As Shelter turns 50, we can see the huge effect that affordable housing has had on people’s lives.
Looking at the black and white photos of the conditions the poorest lived in, the progress we’ve made is abundantly clear. The overcrowding, damp and lack of security still exist, but over time housing associations and local authorities have made a huge impact.
We’ve cleared slums and refurbished street properties in inner-city areas, leading to regeneration. We’ve provided good-quality properties at low rents, and mixed-tenure housing with secure tenancies and priority for the most vulnerable.
Without these important changes, the impact of poor housing, health, education and inequality would be much greater.
However, a lack of investment in affordable housing and the continuous changes to the current regime have taken their toll. Coupled with the soaring costs of market housing and wages remaining static, it is no longer just the poorest who are suffering.
The government’s recent announcements on affordable housing feel like Christmas has come early.
In that context, the government’s recent announcements on affordable housing brought warmth to housing associations during these cold months. It feels like Christmas has come early.
The desire and push for housing of all tenures from government is real. There is additional money for affordable housing; this includes for rent and not just ownership initiatives.
It is, then, the perfect time for us to do more. Housing associations are in a unique position of being able to combine the full range of housing products, including social rent, shared ownership, market rent and market sale to build out bigger sites at a faster rate.
Mergers are adding to the sector’s capacity to do more, providing greater skills and the ability to take on more risk. However, most key to delivery are partnerships.
Housing associations can only truly increase their capacity by working with developers, local authorities, other public sector bodies and investors to find the land, finance it and build it out.
What is really encouraging is seeing this going well in several locations already, such as Peabody in Thamesmead, L&Q in Barking and Thames Valley Housing in partnership with Galliford Try in Canning Town.
Thames Valley Housing set up Fizzy Living in 2012 and we now have 1,000 homes in management and the pipeline. Build-to-rent is taking off and should be seen positively as a separate sector to individual landlords - good housing and healthy people really do make sense.
Wish list for 2017
But what more can be done? Here is my new year’s wish list:
- More urban extensions and the release of health authority land so that partnerships can be built with them.
- A requirement for all major sites to have build-for-rent as part of the mix, with the extra 3% stamp duty removed.
- Rent certainty for housing associations to enable better planning of income streams and accurate assessments of new schemes.
- Affordable rented schemes priced according to local incomes so rents are subsidised appropriately.
- A ‘teach-first’ approach for planners and a suitable structure to pay and retain staff to help build on current planning policy.
- A discussion about how we can encourage the retirement market, releasing larger homes for families and equity for first-time buyers.
- Increased investment for improving construction and cracking the nut of efficient supply at a more affordable price, with greater certainty of quality.
- The introduction of a national shared ownership scheme with equity investment to improve supply and give first-time buyers hope.
- A new approach to regeneration that keeps existing communities together and ensures everyone benefits from value uplift.
- Investment in enough homes in the right places to give children the best chance in life and avoid them spending nights in temporary accommodation.
When Shelter was set up 50 years ago, we made the decision as a country that housing was a fundamental right. We must work together to keep that burning desire to solve the housing crisis alight.