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Welcome to the new Red Brick blog!

Red Brick was set up in 2010 as a place for progressive debate around housing issues. Ten years in, after 800 blog posts, it has a new web location, a revamped design, a new editor, and there are ambitious plans to increase the number of contributors.

The challenge is the same: we stand for decent affordable housing for all but there are many and various ways to get to that goal and many people have a contribution to make to the debate. We scrutinise every step of Tory policy and almost always find it wanting.

Covid has exposed how weak our housing system is. Despite the fact that it costs a fortune, much of it is spent in the wrong ways, subsidising demand and not supply, supporting one tenure at the expense of the others, failing to meet the most dire housing need. Solutions are possible – Labour’s Manifesto for the 2019 Election contained many of them – but we have to work them out in detail and make sure the public is aware of them.

One thing seems certain: housing will be an even bigger and more desperate issue after Covid. More people are fleeing domestic violence, more people are facing rent arrears and eviction, social housing is being deprioritised even further. There may be huge disruption in the housing market as the financial implications work through. It will be a time where clear analysis, workable policy proposals, and effective campaigns are needed more than ever. 

Red Brick blog is linked to the Labour Housing Group but is editorially independent. Ten years ago, we chose the strapline ‘The Place for Progressive Housing Debate’ because we welcome all contributions and, whatever our individual views, Red Brick has no factional inclinations.

Except we’re not very keen on Tories or Tory solutions!

We are happy to publish both sides of an argument and to enable all opinions to be voiced. However, we celebrate diversity, are steadfastly pro-equalities and against discrimination in any form. 

I hope you will continue to read and value the blog so it can continue to contribute in a small way to progressive housing debate. It would be even better if you contributed – just pitch your idea to us, we’ll be happy to help you to put it together for publication.

Thanks to Chris Worrall, Sheila Spencer and Ross Houston from the LHG Executive for the work they’ve put in to make this transition happen. LHG shows signs of a real resurgence as a membership and campaigning body within Labour, which can only be a good thing.

Thank you for reading Red Brick over the last decade and I hope you will continue to do so for years to come.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Steve Hilditch</span></strong>
Steve Hilditch

Editor and Founder of Red Brick. Former Head of Policy for Shelter. Select Committee Advisor for Housing and Homelessness. Drafted the first London Mayor’s Housing Strategy under Ken Livingstone.

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Progressive planning changes are needed not whole-scale reform

The anticipated planning reforms will be the biggest changes to the planning system seen for some time – a complete overhaul. Planning isn’t perfect, but nor is it beyond repair. If government are serious about housing delivery, they’d be talking about sensible improvements not whole-scale reforms. Instead they seem intent on riding roughshod over local people and all too willing to put private profit ahead of what our neighbourhoods actually need. So if it were up to me, what would I be doing? There’s plenty to do, but these are three things I’d start with.

Firstly, the housing delivery test. A small but technical change could really push developers sitting on land with permission to actually focus on delivery. The Local Government Association estimate that nearly 9 out 10 applications are approved and in the last decade alone nearly a million homes have not been built despite permissions being granted. The Housing Delivery Test measures the number homes delivered against the number of homes required. Where delivery of housing has fallen below the housing requirement, councils can be penalised.  

The main issue is the fact that Councils, unless they are their own schemes, do not deliver planning permissions – they are totally reliant on the market/ developers/ registered providers.  Developers may seek to restrict delivery in order to maintain profit levels; landowners may gain permission and land bank rather than actually deliver; and registered providers are also heavily dependent on state funding streams.  Crucially, events such as cyclical changes to the economy, and currently Covid-19, can significantly affect delivery which councils have no control over.

So a solution? Give local authorities the power to rescind permissions or more radical still take the build over themselves, if possible using better compulsory purchase orders if development does not begin within a year. Not a huge change but certainly could stop land-banking and start delivering housing and infrastructure.

Secondly, permitted development (PD). It has morphed into a policy that will cause more harm to a locality than actually result in good quality homes and a Government report has concluded the same. Aside from the fact there have been numerous cases of horrendous office to residential conversions and no obligations to affordable housing, PD has resulted in the displacement of valuable business and employment in many areas because the residential return far exceeds the commercial. The new permitted development rights could actually see high streets decline even further. Something that goes against what the Government are seeking to do.

I am not suggesting residential conversions can’t take place in high streets but it needs to be in a planned process that takes in to account the local economy and secures quality and space standards. In Brent we have introduced an Article 4 direction in growth areas to stop office to residential conversions and are now seeking to expand that for the whole borough. My solution would be to give councils the ability to opt in to PD with guaranteed quality of housing, rather than a blanket nationwide policy. It needs to be locally led and part of a solution to address local housing, infrastructure and economic needs.  

Thirdly, public sector land should be developed in partnership with local councils not developers. Currently, many public sector bodies have housing targets and often go to developers to deliver those numbers. This results in public sector land being sold, as well as not delivering 100% affordable housing due to ‘unviable’ financial viability assessments.

A simple solution is to legislate that public sector organisations give councils first right of refusal on land to deliver housing or enter in some sort of partnership. Councils can borrow again to build housing and combined with grants, schemes can be delivered with higher numbers of affordable and social homes on all public sector land.

Essentially, these solutions are small but significant and are certainly not only thing we need to do. Fix what is currently not working in the system, give councils the freedoms and powers to maximise affordability, infrastructure and support for local economies. Covid has changed so much and it now time to take decisive action to support councils properly in housing and infrastructure delivery. It is now time to enable councils to lead the housing market, not be hampered by it. 

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Shama Tatler</span></strong>
Shama Tatler

Councillor Shama Tatler is the Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Property and Planning at the London Borough of Brent. She was elected to represent the Labour Party in Fryent Ward in May 2014 and has been a Cabinet Member since Dec 2016.
 
She is running for the Labour Party NEC and her reasons for running can be found here. Shama also sits on the LGA City Regions Board and the West London Economic Prosperity Board.

Visit her website below: http://www.shamatatler.com/

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We cannot borrow our way out of the housing crisis: mortgage credit is part of the problem

We cannot borrow our way out of the housing crisis: mortgage credit is part of the problem

One of the key issues highlighted in my new book about ‘Generation Rent’ is how mortgage lending drives the UK housing crisis. I am far from the first person to point this out: my understanding of the problem is drawn from the research of the think tank Positive Money, IIPP economist Josh Ryan-Collins, property cycles expert Philip J Anderson, and many others.

But no-one in government seems to be taking it seriously. As a result, a dangerous policy proposal in the 2019 Conservative manifesto has gone largely unchallenged: the promise to support the mortgage industry in delivering long-term low fixed-rate mortgages for first-time buyers, which will ‘slash the cost of deposits’. This may sound like an enticing idea, but in practice it will only pour more petrol on the fire.

The truth about where mortgages come from

When you take out a mortgage, the lender conjures new money into existence. The money doesn’t come from other customers’ savings accounts, nor does it come from bank ‘reserves’: it is created from nothing.

The main constraint on mortgage eligibility is the borrower’s ability to repay the debt. Effectively, a mortgage is a large withdrawal from The Bank of Future You. And while you can typically only borrow 90%-95% of the property value, this does little to keep mortgage borrowing in check, as property prices can rise in response to expanding mortgage credit and vice versa.

When property and mortgages collide

When cheap and readily-available mortgage credit meets residential property, house prices shoot up. This is because the supply of land, which accounts for about 70% of the value of a home, is fixed. No market can produce new land in response to the demand for housing created by expanding mortgage credit. And you cannot take out a mortgage against a home that hasn’t been built yet.

So, what you get is an ever-expanding supply of money chasing after a finite amount of property. Maybe we should think of it this way: rather than house prices going up, the value of money itself has been systematically trashed relative to the value of property.

What if we pour new money into new homes instead?

This was the rationale behind the government’s Help to Buy Equity Loan scheme, which was reserved for new-builds only. The idea was that, because the new loans would be used to increase the housing supply, the scheme wouldn’t lead to house price inflation.

But since the scheme was rolled out via huge private housebuilders, these companies were able to control the supply of housing by hoovering up as much land as possible and drip-feeding their (often shoddy) new-builds onto the property market at a slow enough rate to keep sale prices artificially high. In consequence, housebuilders’ profits have swelled, and Which? recently reported a trend of Help to Buy homes falling in value, despite rising local house prices. Most worryingly of all, Help to Buy mortgage arrears are running at six times the ordinary rate.

A culture of land speculation entrenches the issue

Maybe the land-credit feedback cycle would be dampened if it were possible to take out a mortgage to fund a self-build property. But to acquire land, you normally have to satisfy a landowner’s price expectations (claiming vacant or unregistered land in this country is almost impossible). These expectations are likely to have been warped by the speculative nature of the land market.

Most landowners know that, under current rules, a piece of agricultural land can become around 92 times more valuable with a grant of planning permission for residential buildings. If the seller doesn’t like the price on offer, they can withhold their land indefinitely with no consequences.

A whole ‘land promotion’ side-industry has sprung up to enable speculators to share in the planning uplift, using legal mechanisms like ‘option agreements’ and ‘promotion agreements’ to reduce risk and increase profits. As a result, land is scarce and acquiring it is both costly and difficult, despite the fact that only around 6% of UK land mass is actually built on.

Why planning reform won’t solve the problem

Perhaps because land speculation is so rampant in Britain, the planning system is currently painted as the big bad wolf of the housing crisis amongst conservative thinkers. There is a belief that the land market will magically start behaving like any other free market if we scrap the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act. But for all its flaws, the planning system is not the fundamental issue here, even if there is a genuine case for planning reform.

In Victorian Britain, slum housing, rising rents and overcrowding plagued the Capital and other areas of rapid economic growth. This had nothing to do with rules and regulations (which were next to non-existent), and everything to do with the power that comes with land monopoly. The poor got poorer and the landed got richer: ‘twas ever thus.

We need to keep talking about land and credit

The only way to permanently stop the price of property ballooning out of all proportion is to tax the land beneath it. A land value tax could replace council tax (a ‘highly regressive’ policy that falls hardest on the least well-off), business rates and Stamp Duty Land Tax, and would disincentivise land speculation. It could raise much-needed revenue for public services hit by austerity cutbacks. Or it could even be redistributed in the form of a ‘citizen’s dividend’ or Universal Basic Income.

This idea has garnered support from across the political spectrum, but has traditionally been opposed by governments beholden to wealthy landowners and a predominantly homeowning public. So, since it may take some time to get the electorate to come round to the idea of a land value tax, a more urgent and politically possible course of action would be to reform the land acquisition process, so that local authorities can afford to build genuinely affordable social housing at scale.

In addition, the Right to Buy policy must be scrapped immediately to stem the loss of social housing – especially given that nearly half of the homes sold are ending up in the private rented sector and contributing to the soaring cost of housing benefit. The shortage of genuinely low-cost homes is acute; the number of people stuck on social housing waiting lists stands at well over 1 million.

For too long, spiralling house prices have been dismissed as an inevitable force of nature, or the product of too little housebuilding, or too much immigration – even though research from the Bank of England has concluded that the quadrupling of house prices over the last 40 years is ‘more than accounted for’ by falling interest rates. It may be dry, knotty and difficult to fit into a soundbite. But until we increase public understanding of the land and credit feedback cycle, the housing debate will only keep going around in circles.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Chloe Timperley</span></strong>
Chloe Timperley

Author of “Generation Rent: Why You Can’t Buy a Home (Or Even Rent a Good One)”. ORDER: http://bit.ly/2AX2LhE

Chloe’s professional background is in financial planning, which involves analysing pensions and investments. This led her to delve into how the financial sector sits at the heart of Britain’s housing crisis. During her research, Chloe went undercover at landlord events, spoke to MPs and activists, and joined a tenants’ union.

She also listened to the stories of scores of tenants who — like her — remain stuck against their wishes in the private rented sector.

Now, she wants to shift the housing debate away from simple narratives of supply vs. demand, and towards the underlying mechanisms that drive our dysfunctional land and housing markets.

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COVID-19: State intervention when housing markets are in recession

COVID 19: the State’s initial interventions in the housing market

The COVID 19 pandemic has seen extraordinary interventions by a Conservative Government in the running of the UK economy. In the private housing market, the Government has moved to ensure that homeowners suffering falls in income are not threatened by repossession.  At the same time, some finance institutions providing mortgage finance (along with other businesses) have been offered loans and guarantees from Government worth £330bn to protect their own income as mortgage payers have taken advantage of the payment holiday.[i] 

Private tenants (as well as tenants in social housing) are also protected from repossession proceedings in the current pandemic – in the short term at least.

The Government’s objectives here are two fold. First, in the face of the health crisis and subsequent economic meltdown, Ministers had to ensure that homelessness did not increase exponentially.

But crucially the Government also needs to protect the housing market from collapse because of the sector’s importance to the UK economy. Housing assets make up 35% of all personal wealth in the UK – some £5.1 trillion. Also there is a total of £1.4 trillion outstanding on mortgage loans in the UK economy while investment in housing accounted for 4.1% of UK GDP in 2018. [ii]

So what will happen in the housing sector as the UK emerges from the economic shock precipitated by the COVID 19 health crisis?  In what ways will Ministers seek to prop up this critical part of the economy longer term? We have some examples from the past that might serve as pointers to what might happen.

