Bad Policy, Bad Business

A piece I did for Progress too, on the Policy Exchange report into selling off the most valuable social housing.
Hats off to Policy Exchange for another report that stirs a controversy and which prepares the ground for ministers to move further right.
Their idea to sell off the most valuable social homes is, however, bad policy, bad business and there are better alternatives.


Coalition Housing Stimulus, Episode 4

The government is trying once again to engineer a housing boost to stem Britain’s continuing economic bleed.
Remember the previous attempts at ‘kickstarting’ house building?


Housing: the economic stimulus of choice

Steve said a few days ago, ‘it is interesting to note more people on the airwaves arguing that housebuilding is the best way get the economy moving.’
Here are two more:
According to the pollster Peter Kellner, the only economic Plan B that the public currently supports is to:


Collapse in housebuilding pulls economy into recession – again

Really bad news today that the economy is in an even deeper recession than we thought. We’ve now had three quarters of recession in a row. The Chancellor’s been in charge two years, so eight quarters. In five of those eight the economy has shrunk. GDP is now lower than it was when the Tories came to power.
It’s a dismal record which gives little hope to people out of work and families struggling to make ends meet.
The figures out today show construction was by far the worst performing sector – a 5.2% drop in output. Steve (via Ben Chu) argued back in May that in Quarter 1 of this year, the collapse in public housebuilding pulled the construction sector into recession, and the economy with it.
With a further a 5 percent drop it’s hard to see how the same isn’t true again.
There is plenty the government can do to stimulate housebuilding: through reform, direct government investment or lifting the restrictions on councils investing.
Allowing housebuilding to continue to fall is a political choice.
While I’m on the subject of the economy:

  • There seems to be a view among the commentariat that the economy doesn’t feel as bad as the numbers suggest. They should get out of London for a bit. You don’t have to go far – even in my South Eastern hometown more and more people are struggling and feel increasingly pessimistic about the future.
  • If the Olympics provide an economic boost, just watch George claim that it’s in fact his careful stewardship which has led us back to growth. If there is no growth, then the Olympic disruption to travel and people staying away from work will be the excuse. None of it will wash anymore.

Labour's first measures to help private renters (and landlords)

Here’s a post the people at Progress commissioned from us. Great to see Labour coming out with real proposals for private renters:
Renting is something people do for a short time, when they are young, while they save for a deposit or wait for social housing – that’s still the perception of renting among many homeowners. That view, however, no longer reflects the reality.
There are now as many people renting privately as there are social renters and over a million families now live in rented housing. With a shortage of social housing and high prices locking people out of buying, we are entering a period when many people will have no choice but to rent long-term and may never buy – the so called ‘Generation Rent’. That’s why it’s important Labour makes renting a better option than it is at the moment.
Growing demand means rents are rising fast and becoming less and less affordable. The tenancy rules under which people rent (the Assured Shorthold Tenancy) allow landlords to end tenancies with only two months’ notice. In practice, it is often only a month. Standards in private rented homes are highly variable with a large proportion falling below the ‘decent homes’ standard which prevails in social housing.
Jack Dromey this week made the first solid steps to improve the situation for renters by proposing to regulate lettings agents.
Renters often fall victim to the actions of unscrupulous letting agents with their high fees, hidden charges and broken agreements. I’m not the only person to wonder why on earth it costs £100 or more to resign a tenancy agreement, when the cost to the agent is a second-class stamp. Or why people should hand over deposits of hundreds of pounds in cash without knowing whether they’ll get it back or if the person on the other side of the counter is reliable.
Labour is exploring a code of conduct for lettings agents, greater transparency in fees and charges and new standards people must meet before they open a lettings agency. Such rules have been in place for estate agents for a long time.
We’ll need to do more to make renting a secure long-term option and we can expect further measures from Hilary Benn and Jack Dromey in the coming months. This is the right thing to do and an important opportunity for Labour. When political parties respond to people’s housing needs and ambitions they reap a long-term political benefit.
Labour’s postwar programme of council housing helped give a majority of people a secure and affordable home. To this day social housing tenants are some of Labour’s strongest supporters.
Margaret Thatcher’s Right-to-Buy turned a generation of working-class people Tory by fulfilling their ambitions to own their own home (though to wider public detriment).
This new and growing constituency of renters (often the children of that Right-to-Buy generation) are yet to find a political voice and Labour is right to stand up for their interests.


Putting private rent before affordable housing and homeownership?

The Montague Review into private rented housing is due to report later this month.
From the trails so far, I’d say the measures it proposes will increase development of homes for market rent. I’m not sure though it’s entirely a good thing.
The recommendations are to:

  • bring forward public land for private rented development,
  • push councils to have planning policy that promotes private rented homes (by waiving requirements to build affordable housing alongside)
  • offer loans and guarantees to support private rented homes

This looks to me like prioritising private rented homes over affordable homes and homes for ownership.

  • Is private rented development really the best use of public land? If the land is not being sold at a market price to the developer, then it is a simple public subsidy for a private industry.
  • Allowing developers of market rent homes to escape affordable housing commitments is a straight forward promotion of market homes over affordable homes. It also disadvantages homes built for ownership – presumably those developments are still expected to contain affordable housing?
  • Loans and guarantees for private rented homes are a good idea, but why just for market rented homes? Affordable housing and housing for ownership are equally in need of finance and are still safe investments.

The government asked the review what would help one part of the housing sector. The recommendations say that by skewing the market and public policy we can build more in that sector. If you wanted to increase the number of homes for sale, social rent, shared ownership, co-operative housing etc. you could replicate each of these measures for that sector and they would work – you’d just be skewing the market towards them instead.
The real questions are: what homes should we build, why and for whom? Then we should set the policies and incentives accordingly. Once again, it is the absence of a strategy.
We’ll see how the government responds in the autumn and it’s preferred housing pecking order.


The Rent is too Damn High

Could the only way to tackle Grant Shapps continual nonsense about falling rents be getting this guy to follow him round? There’s something to be said for getting your message across by including in every answer exactly the same phrase.
He was a candidate for Governor of New York in 2010.


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.


Tempa T on Housing

You don’t get a lot of grime on Red Brick – but I think as a policy platform Tempa T does a decent job here: house prices, inequality, empty homes, quality and space standards.


Siobhan Benita on Housing

If you’re thinking “Siobhan who?” you need to get a Twitter account.
She’s the independent Mayoral candidate who’s won the hearts of many media types over the past few weeks.
I thought I’d take a look at her housing manifesto.
Before I do though, I want to say something about the campaign she’s running.