Further leverage in the housing policy debate?

I’m not sure quite how I missed it the first time around. Most probably because, like many policy commentators, I’m inclined to focus too closely on the relatively parochial and the marginal shifts in domestic policy position.

As a consequence of this failure to look sufficiently far beyond the end of my own nose I only recently became aware of the Geneva UN Charter on Sustainable Housing, a document that was finalised back in October 2014. This document is not legally binding, but it offers a potential resource in ongoing discussions over the direction and ambition of housing policy emanating from Westminster. [Read more…]

Selling off social housing

8182240298_f9770a9cbeRumours have been circulating in the housing policy ether for several months now. Given the housing policy influence of the Policy Exchange at No 10 those rumours should have been, and were, treated seriously.

And now it looks like those rumours are well-founded. They’ve only gone and done it.  The Conservative manifesto pushes the Policy Exchange line that local authorities should be forced to sell high value properties in order to fund building new properties in lower value areas, and, if elected, they are proposing to extend the Right to Buy to housing associations. This opens up the possibility of an extra 1.3 million households having the chance to buy their home at a discount.

This is supposed to be the Conservatives’ big offer. Although, to be fair, it would seem to be a big offer targeted at a relatively small group of people – housing association tenants who earn enough from stable employment to be able to afford a property which, even at a substantial discount, is going to be a financial stretch.

Despite what some people seem to think, extending the Right to Buy to housing associations is not a new idea. [Read more…]

Expensive homes for wealthy people

What’s new in the housing world this week? What have we learnt? The primary lesson so far would seem to be that rich people really don’t like living next to poor people. They’d rather the poor, and even the middling sorts, made themselves scarce and freed up the space for a few more members of the moneyed classes to move the average income of the neighbourhood up a notch or two.

Hold the front page.

Of course, the message wasn’t quite as crudely expressed as that. Perish the thought. [Read more…]

Housing transformations and trajectories: My contribution to #SLFconf

[This is the text accompanying my presentation to the 2nd Social Liberal Forum Conference: “Social justice across generations”, King’s College London, 14/07/12. Not all of it was delivered on the day, because of the way the session panned out and because there’s too much of it. My thanks to my co-contributors Paula Keaveney, Emily Davey and Martin Tod – and to everyone who attended – for a really interesting session.]

We are experiencing a momentous period in UK housing – both in terms of the housing system itself and housing policy. This is not simply a product of the current economic crisis but of the crisis layered on top of longer-term and deeply-rooted problems.

We are witnessing a housing transformation on the ground. The last five or six years have seen an increase of more than a million households living in the private rented sector. This is in part because of the scarcity of mortgages for first time buyers; one of the consequences of the Global Financial Crisis.

And we are witnessing a transformation in the thinking underpinning housing policy. As those who play #shappsbingo know, Grant Shapps regularly refers to his aim of shattering the “lazy” consensus in housing policy. I don’t agree with him on much, but I think it is fair to say that there was a consensus on the broad parameters of housing policy, and that he has shattered it. Ideas that a few years ago were only whispered among the more outré right wing think tanks are now the premises upon which policy is based.

And if we don’t like the direction in which housing policy is heading then we will need to come up with some strong social liberal arguments as to why not. In my view housing policy needs refounding. [Read more…]

Housing challenges

The other day I had to give a 10 minute summary of my take on the housing challenges we currently face.

I don’t claim any great originality in what I covered. But I thought it might be useful to set the points out here.

The next stage is to draw up some thoughts on what we might do to address these challenges.

[Read more…]

Rent Asunder

[Originally posted at Dale&Co., 03/01/12]

The new year has opened with a couple of important housing stories. The first was another attempted crackdown on illegal subletting in council housing. The second, which attracted significant media attention, is the reform of the local housing allowance (LHA) – the housing benefit which assists low income private renters. A tranche of rule changes came into force with the New Year. The media coverage was sparked by the publication of a Chartered Institute of Housing report arguing that the rule changes render 800,000 properties no longer affordable to low income renters. A range of unfortunate negative consequences are argued to follow. The Department for Work and Pensions – which is responsible for this policy – is having none of it.

The Government arrived with a seductively plausible case. [Read more…]

Tax payers and ‘the right to the city’: alternative narratives on cuts to Housing Benefit

A few days ago I tweeted that current housing policy was a “right mess”. That was in part a response to the news, reported in Inside Housing, that there is going to be an increase in the distribution of tents for homeless ex-offenders in Nottingham, in lieu of settled accommodation. But it was a more general observation that the intersection of the various current initiatives don’t seem to sum to anything bordering on coherent. A key element of the current agenda is the reform of the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) for private tenants. And we’re now moving into the implementation phase of the reforms.

I’ve written about the LHA before (here and here). But I return to it because the more I think about it the more I think there has been something missing from the debate. [Read more…]

Private renting, quality concerns and spatial exclusion

To say that there appears to be inconsistency, incoherence or complacency at the centre of Government policy is not a particularly novel observation. Indeed, it doesn’t really narrow down what we’re talking about, given the generally rushed and badly thought through nature of current policy proposals in many fields. Nonetheless the point reasserted itself with the conjunction of two pieces in yesterday’s Observer (here and here).

A perennial problem in the private rented sector is relatively poor affordability coupled with relatively poor quality. Many private renters pay a lot for bad housing. It has been an active part of the housing policy discussions for the last 15 years at least. The Buy to Let boom of the 2000s made a difference to average quality, but not to affordability.

The fundamental issue is that landlords in Britain are unwilling or unable to provide consistently high quality accommodation for the level of rent that private tenants are willing to pay or, at the bottom of the market, able to pay. [Read more…]

The housing policy jigsaw – the changing picture

[Originally posted on Liberal Democrat Voice, 31/12/10]

I started this discussion of current developments in policy towards housing by noting that it is an area in which the tensions in inherent in balancing “the fundamental values of freedom, equality and community” are absolutely central. Housing policy needs to strike a balance between the individual and the aggregate – neighbourhood, city, regional – outcomes if it is going to deliver economically and socially (and environmentally) successful settlements. In this last post I will reflect briefly on changes in where this balance has been struck over time. [Read more…]

The housing policy jigsaw – a picture begins to emerge?

[Originally posted on Liberal Democrat Voice, 30/12/10]

In yesterday’s post I set out key policy developments affecting housing. So what can we discern about the current government’s approach to housing?

For a start there is a continuing emphasis upon choice. This is particularly clear when discussing how to encourage underoccupying social renters to move. The CLG rhetoric is of increasing choice and making choices easier to realise. They neglect to cross-refer to the DWP proposals to cut the housing benefit of any social renter deemed to be seriously underoccupying. The approach isn’t all “carrot”. [Read more…]