Originally posted on my blog for Inside Housing on October 22.
When England’s most high-profile local authority calls the behaviour of the country’s largest housing association ‘morally wrong’ you sit up and take notice.
Clashes between the local priorities of a council and the organisational ones of an association are nothing new of course but this week’s statement by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) seems different.
Clarion is in its sights over rejected proposals for the regeneration of the Sutton Estate in Chelsea.
Council leader Kim Taylor-Smith told a council meeting last week:
‘HAs in the borough are, in some cases turning away from their core purpose and in some cases becoming all but private developers.
‘You will all know I am talking about Clarion Housing, the owners of my local and cherished Sutton Estate which they wish to knock down the estate with a loss of affordable homes We stand shoulder to shoulder with local residents in opposing this
‘I think we all in the chamber are untied. This is wrong.’
The green paper published by Labour on Thursday represents the most comprehensive plan for affordable housing put forward by a major party in England in 40 years.
The document launched by Jeremy Corbyn and John Healey does not just reject the market-based and Conservative-led polices of the last eight years, it also goes significantly further than the policies adopted by the last Labour government and in some ways even beyond what the party proposed at the last election.
In broad outline, it is an attempt to reclaim the word ‘affordable’ and spell out what housing ‘for the many’ would mean. And it explicitly rejects the current government’s claim that the only way to make housing affordable is to build as many new homes as possible:
‘Conservative housing policy is the wrong answer, to the wrong question. It is not just how many new homes we build, but what we build and who for that counts. We have to build more affordable homes to make homes more affordable.’
Originally posted as a column for Inside Housing on October 2.
For the first time since I can remember average housing association chief executive pay has fallen in real terms.
After years of spurious justifications for bumper pay rises and bonuses that alone is enough to make this year’s Inside Housing salary survey worthy of note.
Beyond that, though, the arguments for and against high pay and the legacy of past increases remain largely the same as in any other year.
No, it’s impossible to defend one pay package of almost £600,000, four more of over £300,000 and another four of over £250,000 at a time when tenants face austerity, the bedroom tax and universal credit.
And, no, boards should not be pretending that they are only paying what the market demands when that market rate is set mostly by housing associations themselves.
Originally published on December 23 on my blog for Inside Housing
It was a year that fell neatly into two halves: before and after everything was turned upside down. The vote for Brexit on 23 June transformed politics, and the complete change of government and ministers has shifted priorities that had seemed set in stone until 2020.
But as some things change, others remain very much the same. Here’s the first of my two-part look back on the things I was blogging about in 2016.
1. Ambitions for new homes
The year began with what David Cameron hailed as a “radical new policy shift for housing”. The prime minister said that “for the first time in more than three decades” the government would directly commission homes itself on public land, giving priority to small builders. It was a welcome move but it was hard not to think of previous housing strategies that turned out not to be as “radical and unashamedly ambitious” as he claimed.
Cameron’s commitment to a million new homes by 2020 – or 200,000 a year for five years – seemed to be exactly that when the government’s own housebuilding figures showed completions running at around 140,000 a year. However, in May I questioned whether the target was really as ambitious as it seemed. It was already becoming clear that ministers were using higher figures for the net additional supply of homes as their yardstick. The total for 2015/16, the first of the five years, was just 10,000 short of the 200,000 a year benchmark.
An influential House of Lords committee gave short shrift to a claim by Brandon Lewis that the housing plans were “very ambitious”. It called instead for 300,000 new homes a year, backed by a series of radical changes to policy on investment, planning and tax.
2016 ends with Lewis in a different job, Cameron out of a job and the promise of yet another housing plan. The White Paper will no doubt be equally as ‘ambitious’ when it is finally published but the signs are that this one will have fewer adjectives and more substance.
Originally published on December 7 on my blog for Inside Housing
The minister announces more investment in social housing – social, not affordable – and signs a pact with housing associations and local authorities.
This is not a fantasy or a trip down memory lane but something that happened last week in Wales, a country where the government and the housing sector are very much in sync.
Carl Sargeant, communities and children secretary, told the Community Housing Cymru (CHC) annual conference that Social Housing Grant (SHG) will be increased by £30m this year, or 44% on previous plans. He also signed a pact with CHC and the Welsh Local Government Association to deliver 13,500 affordable homes by 2021.
Though CHC is the Welsh counterpart of the National Housing Federation, the pact is not a deal that requires forced conversion to the merits of homeownership or that turns a blind eye to forced sales of council homes.The Right to Buy is being scrapped rather than extended and the pact sets out a series of other aspirations on everything from jobs and training to energy efficiency and rents to homelessness.
Housing in Wales works very differently to England thanks to devolution and a political culture that works on consensus.While London and Manchester are blazing a trail with new investment powers, Wales can make its own legislation. Greater regulation of the private rented sector and homelessness prevention are already in force, the end is nigh for the Right to Buy and stamp duty is being replaced with the first Welsh tax for almost 800 years.