A new vision for social housing

Originally posted at www.insidehousing.co.uk on January 8.

shelter commissionSooner or later a government will have to come up with a long-term plan for housing like the one that Theresa May launched this week for the NHS.

In place of the endless promises of the ‘jam tomorrow’ of more new homes at some point in the next parliament it would need a commitment that goes beyond the next election or even the one after that.

Today’s report from the independent Social Housing Commission provides a stark illustration of what is needed and the scale of the resources required.

And this is much more than the usual call for more from the social housing lobby. The 16 commissioners are drawn from across the political spectrum, with former Labour leader Ed Miliband matched by former Conservative ministers Lady Warsi and Lord O’Neill, and from across society, with Baroness Doreen Lawrence joined by members of the Grenfell community. There were also 13 public debates around the country and responses from 31,000 people.

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Control speak

Labour’s bold move on private renting seems to be working as politics. Will it work as policy?

I’ve never been to Venezuela or Vietnam but, with due deference to Grant Shapps’s expertise on their housing systems, I do have a few observations to offer.

The Conservative chairman compared Ed Miliband to Hugo Chavez in a ludicrously overblown reaction to the Labour leader’s speech yesterday. Free market think tanks like the Institute of Economic Affairs and right-wing commentators like Fraser Nelson and Harry Phibbs joined him in condemning Labour’s supposed plans to introduce rent controls.

A quick glance at what Labour is actually proposing reveals that it owes far more to Ireland and Germany than Venezuela and Vietnam:

  • A ban on the outrageous fees letting agents charge to tenants, which Labour says will save them an average of £350.
  • A default three-year tenancy, from which tenants can give one month’s notice after the first six months
  • The rent to be freely negotiated at the start of the tenancy with annual increases after that based on a benchmark such as average market rents.

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Taking the pledge

The optimist in me hopes that Ed Miliband’s launch of Labour’s independent housing commission marks the start of a political arms race on housing ahead of the next election.

In this scenario, his target of 200,000 homes a year by 2020 and eye-catching policies to achieve it will strengthen the hand of the pro-development wing of the Conservative Party and mean that whoever wins the next election will have a serious crack at tackling the supply crisis.

The pessimist in me worries that I’ve seen little so far that suggests the target is achievable (see Colin Wiles on this last week) and that the two policies that have made the headlines won’t work except in the sense of strengthening the hand of the Tory nimbys.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing