Keeping social housing as a public good

There will be lots of attention on Hammersmith and Fulham’s new allocations policy given their stated aims for social housing.
I wanted to draw out one element: there will be limits on those who can join the housing register. In Hammersmith and Fulham’s case, only those in housing need and only those earning under £40,000 will have their applications accepted.
This uses new powers in the Localism Act. Previously, councils were obliged to allow anyone to join the list, even if they had little prospect of being allocated a home.
This won’t make any practical difference. The shortage of social housing means only those in acute housing need and on low incomes come high enough on the waiting list to get a home.
The significance however is that it entrenches the idea that social housing is not a broad public good, but a limited, ‘safety net’ service for the a small and poor section of society.
Circumstance has meant that social housing, which is in principle available for all, is limited only to the poorest and most vulnerable. It never used to be a tenure for the poor, but the Tories are attempting to elevate our current position into a principle.
This Tory argument undermines the public case for more affordable housing. If people are overtly excluded from new homes (‘they aren’t for people like us’), communities will oppose development even more and it’ll be impossible to muster the broad public support needed for building large numbers again (and committing the money to do so).
As abstract as the notion seems at the moment, the principle that social housing is potentially there to support everyone is important.
As an aside: the Tories will claim at the next election that waiting lists are massively down. They will be – these reforms will have stripped many people off the lists who don’t meet new council criteria. It won’t mean that the level of need has diminished at all, but it’ll be a powerful sound bite.

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