1974: Circular 70/74[iii]   

In February 1974 the Labour Party took power at a time following a doubling of house prices and when mortgage interest rates had hit 11%. The house price boom was followed by a significant decline in the market’s fortunes with particular concern that house builders might go bankrupt as they failed to sell newly built housing. As a consequence, the Labour Government introduced provisions under Circular 70/74 (called Local Authority Housing Programmes) which helped bolster the private housing market and also increased the stock of social housing. Specifically the Circular enabled local authorities to buy new unsold housing from private developers.[iv] In 1974/75 £118 million was spent on buying 11,700 new private houses in England and Wales.[v] The Circular also enabled the Housing Corporation[vi] to fund similar purchases by housing associations.

1993: Housing Market Package (HMP)

The housing market in the early 1990s was characterised by high interest rates which resulted in falling house prices and the emergence of negative equity for some mortgage borrowers. Overall there was a lack of demand for new construction and builders were left with housing stock that they could not sell on the open market. In late 1992 the Conservative Government responded to this market failure by allocating £577 million to the Housing Corporation to fund housing associations to purchase new, empty and repossessed properties by 31st March 1993.

In total, in just 93 working days, 81 housing associations acquired 18,430 vacant properties, 2,400 over target. Fifty per cent of the stock was bought from builders/developers. The public funding was supplemented by private finance to the tune of £328 million. [vii]        

2008/09: Mortgage Rescue Scheme (MRS)

Over 10 years before the current health emergency and related economic crisis, the global economy was shaken by a meltdown in the finance markets in 2008. The UK’s Labour Government responded to the ensuing recession by introducing a wide range of fiscal and monetary measures in an attempt to revive economic activity and stimulate growth. On 2 September 2008 the Government announced a £2 billion package for housing which included the following:[viii]

  1. bringing forward spending on housing commitments from future years to encourage the building of more social housing
  2. raising the £125,000 threshold for Stamp Duty on house purchases to £175,000 for 12 months
  3. providing “free” five year loans of up to 30% of a property’s value for first time buyers of new homes in England
  4. shortening from 39 weeks to 13 weeks the period before Income Support for Mortgage Interest was paid

As part of the package the Government also made available £200 million for mortgage rescue schemes, with the objective of assisting up to 6,000 households under the threat of repossession.

Under the MRS, eligible homeowners threatened with repossession could apply to housing associations to provide them with an equity loan to help them reduce their monthly mortgage payments and retain ownership; or, alternatively, to purchase the home outright with the former owner remaining in the house as a tenant.

What next for the housing sector? 

The health emergency has become an economic crisis and housing is likely to suffer as much as any other sector in the UK economy. The mortgage holiday and the ban on repossessions in the owner occupied and rental sectors both finish in the autumn. And this will coincide with the ending of the furlough scheme for employees who are without work in the current pandemic. The scenario is set for a significant readjustment in the housing market as incomes are squeezed, unemployment rises and consumer confidence falls away.  Given this context how will the Government support and indeed boost the housing sector in the face of deepest recession in 300 years?

There are a number of options available to Ministers.

Before the current crisis, Rishi Sunak’s March 2020 budget set out a £12.2bn Affordable Homes Programme over the five years from 2021/22; an additional £1bn for a Building Safety Fund to remove dangerous cladding; and £650m to help rough sleepers into permanent accommodation. The Budget also reversed the interest rate hike imposed on borrowing from the Public Works Loan Board for new council homes.[ix] Of course much of the Government’s housing budget is focussed on its pet home ownership ‘products’ such as First Homes and Help to Buy.

The Government has recently announced measures intended to boost the housing sector in the wake of the pandemic. As part of this initiative Permitted Development Rights (PDR) are being extended to allow for the demolition of residential/commercial properties where they are replaced by new housing.  From September such schemes will not require full planning consent. Significant concerns about these changes in planning regulations have already been voiced as they will erode standards and could see occupiers living in unsafe conditions. [x]

In the Chancellor’s Summer Statement £2bn was set aside for Green Home grants to home owners and landlords to make around 650,000 homes more energy efficient. A £50m fund was also established to pilot a scheme to decarbonise social housing. The most expensive initiative sees the Stamp Duty zero-rated threshold raised from £125,000 to £500,000 until 31st March 2021. Estimates suggest this will cost the Treasury £3.8bn. [xi]

But the schemes announced to date are likely to be just the start of significant Government interventions in the housing sector as the recession deepens later this year. We should expect the Autumn Budget to include significant measures to boost the housing sector as part of a Keynesian-style counter cyclical strategy to kick start the ailing economy. 

