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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

Shifting sands

Originally published on January 4 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

So a New Year brings a ‘radical new policy shift’ for housing. Seven years after the crash and four years after its failed ‘radical and unashamedly ambitious’ housing strategy, the government now thinks it has what’s needed to boost housebuilding.

Hailed by David Cameron as ‘a huge shift in government policy’, today’s announcement that the government will directly commission 13,000 homes certainly seems to be a welcome admission that the market cannot fix housing on its own, that state intervention is required on a significant scale and that the major housebuilders alone will not deliver.

But what took so long? This much has been clear since 2008, when the Global Financial Crisis and credit crunch triggered a housebuilding slump and the Conservatives were drawing up their housing and planning policies in opposition.

Read the rest of this entry »


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.’

Read the rest of this entry »


Good cop, bad cop and mad cop

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

Inside Housing: ‘Clark promises deregulation package’. FT: ‘Osborne eyes social housing stake sale.’ Daily Mail: ‘Duncan Smith’s great council house giveaway.’

Three rival visions for housing in England from three rival politicians who all think they know best.

Let’s assume some of this is the result of private disputes about budgets (especially between Osborne and IDS) playing out in public. The run-up to any spending review features media briefings designed to promote pet projects or scupper those of others. But this is still different: it’s not pet projects at stake here but potentially the entire future of housing. And the rival visions directly contradict each other.

Read the rest of this entry »


Beyond the deal

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

If the result of the NHF ballot was a foregone conclusion, just about everything else about the extension of the right to buy remains unclear.

With a majority of 93% by stock and 86% by membership, the NHF has a result it can present to the government as a resounding endorsement of its voluntary deal. True, it’s only 55% of those eligible to vote (or, as Joe Halewood argues, 20% of all registered providers) but that presentation is what really counts. Given the dubious nature and timing of the vote, this was always going to be the result (see my related post Deal or No Deal?).

But anyone looking for a response from Greg Clark at the Conservative conference on Monday will have come away disappointed. The communities secretary extolled the virtues of the right to buy, argued housing association tenants have the same ambitions to own as everyone else and delivered the line Tories wanted to hear: ‘We are doing what we promised, we are extending the right to buy to housing association tenants.’ But there was no explicit reference to the deal rushed through in time for the conference.

The omission may just be a demonstration of the political sensitivity involved. Early reports said Clark had watered down the manifesto pledge (something he denied, though the voluntary arrangement may result in the right to a discount rather than a right to buy for some tenants). However, it’s also a reflection of how much has still to be resolved.

Read the rest of this entry »


Deal or no deal?

Originally posted on September 28 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

As the clock ticks down to 5pm on Friday, what should really count in the momentous decision to be taken by housing associations?

My first thought was this is like the ‘offer he can’t refuse’ scene in The Godfather. Vote No to the ‘voluntary’ deal on the Right to Buy and you may not wake up in bed next to the head of your favourite horse but you will be inviting Osborne to do his worst in the spending review in November.

Then I thought of the BBC. Looked at in terms of narrow self-interest it seems a no brainer. Better, surely, to strike a deal on the most generous terms you can now than wait for the government to impose the same thing on much worse terms later. That’s exactly what the BBC did before the Budget when it ‘voluntarily’ swallowed the cost of free TV licenses for the over-75s in return for an increase in the license fee.

My next thought was more cynical. Isn’t the NHF a bit like the Premier League when it signed the deal with Sky that excluded the rest of football from its TV billions? Even Sky didn’t make the other clubs sell their best players to pay for it.

And then I came back to the comparison that defenders of housing associations in the House of Lords spent the Spring and early Summer making: the complaint that this is the biggest seizure of charitable assets since the dissolution of the monasteries. Except that as far as I know the monastic orders did not voluntarily agree to the seizure provided they received full compensation paid for by the forcible sale of convents.

Read the rest of this entry »


Back to the future

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

The first Communities and Local Government questions with a new opposition brought some familiar faces – and issues – back into the limelight.

The Labour reshuffle following the election of Jeremy Corbyn gave the shadow DCLG team only a couple of hours to prepare so it was just as well that shadow communities secretary Jon Trickett had an experienced man beside him on the front bench.

John Healey was one of the most effective Labour housing ministers and continued to show a strong interest even after he moved on. His warning about the threat to social housing helped inspire the creation of SHOUT. He explained his continuing interest in an Inside Housing interview last year in which he supported lifting the borrowing cap on council housing.

In June he wrote to the National Audit Office to call for an investigation of the Right to Buy. It’s good news that he’s back and even better that he’s a member of the shadow cabinet.

His line of attack at Monday’s DCLG questions was declining home ownership. With George Osborne describing it as ‘a tragedy’, what did communities secretary Greg Clark have to say to millions of ‘middle England, middle-income young people and families’ with no hope of buying?

Read the rest of this entry »