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21/12/2020

Social housing providers can improve existing properties or build new – but not both

Housing / Shutterstock_199093037

Last week the government released the social housing lettings statistics for April 2019 to March 2020, as well as the English Housing Survey for 2019/20 – both hot on the heels of the social housing white paper. Martin Gladwin considers what they tell us about the state of the social housing sector and its role in meeting housebuilding targets.

The social housing sector has a vital role to play in the government’s ambition to deliver 300,000 new homes a year, yet at present the number of new social housing developments is well below target, with only a 3 per cent increase in stock over the past decade, despite a strong political impetus, a pressing need to tackle homelessness, and 1.15 million households already on local authority waiting lists as of this year.

While there is no shortage of demand and desire for new social housing developments, local authorities and housing associations have first to navigate a host of other often-unavoidable expenses involved in maintaining and retrofitting their existing assets, and as of this year they must do so while also factoring in the impact of the pandemic on their rental income.

Quite rightly, social housing landlords will be prioritising the safety, security, and compliance of their existing properties, before contemplating new developments, and the relatively small proportion of dwellings in the social rental sector which do not meet the Decent Homes Standard compared to the private sector is testament to this approach.

"In many cases this will require costly retrofitting, which may further eat into landlords’ budgets for new developments"

Furthermore, the government’s social housing white paper published in November indicates a direction of travel towards even more exacting standards for social housing, as they propose updating the Decent Homes Standard to include specifications for building safety and security, energy efficiency, and green space provision. In many cases this will require costly retrofitting, which may further eat into landlords’ budgets for new developments, even when you factor in the potential government grants available to make dwellings energy efficient.

With government funding for social housing ebbing away year on year, it’s difficult to see how organisations can implement ever-higher standards for new and existing dwellings, whilst also developing enough new dwellings to meet the government’s targets, and when push comes to shove the former will take precedence over the latter. Organisations will have to think strategically about how to fully utilise their existing assets to provide as many homes as possible, without making any compromises in safety and quality.

Martin Gladwin is head of housing consultancy at Rapley's

Photo | Shutterstock

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