Using borrowed funds (in the main) by Government, local authorities and housing associations, look out for at least some of the following:

  1. schemes to buy new but unsold housing from distressed private developers
  2. mortgage rescue schemes for households unable to maintain loan repayments because of unemployment or reduced income
  3. more direct investment in new social housing to not only boost the provision of low cost accommodation to rent but also to create jobs in the construction sector (which is likely to be badly hit as private investment in housing slumps)
  4. schemes to convert offices, shops, pubs and restaurants into social housing as the recession takes it toll on different parts of the commercial property market amid changes in working patterns and leisure activities

A progressive, left leaning Government would use the crisis to boost the stock of social housing (through the purchase of homes from households – including Buy to Let landlords – in distressed financial circumstances). The purchase of unsold new housing from developers would also be subject to conditions such as restrictions on executive pay and bonuses and shareholder dividends. Equity stakes in house builders seeking public funding would be required and workers’ pay and conditions would be enhanced too. Any tax avoidance by State-funded developers would be prohibited. New housing funded through the public purse following the pandemic should, of course, be to the highest standard particularly in terms of energy efficiency and sustainability.

Unfortunately we are unlikely to see the current Government impose such conditions on private sector beneficiaries from increased State spending in the housing sector. But we live in hope. 

Note: an earlier version of this blog was published as a Briefing for Housing Quality Network (HQN)         

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Roger Jarman</span></strong>
Roger Jarman

Roger has over 40 years experience in the housing sector.  He has worked as an academic and in local government as well as for a number of central agencies. He had spells as a senior manager at both the Housing Corporation (1991 – 1999) and the Audit Commission (1999 – 2011).

He currently works as a housing consultant and trainer with a wide range of clients including local authorities and housing associations. He also helps run several small housing organisations as a non executive director. He is a member of the Labour Housing Group.


[i] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/chancellor-announces-additional-support-to-protect-businesses

[ii] https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/personalandhouseholdfinances/incomeandwealth/bulletins/totalwealthingreatbritain/april2016tomarch2018

[iii] Department of the Environment: Circular 70/74, HMSO, 1974

[iv] https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1975/feb/06/housing

[v] Financial Times, 22 April 1975

[vi] Homes England now takes on the role of funding housing associations/registered providers

[vii] Alan Murie, Moving Homes: The Housing Corporation 1964 – 2008, Politico’s, 2008

[viii] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7592852.stm

[ix] https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/insight/insight/budget-2020-the-key-housing-measures-at-a-glance-65389

[x] https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/insight/permitted-development-wrongs-the-problems-with-the-pms-planning-deregulation-drive-67066

[xi] https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/news/news/sunak-confirms-2bn-green-homes-grant-67102

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Funding domestic violence perpetrator housing intervention

Launched in 2014 the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance’s (DAHA) mission is to improve the housing sector’s response to domestic abuse in three main ways:

1-Through the introduction and adoption of an established set of standards for housing providers and an accreditation process to measure their response to domestic abuse

2-Lobbying the Government and Housing Sector

3–Disseminating good practice and research

Why are we needed?

The latest Femicide Census (2018) shows that 68% of domestic abuse victims were killed in their own home by a current or ex-partner. Housing providers therefore have a significant role to play in the detection of domestic abuse and prevention of domestic homicides. More than 1.9 million adults experienced domestic abuse last year according to and as the Domestic Abuse Perpetrator Strategy for England And Wales points out each one abused by a perpetrator.

Social Housing Regulation

Social Housing (in England) is regulated by the Regulator for Social Housing and housing providers must ensure they meet certain standards including a requirement to publish an anti-social behaviour policy and demonstrate how they work in partnership to prevent ASB. DAHA argues that Regulatory Standards for Housing Providers should include a distinct requirement to recognise and respond to domestic abuse. 

Research by Henderson (2019) found that almost 65% of housing providers state their response to domestic abuse is situated within an anti-social behaviour (ASB) framework.  Some indicated that there was not a separate policy for domestic abuse. Seeing domestic abuse is a form of ASB is problematic as it can position survivors as part of the problem and doesn’t distinguish between their support and safety needs, and the positive engagement and enforcement actions to be taken against the perpetrator.  

