Blue futures

Originally published on July 5 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

I wouldn’t pretend for a second that housing is anywhere near top of the to do list for the five contenders to be the new Conservative leader and prime minister – or that the winner will mean a radical change in approach.

But so many political certainties have been overturned in the last week or so that nothing can be ruled out. Not least, George Osborne’s decision to abandon his budget surplus target changes the financial parameters for housing policy in ways that are only just beginning to be thought through.

This could open up new possibilities for housing in the Autumn Statement under a new prime minister and quite possibly a new chancellor. However, it’s also likely to mean that austerity will continue into the 2020s.

The background of the contenders alone will be a change. Unlike David Cameron, Osborne and Boris Johnson, all five of them are state-educated. Two (Stephen Crabb and Liam Fox) were even brought up in council housing.

So what about housing? There are divisions between the contenders on their attitudes: some are ready to concede a role for social housing while others focus completely on the market and three of the five appear to be saying that housing will be a bigger priority with a bigger budget.

However, the main dividing line is between supporters of and objectors to new homes. This tension between ‘supporters’ and ‘objectors’ has been evident throughout the coalition and Conservative governments and reached uneasy compromise in the National Planning Policy Framework, with ‘localism’ balanced by the presumption in favour of sustainable development.

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Owning the future

Originally published on June 30 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

The shift in subsidy from renting to owning under this government may be obvious but it’s only when you see it laid out in total that you appreciate its scale.

This year’s UK Housing Review Briefing, published at the CIH conference on Thursday, sets out total government support for different kinds of housing from 2015/16 onwards. The total for social and affordable rent is just over £2 bn. The total for home ownership and the private market is a cool 21 times bigger than that: £42.7 bn.

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Red flags flying over Right to Buy

How can people who can’t afford the rent suddenly afford to buy?

To recap in case you missed it, a joint investigation by Inside Housing and BBC Radio 4’s File on 4 found that 16% of Right to Buy sales by 10 councils were to tenants on housing benefit.

This is not in itself evidence of fraud: the 721 tenants concerned could have got money from their family or from a third party. But it is seen as a ‘red flag’ of potential fraudulent activity and a particular cause for concern in the councils with the highest levels of sales to tenants on benefit:  Dudley (37%) and Westminster (29%) and Croydon and Birmingham (who each estimate around half).

And it’s one aspect of a fraud problem that should also set the alarm bells ringing about the 1.2m tenants who are about to get a form of Right to Buy from housing associations that will not have the same expertise as local authorities in detecting fraud and money laundering.

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Brexit door

Originally published on June 16 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing 

In two days’ time you could be having your breakfast to the news that the UK has voted to leave the European Union.

Whether that thought makes you choke on your cornflakes or rejoice that this is the last time the blurb on the box will be dictated by Brussels, I think we can all agree that the consequences will be profound.

Housing has only featured as a second rank issue in the campaign, well behind the economy, immigration, sovereignty and our place in the world. Yet the effect of a Leave vote on the housing market is just as much a part of Remain’s pitch as the housing impacts of immigration are part of Leave’s.

So what if Project Lie really does beat Project Fear on Thursday?

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Driving a hybrid

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

What is the future of social housing? Does it even have a future?

Those were the big questions posed at a conference in Birmingham last week organised by Housing & Care 21 and the University of Birmingham. The answer to the first one revolved around a concept drawn from the academic literature: hybridity, or the ability of organisations to operate in the triangle between public, commercial and community interests. As to the second, yes… but it depends.

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The Housing Bill: Last word

Originally posted on May 11 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

The end of resistance to the Housing and Planning Bill leaves one big question hanging: why was the government so completely determined to undo an amendment that delivered its manifesto commitment on higher-value sales?

On the face of it, the amendment by Lord Kerslake that ping-ponged back between the Commons and the Lords should not have been such an issue. It would have put on the face of the bill the funding of replacements for ‘higher-value’ homes where local authorities sign an agreement with the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). It also gave them the chance to make the case for social rented replacements, though the DCLG would not be required to accept this.

But ministers treated this as a wrecking amendment and claimed financial privilege on the grounds that it would fatally undermine their plans to pay for Right to Buy discounts for housing association tenants. Their determination was reflected in a piece in Wednesday’s Sun that included a threat to make the Commons sit all night and a personal attack on Lord Kerslake by Brandon Lewis.

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The Housing Bill: Price to pay

Originally published on May 5 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

On Tuesday Brandon Lewis told the press that there would be no further concessions on the Housing Bill. A little over 24 hours later there were…further concessions.

On a day of five more defeats in the House of Lords, which will now ping pong back to the Commons, the biggest surprise for me was the last-minute changes to Pay to Stay announced by communities minister Baroness Williams.

The House of Commons overturned three previous Lords defeats on the controversial policy on Tuesday. To recap, the Lords had increased the thresholds to £40,000 and £50,000 in London, called for the thresholds to be increased in line with inflation every three years and reduced the taper rate from 20p to 10p. On all three the government claimed ‘financial privilege’, a strong message to the Lords to back off.

The stage was set for a new battle on Wednesday over slightly watered down Lords amendments but (probably fearing defeat) the minister announced a compromise – a taper rate of 15p and annual uprating of the thresholds in line with CPI inflation – that was accepted by peers.

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