There is no denying the success of Help to Buy. From its launch in April 2013 to December 2018, a total of 211,000 loans were granted under the scheme, with a total value of £11.7bn.
Consequently, the UK’s largest housing developers have all seen increased profits, selling between a third and half of their properties this way in 2018.
However, the scheme has recently come under scrutiny by parliament’s spending watchdog, the National Audit Office. The agency has found that, while Help to Buy has increased home ownership and boosted housing supply, there are concerns that some people who have benefited could have bought a property without state support.
A revision is in the pipeline. From April 2021 to when the scheme finally ends in 2023, equity loans will only be available to first-time buyers and for houses with market values up to specific regional price caps.
Shared ownership has always been an alternative to Help to Buy. It has been around for decades and is a well-established path to owning a home, helping hundreds of thousands of people on lower incomes get on the property ladder.
To be eligible for a shared ownership property, applicants need to earn below £90,000 in London and be either a first-time buyer or a previous homeowner who cannot afford to buy now. Our research shows that the average income of those who buy from us in London and the South East is just under £40,000 and the average age of buyers is now 35, down from 41 over 10 years ago. This decline is a reverse of the market trend.
According to recent research by Savills, the end of Help to Buy could increase demand for shared ownership by as much as 150%. This presents a real opportunity for housing associations to drive the supply of genuinely affordable housing and support home ownership. But to achieve shared ownership’s full potential, our sector needs partners that are willing to provide equity and take market risk.
I have previously championed the idea of partnering with institutional investors to achieve this. At Metropolitan Thames Valley’s £1.6bn regeneration, Clapham Park in Lambeth, we recently sold 132 market sale homes to real estate investment trust ReSI, which is selling them on as shared ownership. MTVH is taking on the management contract ourselves while ReSI gains the low-risk, long-term income stream from the retained equity.
For Profit Registered Providers who take market risk and provide equity for additional affordable housing, this is an effective way to boost affordable housing supply and could be the way to really increase the provision of shared ownership.
With Help to Buy winding down, shared ownership will provide an alternative for those priced out of the market. As a sector we will do our bit, but with the restrictions on our model we need others to come in and provide additionality, not just compete for a dwindling stock of section 106.
Geeta Nanda is chief executive of Metropolitan Thames Valley