Hitting a million

Originally published on May 26 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

Statistics published on Thursday provide the first clues as to whether the government will be able to deliver a million new homes in this parliament.

Transformed from an ‘aspiration’ into a ‘commitment’ in the Queen’s Speech, the million homes target will be a stretch but not quite as big a leap as it seems at first glance.

The DCLG housebuilding figures show homes built between January and March 2016 and therefore cover year one of this five-year parliament.

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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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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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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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The Housing Bill: From bad to worse


Originally posted on January 13 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing 

If it is an achievement to pilot a Bill through the House of Commons and end up with legislation that is worse than what you started with, then congratulations Brandon Lewis and Greg Clark.

Back in October I blogged that the Housing and Planning Bill is written on the back of a fag packetOn Tuesday it completed its report stage and got a third reading with additions and amendments scribbled all over the front as well. It was hard to disagree with the verdict of shadow housing minister John Healey in his closing speech: ‘Usually, we hope to improve a Bill as it goes through the House. This was a bad Bill; it is now a very bad Bill.’

Healey cited late amendments to change the definition of ‘affordable’ to include starter homes costing up to £450,000 (‘the Government are not building enough affordable homes, so they are simply branding more homes as affordable’) and to force councils to offer fixed-term tenancies (‘meaning the end of long-term rented housing, the end of a stable home for many children as they go through school, and the end of security for pensioners who move into bungalows or sheltered flats later in life’).

It was hard to disagree either with his view that ‘the Bill sounds the death knell for social housing’. That much will be obvious to anyone working in housing or who has followed the progress of the Bill. The tab for the Conservative manifesto pledges of extending the right to buy and building 200,000 starter homes is effectively being picked up by councils that still own their homes, tenants and people who will not get the chance of a social tenancy in future.

The Bill accelerates the slow death of social housing through a combination of deliberate culling (forced sales, Pay to Stay and fixed term tenancies for council housing), euthanasia (voluntary right to buy for housing associations plus conversions) and redefining the conditions for life (‘affordable’ will now not just mean starter homes but anything the secretary of state says). It is also now official that a private rented home does not have to be fit for human habitation.

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Voluntary service

Originally posted on December 15 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

Tuesday morning’s announcement by Brandon Lewis on deregulation of housing associations delivers on the government’s side of The Deal and its pledge to get them reclassified as soon as possible,

However, it also completes the division of what we used to call the housing ‘sector’ into two very different camps: councils forced to do what the government says; and associations giving a new meaning to the ‘voluntary’ sector.

The housing minister told the Communities and Local Government Committee that amendments will be laid to the Housing and Planning Bill aimed at enabling the ONS to re-reclassify housing associations as private sector while maintaining proportionate protection for lenders and tenants.

The biggest move was to make Pay to Stay voluntary for housing associations, which is quite a climbdown. However, the amendments will also include removal of the consents and disposals regimes so that associations no longer have to seek permission of the regulator and the abolition of the disposals proceeds fund so that they no longer have to spend receipts from the right to buy according to criteria set by the regulator. More detail is here.

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Moment in the sun

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

First, the good news: new government figures show that the supply of affordable housing is at a 20-year high. The 66,640 homes delivered in 2014/15 represented the highest output since 1995/96 and is among the highest seen since new council housing investment was killed off in the 1980s.

Yes, the surge in output is partly explained by the rush to beat the April 2015 deadline for the 2011-2015 Affordable Homes Programme, but it is still testament to the efforts of everyone involved: housing associations, government agencies, local authorities and housebuilders.

And given the usual doom and gloom on this blog maybe I should even allow ministers a moment in the sun too. Greg Clark and Brandon Lewis were understandably quick to seize on what was also the biggest increase in supply seen since 1992/93, when another Conservative government invested in housing in the wake of the housing market crash. Here’s what Clark had to say for himself:

‘Today’s figures show how far we’ve come to get the country building, bringing the industry back from the brink to deliver the highest annual increase in affordable housebuilding for over two decades. But we are far from complacent and the doubling of government investment in housebuilding announced at the recent Spending Review reaffirms our commitment to deliver a million new homes by 2020. Affordable homes to rent and buy are a key part of that, helping to give young people and families across the country the best possible start in life.’

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