Housing Voice – raising affordable housing up the political agenda

This afternoon saw the launch of Housing Voice, an alliance of organisations promoting affordable housing. 

In a special post for Red Brick, the chair of Housing Voice, Lord Larry Whitty, explains the thinking behind the new organisation and what it hopes to achieve.

The current generation of young families face impossible hurdles as first time buyers.  Deposit requirements are at a multiple of annual salaries and the average house costs more than 10 times the median wage.  Banks and building societies are reluctant to lend. On top of all this more defaults and repossessions are threatened as the cushion Labour set up comes under attack.

The apparent benefit of low interest rates is pretty meaningless to those not already on a mortgage and will in any case soon end.

So what do those who in the last two generations would have been first time buyers by the time they were 30 do now?

Some stay and live with their parents.  Some live in overcrowded private rented accommodation.  But even in decent private rented accommodation in London and many cities the rents are soaring.

Social housing is not a realistic option.  With 1.7 household – 4.4m people already on social housing lists the chances of a young family getting social housing is pretty remote.

Yet new home completions is at its lowest level since the 1920s and the affordable housing budget has been hit by a 60 per cent cut.

All this when household formation is running at twice the rate of new home completions and accelerating.

These are classic indicators of near catastrophic market failure in all three sectors.

The Labour Government’s legacy on housing is not glorious.  Labour made serious strategic mistakes on housing almost from the beginning.  All the social housing capital went to refurbishment through the Decent Homes programme, rather than half of it going to new build. Right to Buy capital receipts weren’t recycled on any significant scale.  There was an obsession with transfer of social housing stock to RSLs or its management by ALMOs — with variable results for existing tenants and no increase in provision.  Rent restructuring contributed to social housing being predominantly for those on housing benefit without work.  Housing Benefit was not reformed.  Regional targets for new housing were set without the means to deliver them.  Various commendable schemes for partial ownership and partial equity foundered and affordable housing quotas on developments were only belatedly enforced.

All this has of course been aggravated by wider developments – the credit crunch, the atomisation of society as households form and re-form and get on average smaller, the effects of immigration, the failure of regional policy and the creakiness of our welfare system.

Unfortunately the Coalition’s policies simply aggravate the situation further.  The abolition of regional housing targets and regional spatial planning along with other planning changes is making new developments less likely. Capital controls will lead to restrictions on bank advances.  And in the social sector affordable rents, proposals to end security of tenure, caps on Housing Benefit driving lower paid workers out of central cities and a general political and media demonisation of social tenants are destroying the very idea of public housing.

This then undermines those councils and housing associations who want to engage in new build of social housing or to require higher proportions of affordable housing in all tenures in new developments.

All this is happening and hitting families up and down the country. Yet, in contrast to elections in the 1950s and 60s, when housing was always one of the top three political issues, housing has not featured significantly in public debate in recent elections. This could be because electors have regarded housing as a private issue and not communal or political one.  But the scale of need means that this is changing. A YouGov poll released today shows that people now see affordable housing as a bigger issue for them and their families than education or crime.

The poll also shows an appetite for fresh thinking, including requiring local authorities to ensure there is housing available in their areas to meet housing need that relates to local wage rates, for councils to build homes to rent and for the government to tax bankers bonuses to pay for new public housing.

We need to build on these findings – to provide a broad civil society voice calling for housing to be a top political priority and to provide a forum for new and fresh thinking.

That is why we have proposed a new organisation – Housing Voice – the affordable housing alliance.  This is a loose association of those interested in housing who want to try to ensure the Government and Opposition bring the issue further up the list of priorities and develop new policies and new strategies for delivering decent homes to the
people.

My first House of Lords speech was in favour of reform of Housing Benefit – under the last Tory Government.  As a Minister in DETR in 1999 I unsuccessfully argued for more social housing new build than as well as refurbishment.  Twelve years on our housing market is in deep disfunction.    Labour policies largely failed.  The coalition is seriously aggravating that failure.  We need new pressure to raise housing policy up the political agenda. And new ideas to help solve the problem.

That is why we are launching Housing Voice – as a forum for ideas and a base for campaigns.

If you would like  further details about Housing Voice please contact David Arnold on d.arnold@unison.co.uk

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2 Responses to Housing Voice – raising affordable housing up the political agenda

  1. Pingback: Time to make the housing recovery a political priority | Red Brick

  2. Steve Barker says:

    Please see my schemes on Labour Housing Group Discusions Page(Steve Barker).This being on Facebook.I have many other schemes at minimal cost and in fact by acting as guarentures the Gov could save approx £200/household.
    Sad None of the Politians invited to these schemes have gripped the ideas(nothing in it for them),My intellectual Property.
    Regards Steve Barker.

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