The homelessness trap

Originally published on February 25 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

If the government provides Help to Buy for first-time buyers why not Help to Rent for homeless people?

A new campaign from Crisis says it is becoming harder and harder for homeless people to get a place to live because most landlords think it’s too risky to rent to them.

Home: No Less Will Do’ is supported by the leading private landlord associations and calls on ministers to give homeless people looking to rent the same kind of support as they offer first-time buyers and to introduce a Welsh-style homelessness prevention duty.

As things stand, they are caught in what Crisis calls the ‘homelessness trap’: the private rented sector may be their only hope of a home (especially if they are single) but they struggle with upfront costs; and welfare reforms are making landlords less likely to want to rent to them.

The potential consequences – and the timeliness of the campaign – are underlined in new figures published on Thursday showing that rough sleeping has risen by 30% in a year and has doubled since 2010.

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Home ownership: Decline and rise?

Originally posted on February 18 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

At first sight, headline results from the English Housing Survey published on Thursday are very good news for Brandon Lewis.

As the housing minister was quick to point out, the survey shows 2014/15 was the first year since 2003 when the home ownership rate in England did not fall. And, as this graph also shows, private renting fell for the first time since 1999:

tenure

He might also have pointed to this graph showing a surprise turnaround in the tenure prospects of Generation Rent:

graph

The fall in ownership over the last 10 years has been most marked among young people, so this increase in ownership among the 25-34s in 2014/15 and decline in private renting is a marked reversal of that trend.

On the face of it then it’s good news for ministers in their quest to revive the property-owning democracy and bad news for doom-mongers (like me). Perhaps all those dire predictions that we are on course to become a nation of private renters are wrong? Maybe Help to Buy really is working? Did Labour commission the Redfern Review into the decline of home ownership to look at a problem that no longer exists?

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Did Help to Buy help?

Originally posted on February 16 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

If you believe Brandon Lewis, the Help to Buy equity loan scheme is a resounding success: it’s helped thousands of people to buy a home who could not have done otherwise; and it’s done it without inflating house prices.

But does an external evaluation for the Department for Communities and Local Government back up his claims? The good news for the housing minister is the central verdict that 43% of homes built under Help to Buy were additional and would not have been built without the scheme. And the report certainly has a positive conclusion:

‘Overall, the scheme has met its objectives in terms of increased housing supply. It has done this via a stimulus to demand which has fed through into an expansion of supply and with little evidence of a serious and destabilising impact on house prices.’

But look a little deeper and there is plenty of ammunition for critics of the scheme too. Most obvious is the flipside of that headline figure: if 57% of Help to Buy homes would have been built anyway, is that really a good use of the £9.7bn that the scheme is set to cost by 2020?

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Checking the bill

Originally posted on February 10 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing 

Start with a fundamental change to the funding mechanism for the right to buy, stir in more changes to key elements of the Housing and Planning Bill, then add criticism of the lack of detail and you have a recipe that shoud give ministers indigestion.

The report of the all-party Communities and Local Government Committee does support both the extension of the right to buy to housing association tenants and the voluntary deal between the government and the NHF is ‘the best way forward’.

But that’s as good as it gets for ministers from a committee that has a Labour chair but a Tory majority. Here is the headline recommendation:

‘The Government proposes to fund the right to buy discounts for housing association tenants with the proceeds from the sale of high value council homes. However we believe that public policy should usually be funded by central Government, rather than through a levy on local authorities.’

This would undermine one of the central elements of the Bill and the government’s method of paying for right to buy discounts and the promised replacement homes. And the MPs are not finished.

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Going rogue

Originally published on January 9 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

This week’s Communities and Local Government questions featured rogue policies, rogue landlords and a rogue house builder.

Rogue policy number one is the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) cap and its impact on supported housing. As Labour MPs lined up to criticise it, housing minister Brandon Lewis pointed to the review expected in the spring and pledged:

‘The changes will come in in 2018, but we are very clear, and have always been very clear, that we will make sure that the most vulnerable in our society are protected.’

That was not good enough for Labour’s Roberta Blackman-Woods, who quoted estimates by Newcastle-based Changing Lives about the losses it and other providers will suffer and argued that the discretionary fund will be inadequate. Lewis responded by pointing to the £400m of funding for new specialist affordable homes in the Spending Review (not much use if housing benefit won’t cover the rent) and the £5.3bn Better Care Fund (which is about health and social care, not housing).

But it was not good enough for Tory MP Peter Aldous either, who called for urgent clarity on whether the cap applies to homeless hostels and foyers. ‘If it does not, there is a real worry that many will close and that, as a result, there will be an unnecessary rise in the numbers of young homeless people.’

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Green light for affordable homes

Originally posted on February 8 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

If you feel like you’ve been banging your head against a brick wall making the case for greater investment in rented homes, take heart. Someone is listening.

The Green Budget from the Institute for Fiscal Studies appears every year a month before the real thing and gives an impeccably independent and influential assessment of the chancellor’s options.

The 2016 version was published on Monday and it includes two chapters written for the IFS by the Institute for Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW). Yes, I know the mention of chartered accountants may have you asking yourself why you started reading this blog, but please try to contain your excitement – because there is an important point to this.

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Monopoly money: London Help to Buy

Originally posted on February 4 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

The person who sprang instantly to mind when I saw the promotional material for London Help to Buy on Twitter this week was Lizzie Magie (of whom more later).

The scheme offering 40% equity loans to buyers of new build property in London costing up to £600,000 was first announced in the Spending Review and formally launched this week. Here (thanks to Joe Sarling for drawing my attention to it) is the advert designed for digital media:

The Angel, Islington, costs a little bit more than £100 these days and with studio apartments in one new development starting at £715,000 you can forget about building a house for £50 or renting one for £6. But you get the general idea: it seems that you can now get on the property ladder as easily as you can ‘Advance to Mayfair’ or ‘Go Back to Old Kent Road’.

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