Squaring the circle of regeneration

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.’

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Turning tenants into owners

Originally posted on October 11 on my blog for Inside Housing. 

For all the government’s new-found enthusiasm for social housing and local authorities, the politics of the housing crisis are still fundamentally about home ownership.

Anyone pleasantly surprised by the change of tune in the green paper will still have found two particularly discordant notes: the convictions that welfare reform is ‘empowering tenants as consumers’ and that social housing should be a ‘springboard to home ownership’.

Housing may have been the dominant issue at fringe meetings at the Conservative party conference but two reports out this week highlight the fact that the frustrated aspirations of young private renters are still the dominant concern.

The new Tory think-tank Onward brought forward publication of a proposal for new tax incentives for landlords to sell to long-term tenants following reports over the weekend that the government is considering it as a new form of Help to Buy.

And a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies put the problem of frustrated ownership into perspective.

Over the last 20 years owner-occupation among the 25-34s has fallen from 55% to 35%. Their incomes are up by 19% in real terms but rents have risen 38% and house prices 173%.

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What the English Housing Survey says about owner-occupation

The third in a series of blogs looking at the latest English Housing Survey considers the state of home ownership in 2016/17.

Home ownership has stopped shrinking

The survey says 62.6% of households owned their home in England in 2016/17, down from 62.9% the previous year. Coming after a 10-year decline from a peak of 71% in 2004, that represents relative stability and the rate is now little changed since 2013/14.

The last time home ownership was lower was in 1984, just as the Thatcher right to buy boom was at its peak.

Or has it?

However, some more profound changes are going on beneath the surface. First, it depends whether you are talking about owner-occupation or home ownership – many more of us now own more than one home thanks to buy to let.

Second, it conceals the widening divide within ownership. Traditionally owner-occupation has been about first-time buyers getting on to the housing ladder but the tenure has matured as baby boomers get older and there are now more outright owners (34%) than people buying with a mortgage (28%).

Owner split

In line with that, the proportion of owners who are under 35 has halved in the last two decades from 18% to 9% and even buyers with a mortgage are older than they once were (only 46% are under 45). By contrast, 61% of outright owners are over 65.

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The latest new housing minister takes his turn

So it’s farewell to Mr Buggins – many thanks for all you’ve achieved in your 181 days as housing minister.

And it’s hello to Mr Buggins – you appear not to know (or care) very much about housing as you take your turn in the job but then neither did most of your predecessors.

Housing felt the knock-on effects of the latest round of the Great British Brexit Farce as Theresa May decided that Dominic Buggins would be the replacement for David Davis as Brexit secretary.

That Mr Buggins was appointed to the housing job because he was a prominent Eurosceptic and he spent half of his interviews as minister talking about Brexit.

On the assumption that he has decided he believes in the Chequers compromise and can cheerlead for it, this looks like a good appointment for the government.

Which is more than can be said for his previous post. Thinking back over those 181 days, I can remember him using his position to generate publicity about immigration and offering lawyerly denials that the government’s approach to regulation was in any way to blame for the Grenfell Tower fire.

But his major achievement must surely be to have dodged publication of the social housing green paper.

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Rethinking social housing

Originally posted on June 26 on my blog for Inside Housing.

As we prepare to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the NHS an older part of the welfare state is at a crossroads.

The road already taken reaches back to the birth of council housing at the end of the 19th century and its rise and fall through the 20th century.

While other parts of the UK have sought to protect the role of social housing, until recently in England only one direction seemed possible.  This offered a motorway towards fixed-term tenancies, the housing association right to buy, forced sales of council houses, with social housing seen as a way station rather than a destination for the most vulnerable.

But the events of 2017 have reconfigured the road signs to leave other options for the way ahead. Grenfell means it is no longer possible for governments of any party to ignore social housing and social tenants, the rhetoric of the Conservative prime minister has changed, the Labour party has put forward a coherent plan for ‘genuinely affordable’ housing and any number of different projects is underway to rethink the role and purpose of social housing.

Today it’s the turn of the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH), which marks its 2018 conference with publication of the final report from its Rethinking Social Housing project.

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Seven big questions facing James Brokenshire

Originally posted on May 1 on my blog for Inside Housing.

New housing secretary James Brokenshire takes over at a critical time from Sajid Javid. With little previous experience of housing, he will have to make some crucial decisions in the weeks ahead, set the longer-term direction for policy and tackle what many Conservatives now see as a key political issue for them.

Here are seven big questions for him to address.

  • How will he follow Sajid Javid?

Brokenshire becomes the fourth Conservative secretary of state responsible for housing since 2010, following Eric Pickles, Greg Clark and Sajid Javid.

Javid has to go down as the best of the bunch (admittedly the bar is not set very high here) and he talked such a good game that he even changed the name of his department to include the word ‘housing’.

As Terrie Alafat says, his time in office saw an important shift in the narrative as housing became a top domestic priority.

But how much of it was just talk? Sajid Javid sometimes raised expectations and sometimes left the impression of doing just enough to look like he was doing something – and no more.

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April arrives with some rare good news

Originally published on March 29 on my blog for Inside Housing.

Sometimes it feels like I’ve written a blog at this time every year with the headline ‘April is the cruellest month’.

It’s not that I have a TS Eliot fixation nor (I hope) that I endlessly repeat myself but because ever since 2010 the start of the financial year seems to have meant yet another benefit cut or housing policy change to cope with.

This year is a bit different not so much because there is no bad news but because there is some good news as well. Here are some examples:

  • The u-turn on the withdrawal of support for housing costs for 18-21 year olds under universal credit announced on Thursday. This was a cumbersome policy that required significant exemptions and barely saved any money but it’s still a significant change to the original pledge to make young people ‘earn or learn’.
  • The Homelessness Reduction Act passed in 2017 applies from April 3. The legislation should be a big step forward in ensuring that more people get help earlier but despite a recent announcement on funding there are still well-founded concerns about whether councils have the money to implement it.
  • Claimants already getting housing benefit who move on to universal credit will from April be paid an additional two weeks of housing benefit. That may not be much consolation for the (in theory) five-week wait for their first universal credit but the payment (worth an average of £233) should ease the transition a bit –and it is not recoverable.
  • It will be unlawful for landlords to give new tenancies on the least energy efficient property from April 1 – all rented property will have to qualify for at least an Energy Performance Certificate rating of E so (in theory) tenants will no longer be stuck paying high heating bills for the worst F and G property.
  • More measures introduced against rogue landlords in the Housing and Planning Act 2016 come into force, including powers for councils to issue banning orders against the worst offenders and implementation of a database of landlords and letting agents convicted of some offences.

Bear in mind too that it’s not so long ago that I would have been writing about plans to apply a Local Housing Allowance (LHA) cap to social and supported housing from…April 2018.

For all that good news, though, the suspicion remains that it will at best mitigate the impact of policies already implemented and still in the pipeline.

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