2020 vision

Ed Miliband’s conference speech was much vaguer about housing than the advance briefing but it still sounds like good news.

The Labour leader said that ‘we’ll have an aim that at the end of the parliament Britain will be building 200,000 homes a year, more than at any time in a generation’.

He said that in 2010 there were a million too few homes in Britain but that the shortfall would rise to two million – the equivalent of five cities the size of Birmingham – by 2020 if we carry on as we are.

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Sanctions impact

As everyone focuses on the bedroom tax, there is worrying evidence today of the impact of another part of the benefits system on vulnerable homeless people.

Tougher benefits sanctions were introduced in October 2012 for people on job seekers allowance (JSA). The period that benefit can be stopped increased from between one and 26 weeks to four weeks and three years. Changes for those on employment support allowance (ESA) followed in December 2012.

The changes are part of steadily escalating conditionality requirements, including the claimant commitment that will be introduced in 100 job centres a month from October as part of the government’s conviction that ‘looking for work should be a full time job’.

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Export market

What price homes for Londoners when new developments are marketed first to overseas investors with a promise that there will be ‘no social housing’?

As The Standard reported yesterday, the ‘fully private’ flats at Capital Towers near the Olympic Park go on sale in Malaysia this weekend in what it dubs a ‘no riff raff row’.

That example comes from a report out today by Darren Johnson, a Green Party London Assembly member, who claims that a third of all buyers of new homes are from overseas and that two-thirds go to investors rather than occupiers.

He accuses mayor Boris Johnson of actively encouraging a process that leads to increasing concentration of housing wealth, a severe social housing shortage and the unnecessary demolition of existing stock and a lifetime of insecure renting for most Londoners.

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Seeing the cracks

Whether it’s the UN, the Lib Dem conference or tribunals in Fife, the cracks in the bedroom ceiling are growing by the day.

As Pete Apps reports for Inside Housing, only two members of the junior coalition party voted against a grassroots motion at the conference in Glasgow yesterday calling for an immediate evaluation of the controversial policy.

The motion condemned the policy that Lib Dem MPs were instructed to call the ‘spare room subsidy’ for ‘discriminating against the most vulnerable in society’.  Richard Kemp, former leader of Liverpool Council, called it ‘reprehensible and evil’ and Baroness Shirley Williams, probably the party’s senior figure, called it a ‘big mistake’.

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Silly season

Silly? Naïve? Bonkers? Proposals by the RICS for managing house price inflation are getting about as warm a welcome in the property industry as the UN got at Conservative HQ.

Some of the reactions are just as self-interested too since an end to house price volatility would be good news for people who want to buy but very bad news for some of those queuing up to say the whole idea is crazy. While some critics point with good reason to the practical difficulties of implementing the idea, others seem personally offended by the very idea of putting a stop to the house price gravy train.

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

Asking for more on new homes

We will build more,’ the major housebuilders are promising housing minister Mark Prisk. And they will – but strictly on their own terms.

Final results from Barratt published this week show that its completions rose by 6.3 per cent to 13,663 in the year to the end of June. The fact that the country’s biggest housebuilder is building more homes has to be good news. Even better, it is planning 45,000 over the next three years and it believes 16,000 completions are achievable in the year to June 2016.

But forget any notion that there has been any change in the strategy it and the other major housebuilders have followed since the credit crunch of managing their land carefully, minimising costs and maximising margins. That 6 per cent increase in completions was matched by increases of 30 per cent in operating profits and 74 per cent in pre-tax profits before exceptional items. Shareholders will also benefit as the company pays a dividend for the first time since 2008.

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Bedroom blues

Just when you were beginning to miss him, Grant Shapps is back with a bang and a complaint to the United Nations about that ‘woman from Brazil’.

The Conservative Party chairman brought an international twist to his old housing stomping ground in a Today programme interview that pitted him against Raquel Rolnik, the UN’s special rapporteur on adequate housing. Readers will need no reminding that in a preliminary statement following a two-week visit to the UK she is calling for the bedroom tax to be suspended immediately and fully re-evaluated.

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Giving hope

Housing and philanthropy seemed to go together naturally in the 19th century. Can they do it again in the 21st?

An interesting report out today from the Smith Institute, New Philanthropy Institute and Peabody Trust sets out to answer that question and in the process asks some more of its own about what the relationship should be between the state, housing providers and the private sector.

Peabody is of course one of the prime examples of Victorian philanthropy. American banker George Peabody donated a total of £500,000 (the equivalent of £40 million now) to ‘ameliorate the condition of the poor and needy’ in London. Thanks to careful management of its money, requiring a return of 3 per cent on its capital, it developed into an organisation with 20,000 properties housing 55,000 people.

Yet, as I blogged in celebration of Peabody’s 150th anniversary last year, that begs the question of why there are no equivalents today. Inequality is back to levels last seen in the 1920s and the super-rich grow ever more super and richer. So why is there no contemporary equivalent of Peabody or William Sutton or Octavia Hill? Why is there no Richard Branson Trust or Fred Goodwin Model Dwellings Society? The last major housing development funded by a philanthropist was Silver Edge, a model village in Essex founded by window magnate Francis Crittall – and that was in 1925.

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Osborne’s symbol of turning a corner

The venue for George Osborne’s speech claiming that the economy is ‘turning a corner’ may turn out to be a symbol of rather more than the economic recovery he had in mind.

The Chancellor was speaking at One Commercial Street, a half-finished 21-storey development of shops, offices and homes on the edge of the City of London and his choice of venue was no accident:

‘You’re probably thinking that a construction site is a strange place to make a speech. But I’ve invited you here for a reason. This development – 1 Commercial Street – began in 2007. The plan was to turn this building into 21 floors of office space, private apartments and affordable housing. Construction began; and continued at a pace. Until in 2008 the work simply stopped. Investors pulled out. Jobs were lost. And the site lay silent for three years.

‘But last year, something exciting happened. Construction began again. Today, 230 people are working here at 1 Commercial Street to complete the development – and it will open its doors next year. I’ve brought you here because this building is a physical reminder of what our economy has been through in the last six years.’

Work on the development did indeed stop in October 2008, when the concrete frame had been built as far as the 11th floor. It took three and a half years and a change of owner before housebuilder Redrow restarted work on the tower in May 2012.

So far, so good for the Osborne narrative. Work stalled by the credit crunch is finally underway but work on what? What does 1 Commercial Street really say about the nature of the recovery he was proclaiming?

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Out of credit

Take your pick of today’s official criticisms of the universal credit. It was over-ambitious and high risk, it had no clear plan and it has offered poor value for money.

Has the National Audit Office (NA0) ever delivered a more damning verdict on a key government policy than the one it has just published?

Think of just about every rumour you’ve heard about the IT system, every assumption about the chaos behind the scenes and every time you reacted sceptically to DWP assurances that the latest changes to the timetable were all part of the original plan, and you will find them all in the report published today.

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