Shared vision

Shared ownership seems an obvious solution to the housing problems of people on low and middle incomes – so why does it remain on the margins?

A report out this week from Shelter looks at perceptions of and problems with the part rent-part buy tenure and ways that it could be reformed to take it into the mainstream.

In the process, it makes a pretty convincing case that the piecemeal, alphabet soup of government ownership schemes has done little to make housing more affordable for the squeezed middle and more to create confusion about the options available. In particular, it shows how shared ownership could make more homes in more places more affordable for more people than either version of Help to Buy. The report finds that almost eight out of 10 low to middle income families could not afford a family home with a 95 per cent Help to Buy mortgage.

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Give and take

Finally I’ve found somebody who thinks that Help to Buy 2 is a good idea: the private equity owners of Foxtons.

I’m obviously exaggerating for effect here (I was just reminded of Simon Jenkins too for starters) but the London estate agent is famous for three things: its flashy sponsored Mini Coopers; the pushiness of its staff; and the timing of its sale in 2007. The founder of the company sold out to private equity firm BC Partners for £360 million just months before house prices and transactions crashed.

After a rare apology from BC Partners to its investors, and a rocky road to recovery, Foxtons is set to return to the stock market next month with a valuation of up to £500 million.  That spectacular turnaround may have a bit to do with some canny financial engineering but, as the Financial Times reports this morning, it has far more to do with the fact that its timing could hardly be better.

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Whose benefit?

You know the formula by now: take a provocative premise, add three claimants selected to provoke different reactions, stir in the reaction on twitter, then stand back and watch the viewing figures mount up.

As with How to Get a Council House, Benefits Britain 1949 suffers from all the faults that are seemingly hard-wired into Channel 4 reality shows. The opening episodes showed them both at their worst (see me on HTGACH and Frances Ryan on BB49) but with time they evolved into something that went beyond the format and the premise.

I’ve just caught up with the second episode of Benefits Britain 1949 and if you haven’t seen it I recommend a viewing in conjunction with the third and final episode of How to Get a Council House because they neatly bookend the whole debate about social housing and its place in the welfare state.

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Tape measure

Plans to ‘end rabbit hutch homes’ made all the headlines but the government’s consultation on housebuilding ‘red tape’ is about much more – and maybe not even that.

The housing standards review was launched in the wake of the government’s housing and construction red tape challenge, which itself was part of a wider drive to eliminate over-regulation in the economy.

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Half measures

For all the rhetoric from ministers, housebuilding in England is still running at half the level needed to meet demand.

Earlier this week communities secretary Eric Pickles boasted that housebuilding and new supply were ‘on the up’ and that the government had delivered ‘almost a third of a million additional homes in the last two years’.

He quoted NHBC registrations, gross affordable housing supply, net additional dwellings and the number of New Homes Bonus awards to justify that claim. Every housing statistic you can shake a stick at in other words with just one small exception: the housebuilding figures produced by his own department.

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On the rise

As the evidence for a housing market recovery mounts by the day, so is the impression that an old-fashioned dose of house price inflation is now seen as a very good thing by the government.

In a survey out this morning, members of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) report that activity is rising around the country and not just in London and the South East and that prices are up for the fourth month in a row. Yesterday, the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) reported that the number of loans to first-time buyers was up 30 per cent on a year ago to its highest level since the credit crunch in 2007. On Friday, the CML said buy to let lending topped £5.1 billion in the second quarter of the year, the highest since 2008.

And the DCLG published stats overnight showing that 10,000 people have registered for a help to buy equity loan in the last four months. Whether by coincidence or design, that was neatly calculated to capitalise on a housing market feel-good factor that was sent into overdrive by last week’s forward guidance from Bank of England governor Mark Carney that interest rates will stay at a record low until unemployment falls below 7 per cent (widely interpreted as meaning until 2016 at least).

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Doing good

How to Get a Council House broke free of its dodgy title and format last night. The same cannot be said for the reaction on Twitter.

The second episode in the series was set in Manchester and followed tenants and staff of Northwards Housing as the bedroom tax loomed earlier this year (watch again here). It gave some real insights into the way the system works and the good job that housing officers do in very difficult circumstances.

As I blogged last week, I felt the first episode also did well at showing the impossible situation in Tower Hamlets, where just 40 properties a week become available but 60 new families join the 24,000 families others on the waiting list. But I criticised the trivialising commentary and the lack of any context that might have explained why.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing