Freezing out ‘No DSS’ landlords

Originally published on March 5 as a blog for Inside Housing.

The way that responsibility for housing is split between different government departments means that sometimes the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing.

The classic example of this came in parliament yesterday when even as MPs were approving another year of frozen working-age benefits, the housing secretary was making a written statement attacking landlords for refusing to let to tenants on housing benefit.

The vote means that the local housing allowance (LHA) will be frozen for the fourth year in succession and the benefit cap will stay stuck at the reduced rate of £20,000 (£23,000 in London).

The impact of that will fall directly in the ‘thousands of vulnerable people and families’ mentioned by James Brokenshire in his written statement and will be felt most by families with children and those living in the most expensive areas.

And it will come on top of the continuing impact of the transition to universal credit and all the problems with waiting times, delays in payment and supposed simplicity for tenants and landlords that it brings in its wake.

If it reinforces the sense of relief among social landlords that the government abandoned plans to cap housing benefit for social and supported housing at LHA rates, it means many social tenants face a freeze on the rest of their incomes despite rising prices.

But the freeze will give private landlords yet more reasons to think twice about letting homes to tenants on benefits.

And the move by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) comes at precisely the moment that ministers at the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) give their backing to a campaign by Shelter on ‘No DSS’ adverts.

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It’s not just about Help to Buy

Originally posted on February 28 as a blog for Inside Housing. 

All the headlines this week are about Persimmon and Help to Buy but the issues with housebuilding are much bigger than either.

Yes, Persimmon is the most extreme example of the gains made on the back of state intervention, with profits of £1 bn and margins of over 30% to go with those huge executive bonuses that made it the poster child for corporate excess in the industry.

And, yes, Help to Buy supported almost half of its 13,341 private completions in 2018 and a major part of the rest of the industry’s output.

Public and media outrage has now reached the point where ministers feel they have to act and housing secretary James Brokenshire let it be known over the weekend that he has ‘become increasingly concerned by the behaviour of Persimmon in the last 12 months’.

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Coping with climate change

Originally published on February 21 as a blog for Inside Housing. 

Remember when England was going to lead the world on zero carbon homes?

Three years after that was meant to happen, a report published today (Thursday) by the government’s independent advisor on climate change reveals that instead we are going backwards.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) warns that ‘UK homes are not fit for the future’, with progress stalled on reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and efforts to adapt the housing stock falling far behind the risks posed by higher temperatures, flooding and water scarcity.

Improving the quality, design and use of homes will not just address the challenges of climate change, it says, but save people money and improve health and wellbeing, especially for vulnerable groups like the elderly.

Many of today’s headlines were generated by its recommendations that would mean no more gas boilers and hobs, with no new homes connected to the gas grid from 2025 .

However, the report as a whole has multiple and far-reaching implications for new and existing homes if the UK is to meet its legally binding target to reduce carbon emissions by at least 80% of 1990 levels by 2050.

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Parker Morris and Homes for Today and Tomorrow

Originally posted on February 19 as a blog for Inside Housing.

Listening to a new Radio 4 documentary about Parker Morris and space standards it is impossible not to feel a mix of nostalgia for an era of housing optimism and sadness that our ambitions have shrunk so much since.

As John Grindrod relates in Living Room, the title of the 1961 report was an indication that it was about much more than just a technical exercise in allocating space per person.

Work on Homes for Today and Tomorrow started 60 years ago this year but it was building on a 20th century council housing tradition that began 100 years ago and it was also looking to the future to ensure that homes were fit for it.

‘A good house or flat can never be made out of premises which are too small,’ said the report, which set out a much greater ambition for new homes:

‘An increasing proportion of people are coming to expect their home to do more than just fulfil the basic requirement. It must be something of which they can be proud and in which they can express the fulness of their lives.’

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The 300,000-home question

Originally published on February 11 as a blog for Inside Housing. 

Can the government meet its target of 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s?

The target was announced to some scepticism in the 2017 Budget and a report just out from the National Audit Office (NAO) says with some under-statement that it will be ‘challenging to meet’.

In detail, the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) commitment is to ‘support the delivery of a million homes by the end of 2020 and half a million more by the end of 2022 and put us on track to deliver 300,000 net additional homes a year on average’.

That means net additional homes so it includes conversions and change of use (less demolitions) as well as new building.

Statistics showing a 78% increase in homes on this measure since the low point of 2012/13 (from 125,000 to 222,000) certainly suggest that it is possible.

However, recovery from the credit crunch is one thing, an increase from more normal times quite another, and the annual increase slowed to just 2% in 2017/18.

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Celebrations fit for heroes

Originally published on January 31as a blog for Inside Housing.

This year marks the centenary of a key event in the history of housing in Britain that deserves to be widely celebrated.

The 1919 Housing Act was designed to deliver on Lloyd George’s promise of homes for the soldiers, sailors and munitions workers of the First World War. He never actually said the exact words ‘homes fit for heroes’ and only 213,000 of the 500,000 promised were delivered before the Treasury axe fell in 1921.

But the results can still be seen in towns and cities all over the country in well-designed and spacious houses and the Act drawn up by health minister Christopher Addison also legacy for the future that went beyond the homes themselves. 

Christopher Addison, the architect of the 1919 Act

It effectively established principles for council housing that lasted (but would also be contested) through the rest of the century by giving local authorities responsibility for assessing local housing need and the tools and the resources to address it. Read the rest of this entry »


The man who collects houses

I’d never heard of Ken Griffin before a week in which the hedge fund billionaire bought the most expensive home ever sold in the United States and then snapped up (as you do) what is thought to be the priciest home sold in Britain for a decade.

I use the words ‘houses’ and ‘home’ in a loose sense, of course. Because we are talking about penthouses, apartments and condos too. And because, despite spending $238m on a four-storey penthouse in a new skyscraper in New York and £95m on a London house near Buckingham Palace, it’s hard to see how he will spend much time living in either of them.

kenneth_griffin

Griffin’s Citadel hedge fund is actually based in Chicago, where he already has two more homes. The most expensive ever sold in the city, a $59m four-storey penthouse, offers a place to crash after day at the office. Fitting it out could cost another $25m but if he needs somewhere in the meantime he also owns a whole floor of the Waldorf Astoria plus a two-storey penthouse in another skyscraper.

For weekends or holidays he can fly down to Florida, the state where he was born and has acquired a $230m portfolio of land and property in Palm Beach near President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. One property (which cost $15m) will apparently be used as a guest house while some of the four others could be demolished to make way for a gargantuan beach house. That’s almost forgetting the $60m penthouse in Miami that he seemingly never moved into and has now put back on the market.

If he fancies a change of scene, he can nip over to Hawaii, where he bought one property for $11m in 2009 only to buy a second for $17m three years later.

I’m labouring the point here but it’s worth it on a few different levels, most obviously for what it reveals about the astonishing lives of the ultra-rich but also for what this extreme case says about our attitudes to housing and property and about what has happened since the financial crisis.

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