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04/05/2017

White paper is a start, but bolder housing measures are required

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Though the government has committed to supporting housebuilding, there is much more to do, says Terrie Alafat

The housing white paper signalled a significant change in direction – it’s time for bold measures to tackle the problems the government has committed to solving.

It very clearly moves away from an almost exclusive focus on home ownership and places emphasis on increasing multi-tenure house building over the long term. This is a shift that is both welcome and overdue. 

The recognition of the role of local authorities is a big plus – both in terms of enabling others to build homes and their own role as housebuilders. We were delighted to see a willingness to remove barriers facing councils in the white paper and in the words and actions of the housing minister and DCLG officials.

And in Gavin Barwell we seem to have a housing minister who is  passionate about our sector and willing to listen.

But long-term questions remain. We need to find a way to build more homes that people can afford, and we still don’t really have any concrete commitments to get us there.

We recently completed our yearly analysis of the balance of government housing investment and the results were concerning.

Just £8 billion of the £51 billion earmarked for housing until 2020/21 will directly fund affordable housing – just 16 per cent. Some of the remaining £43 billion may indirectly support the building of affordable homes, but it includes no direct funding. 

"We need to find a way to build more homes that people can afford"

The majority will support starter homes, first-time buyers and the private market. It’s hard to imagine how we can build the genuinely affordable housing we need while this remains the case.

Meanwhile, our projections suggest 250,000 of the most affordable rented homes could be lost between 2012 and 2020. The government’s own figures show that the number of social rents fell by more than 120,000 between 2012 and 2016, primarily as a result of right to buy and housing organisations converting social rents into higher affordable rents. Our projections show this loss of our cheapest rented homes will continue over the next four years.

A number of welfare policies also undermine the government’s commitment to create a country that works for everyone. 

Our research shows that the lower benefit cap could put 116,000 families at risk of homelessness. Research by the BBC revealed some families with just 50p a week to pay their rent. We are calling for the policy to be reversed.

The housing minister is right to say there is no silver bullet to solve our housing crisis. Although the government’s commitment to tackle it has been backed up by positive action, there’s so much more to do.

Terrie Alafat CBE is chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing. She will be speaking at the RTPI Planning Convention on 21 June.

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