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Reaction: Social housing green paper ‘doesn’t commit a penny’

Words: Laura Edgar
Small housing development / iStock: 172246561

In response to the government’s long-awaited social housing green paper, the social housing sector and interested professionals have welcomed the proposals but, overall, say it doesn’t go far enough.

Not enough to focus on overall housing numbers

Victoria Hills MRTPI, chief executive at the RTPI, welcomed the "overdue attention" to social housing and commitments to strengthen the position and status of residents.

However, she continued, "we also need to increase diversity in the housing market and especially the amount of social housing. Kit Malthouse likened making progress with social housing to turning around a big tanker, but the changes confirmed so far are barely a course correction".

"It’s not good enough to just focus on getting overall housing numbers up to 300,000 a year – we must also focus on the type of housing we are building. New social homes must be a priority. In the context of the loss of 150,000 social homes over the last five years, local authorities need more powers, including further devolved funding and financing for social housing. We need to resource the planners and housing officers who will be expected to deliver it.”

Doesn’t commit a penny

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “The terrible Grenfell tragedy has shone a light on social housing and forced the country to think about the choices we face.

“Today’s green paper is full of warm words, but doesn’t commit a single extra penny towards building the social homes needed by the 1.2 million people on the waiting list.”

David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, who represents social landlords to around six million people, said the green paper has been welcomed by housing associations.

“For 40 years we have failed to build anything like enough social housing. It is time the country had a proper conversation about the role and importance of social housing in ending the housing crisis.”

He explained that social housing residents are concerned about the shortage of genuinely affordable homes and they feel that recent welfare reforms have caused real hardship. Orr said there must be space within the green paper consultation to address these wider concerns.

“We also know that many tenants believe the quality of services from their landlord could be improved. We know people want to feel listened to and influence the kind of services they receive. We have been leading a national conversation with our members and tenant organisations to understand where and how we can do better. Housing associations are committed to putting the people we serve at the heart of everything we do. We want to ensure this is the reality in all our homes and communities across the country.”

However, Orr said that without “significant” new investment in the building of more social housing, “it is very hard to see how it can be a safety net and springboard for all the people who desperately need it”.

Only a small step

Judith Blake, Local Government Association (LGA) housing spokesperson, said the green paper is “only a small step” towards delivering more social homes”.

“There is a desperate need to reverse the decline in council housing over the past few decades. The loss of social housing means that we are spending more and more on housing benefit to supplement expensive rents instead of investing in genuinely affordable homes. It has also come alongside an increase in homelessness, with 79,000 families, and almost 125,000 children, stuck in temporary accommodation.

“Councils are proud of their housing and their tenants and continually work to improve how they empower their tenants to achieve a positive and responsive relationship. However, they need the freedoms and powers to invest in new and existing housing that communities want for themselves and their children.”

Blake urged the government to go beyond the “limited” measures announced so far, and to scrap the borrowing cap – something the LGA has been calling for for some time now.

“It is good that the government has listened to our concerns and dropped plans to force the sale of council homes. We have worked hard to demonstrate the need to scrap this policy, which would have forced councils to sell off large numbers of the homes desperately needed by low-income families in our communities,” Blake concluded.

Government understands crisis

Mark Farmer, CEO at real estae and construction consultancy Cast, said the green paper is evidence that the government understands the severity of the housing crisis.

"However, tackling the housing crisis head-on needs much more focus on delivering affordable homes in appropriate locations with appropriate social and physical infrastructure that can generate sustainable communities. This can only be achieved by bringing forward more public land for development and diversifying our housing market both in terms of tenure offering and methods of production. There is a unique opportunity to use innovative homebuilding techniques as a stimulus for new forms of multi-skilled training, factory and site based employment and wider social value creation.”

Consultation after consultation

Henry Moss, real estate partner at law firm Ashurst, said: “The social housing green paper is welcome, but it does nothing to fix the fundamental problem that we're not building nearly enough homes of the type people desperately need or can afford. The government's own housing white paper, published over 18 months ago, described our housing market as ‘broken’ and promised to ‘fix it’.  Since then, we have had consultation after consultation but no action.”

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