The importance of home ownership has been underscored by the government’s announcement of plans to introduce a revamped right-to-buy scheme for housing association residents.
This iconic policy has played a huge role in housing for over 40 years, helping thousands to buy their homes.
It has not been without its issues. So we need to work collaboratively and examine the impact this policy could have before pressing ahead.
Supporting more people to realise their dream of owning their home is an ambition all of us in the sector share. I believe a safe, decent and affordable home is a platform for people to thrive and build the lives they wish for themselves. But this is true whether people are renting or buying. So, as we wait to hear more about the government’s plans, we must recognise that while boosting home ownership is imperative, it can and must be done while building more social and affordable homes.
Social housing plays a major role in giving security to millions across the UK. It is not just a roof over residents’ heads; it’s an entry point to a wider community. It provides a gateway to other services provided by the likes of my housing association, MTVH, such as social opportunities and financial help. It can enrich and enhance people’s lives in many ways.
The National Housing Federation estimates social rented housing is the most appropriate tenure for around half of the 8.5 million people in England with an unmet housing need. Social housing also enhances local communities, ensuring a good, safe rental home for many to work locally, providing much-needed services. The need for more social housing is clear.
Many aspire to home ownership and we are committed to supporting more people to achieve this. But social housing must not be sacrificed along the way. I was encouraged by the government’s commitment in its right-to-buy announcement to directly replace any housing association homes sold under the scheme on a one-for-one basis.
Housing secretary Michael Gove has confirmed this must be on a like-for-like basis in the same area, to ensure the most affordable homes are not lost from communities. This will be especially important in high-cost areas such as London, and in rural areas, where land availability and building costs are challenging.
It is also worth recognising that the right to buy is just one avenue for those who would otherwise struggle to buy a home. Shared ownership is an increasingly popular and proven model. In 2021, the average deposit for a UK first-time buyer was £52,935, and more than double that in London. The average deposit for a buyer through MTVH’s shared ownership brand, SO Resi, in London was £27,000. The average income of those buying a home through SO Resi is £36,000, showing that shared ownership can provide a route to home ownership while costing the government far less.
A revamped right-to-buy scheme must also address the UK’s chronic lack of affordable homes – something we know the housing secretary is committed to. At Shelter’s conference in April, Gove accepted there had been a failure to ensure genuinely affordable homes were available for all and said urgent action was needed to address the lack of social housing.
Housing associations are uniquely placed to help the government deliver on both its commitment to boosting home ownership and delivering more and better social housing. Let’s work together.
Geeta Nanda OBE is chief executive of Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing and chair of the G15 group of largest housing associations in London