacated Downing Street?

Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

Making a housebuilding splash

Originally posted on insidehousing.co.uk on May 14.

The entry into the UK market of an overseas company that last year built almost as many homes as Barratt, Taylor Wimpey and Persimmon combined is by any standards a big deal.

That’s even before you add what looks like a major step forward for modular building in the UK and one of the most eye-catching individual investments yet by the self-styled disruptors at Homes England.

The £90m deal involves Sekisui House, the biggest housebuilder in Japan, taking a 35% equity stake in Urban Splash’s modular House business. The Manchester-based developer will retain 60% with Noel McKee, one of its existing investors and founder of We Buy Any Car, taking what’s described as an incremental 5% stake

Homes England will take a 5% stake worth just over £3m in the company and will also be providing a £27m loan from its £4.5bn Home Building Fund.

Sekisui House built almost 44,000 new homes last year, almost 5% of all those built in Japan, where new build numbers and demolitions alike are much higher than in the UK.

Read the rest of this entry »


The devolution dynamic in housing policy

Originally published on May 9 on my blog for Inside Housing.

Devolution to Scotland and Wales is 20 years old this week and amid the celebrations it’s worth taking a moment to consider its significance for housing.

Since May 1999, when the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly met for the first time, devolution has evolved at a different pace in each country and the Barnett formula has given Holyrood more resources than Cardiff Bay.

Politically, the Scottish Parliament was run by Labour with Lib Dem support for its first eight years before the SNP won power in 2007 and then an overall majority in 2011 and the No vote in the independence referendum. The Welsh Assembly has been run by Labour for the last 20 years, though it has needed the support of either the Lib Dems or Plaid Cymru along the way.

However, it was the election of a Conservative-led coalition government at Westminster in 2010 that led to a new phase for the devolved administrations.

For a while, all they had to do to be progressive on housing was nothing – refusing to follow the English swing away from social rent and towards the market created a clear divide.

Both have still had to cope with the impacts of austerity and benefit cuts largely imposed from London, although Scotland has used its extra resources to mitigate the bedroom tax and has been able to make some tweaks to universal credit.

In the areas that they can control, the devolved administrations have tended to devise policy in partnership with the sector, as exemplified by the ambitious target for affordable and social homes in Scotland and the independent review of affordable housing supply published in Wales last week.

But it is in legislation that a really distinctive approach to housing has emerged and it is one that I’d argue has created a new dynamic in housing policy across the wider UK too. Read the rest of this entry »


The housing trilemma

Originally posted on May 1 on my blog for Inside Housing

The pace of change in housing seems to accelerate every year, especially in the last decade.

There may be better known conferences than the one organised by the Housing Studies Association but there are few if any give you a better opportunity to try to make sense of it all.

Held in Sheffield last month, the theme of this year’s conference was Home Struggles: Politics, Marginality and Resistance in the Contest for Housing. This was a title designed to cover everything from the financialisation and homelessness we are familiar with in Britain to the more informal struggles associated with the Global South.

The conference brings together the growing number of academics working on housing issues from this country and overseas but housing professionals and tenants were there too in the audience and with papers of their own.

Read the rest of this entry »


Sidelining of tenants is part of a wider pattern

Whether you put it down to carelessness or couldn’t care less-ness, the inaction inside government inaction that has sparked open letter from A Voice for Tenants (AV4T) is symptomatic of a wider political paralysis.

As the group themselves point out, they are not representative of the eight million people living in social housing in England but they are the best we have until the government keeps the prime minister’s promise to bring tenants into the political process.

The letter is all the more effective for the contrast between its moderate language and its stark message that working behind the scenes has not produced results.

The only option left seems to be to embarrass the politicians into living up to what they have said over the last two years – accepting Inside Housing’s open invitation to a meeting seems the bare minimum they should do.

And there is a strikingly similar message in the Times this morning from Grenfell United, as it attacks ‘indifferent and incompetent’ ministers who took their ‘kindness as weakness’.

Two years of meetings have produced too little action, they say, with no progress on their call for a new model of housing regulator and thousands of people still living in ‘death traps’ with combustible cladding.

Grenfell and tenants were top of the agenda for the ministers in post at the time of the fire – the work of Alok Sharma and his civil servants is praised in the AVT letter – but have slipped down it as the months and now years have passed.

Read the rest of this entry »


Where next for renting after Section 21?

Blimey. If it plays out as billed, the government’s consultation on ending no-fault evictions and introducing open-ended tenancies for private renters represents the quickest change in housing policy that I can remember.

I say ‘if’ because this is still only a consultation, because ministers have form for claiming rather more in press releases than turns out to be the case when the detail is published and because Theresa May could be succeeded within weeks by a new, more right-wing prime minister who could dump the whole thing.

One more caveat is that I am only talking about England. The first minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, pledged to end no-fault evictions on Saturday and so narrowly avoided the embarrassment of Welsh Labour lagging behind the English Tories on tenants’ rights.

Scotland has already abolished Section 33 (its version of 21) and introduced a new tenancy system in December 2017 that could become the model for the other UK nations.

In England, and taking it at face value, this announcement is a stunning victory for campaigners that takes May’s Conservatives to the left not just of where Ed Miliband was at the 2015 general election but also of what Jeremy Corbyn argued at the 2017 election. It was only later that year that the Labour leader committed to ending Section 21.

Last year the government consulted on its own plan for three-year tenancies but did not commit to making them mandatory – this was only one of three options alongside education and financial incentives for landlords.

Read the rest of this entry »


A warning from Berlin

Originally published on my blog for Inside Housing.

The large demonstrations in Berlin on Saturday demanding the expropriation of the property of the city’s two biggest landlords are a warning to their counterparts in this country about what can happen when public and political opinion turns against you.

Yes, there is a particular context for the demos, with communism in East Berlin and an expectation of cheap rents in West Berlin predating the free market pressures of a global capital city.

And yes we are talking about two large private corporate landlords that own more than 100,000 homes each.

But to bring things closer to home, both companies identified in the protestors’ placards – Deutsche Wohnen in particular but also Vonovia – have their roots in social housing and grew out of communal housing associations.

Read the rest of this entry »