Well it appears as if we are back at Groundhog Day again on housing policy, another white paper acknowledging that we have a major housing crisis in the UK but with limited ideas about how we fix it.
What we do have is some comforting words. Government has ‘listened ‘it wants to ‘help’ to ‘support’. But when we peel back the comforting language what lurks beneath? Well very little that we can rely upon. Whilst I appreciate that running alongside the white paper is a series of consultations it is a missed opportunity to put some tangible solutions forward.
APSE, alongside our research partners in the TCPA, are working on our third tranche of housing research. Time and again we find that the root cause of the housing crisis is the lack of supply of new build, the mix of properties that are being built and in particular the lack of affordable homes. We have consistently called for a strengthened role for local councils to deliver homes for rent on scale to alleviate the strain at the bottom end of the housing ladder.
With current borrowing restrictions on local councils many have developed local housing companies, building both homes for social rent and affordable homes for sale. Councils are best placed to balance the local housing market and ameliorate the often unethical practices of extortionate rents, poor quality and short term exploitative tenancies. And yet the white paper suggests that Government are considering imposing the same restrictions on local housing companies that successive governments have applied to council housing. Can Government really claim to be localist if it prescribes tenancy agreements and the right to buy?
There is a real danger here of not learning the lessons of history by choking off what appears to be a sensible, entrepreneurial and innovative approach developed by councils to help meet local needs by eroding the business case for investment and ultimately limiting build.
Whilst it is legitimate for local housing companies to also have policies aimed at tenants who ultimately want to buy their own home, priority must be to establish the housing stock needed to meet the more desperate needs of those currently unable to either buy or rent a home of their own.
Actions will speak louder than words and it has been a lack of action by successive governments that have left us diagnosing the problem without prescribing the solution. I hope we don’t end up back here again in a few years’ time.