Women Remaining in their Home

Kelly et al. (2014) argued that for women and children their home and rootedness in local communities was critical to their safety and freedom. In addition to the violence they have experienced, the loss of home is a serious part of the trauma that women in a violent relationship suffer. The loss of a home can be further compounded by the uncertainty of re-housing if they decide to leave.

For some women accessing refuge accommodation is not a viable option and given the scarcity and uncertainty of securing accommodation in an area they want to be in, it is perhaps understandable why this is not always the most suitable choice. Families who are forced to flee domestic violence often must leave the home without their personal possessions, which can exacerbate the stress and difficulty of trying to resettle (Pleace, 2008).

I had to leave all my possessions and friends I feel as if I have lost everything and am struggling with the isolation of living in a strange area, away from all my supports.’ (Scottish Women’s Aid, 2017, p.48).

Housing Responding to Domestic Abuse Perpetrators 

Many housing providers indicate that they do not tolerate domestic abuse and stipulate it as a breach of tenancy agreement. However, there is often a gap between policy and action which is not always instigated in to the same extent as taking action on the grounds of anti-social behaviour and other tenancy breaches.

Whilst its worth acknowledging in some cases a decision is taken not pursue action in accordance with the victim’s wishes, the response of housing providers and other agencies is often to move the woman and children into refuge accommodation or a new tenancy often leaving the perpetrator in the family home.

Scottish Women’s Aid (2017) found, in their research into Fife Housing Partnership, that two-thirds of service providers did not know if housing services could take action against a perpetrator of domestic abuse and 28 out of the 80 staff surveyed stated that they did not consider it their job role to take action against a perpetrator of domestic abuse.

Nearly half (47%) of service providers said they were not confident about giving information about how to exclude an abusive partner, or what action could be taken against a perpetrator. Given that one in four perpetrators are repeat offenders with some having as many as six different victims (SafeLives 2014) it is essential that housing organisations are skilled in responding.  

Clarke and Wydall (2015) highlight the importance of housing for perpetrators suggest that re-housing perpetrators can have positive outcomes for both perpetrators and victims in their study of the Making Safe Project in the North of the country which provided support and alternative housing for perpetrators of domestic abuse.

They found that in addition to the respite from the daily fear and anxiety caused by the controlling presence of the perpetrator by re-housing women found the period of perpetrators living in alternative housing as providing the men with an opportunity to illustrate they could address their problems and change their behaviour.

This is turn gave women the feeling of being in a stronger bargaining position than previously. The same research also illustrated the positive impact of perpetrators being housed as for some men who wanted to be part of a family, and to return to family home, they had to make the necessary changes within themselves and that space was instrumental.

DAHA stipulates that housing providers should be regulated as part of the existing regulatory requirements to recognise and respond to domestic abuse.  Part of this would include taking action against perpetrators of domestic abuse and supporting those perpetrators who wish to address their abusive behaviour. 

DAHA were signatories to a recent letter sent to the Housing Minister, Robert Jenrick calling on the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government to help fund risk managed accommodation solutions for perpetrators in cases where victims want to stay in their own home and can be supported to be safe there.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Kelly Henderson</span></strong>
Kelly Henderson

Kelly’s interest in domestic abuse started over 25 years ago as part of her university placement at a women’s refuge; her final year dissertation analysed gender differences in the charging and sentencing of domestic abuse homicides.

Prior to her current role as DAHA Co-founder and Business Manager – Domestic Abuse at Gentoo, Kelly was the Domestic and Sexual Violence Lead for a local authority, coordinating the area’s Multi Agency Domestic Abuse Partnership.

Kelly’s housing experience includes roles in housing management, asylum, policy and research. She recently was seconded to Northumbria Police to manage a Home Office funded multi-force project (Domestic Abuse: A Whole Systems Approach – DAWSA) to improve the police response to domestic abuse and oversee research into the provision of a national response to perpetrators of domestic abuse.

Kelly has a Masters in Housing Policy/Management. Her PhD (Durham University) researched the role of housing in a Coordinated Community Response to domestic abuse and included the largest UK questionnaire to housing providers on domestic abuse. 

She was named 24 Housing’s ‘Housing Professional of the Year’ 2018 for her work and research on housing and domestic abuse. Kelly is a board member of Women in Social Housing North East, a trustee of the Alice Ruggles Trust, an Honorary Fellow at Durham University and a Steering Group member of the Centre for Research into Violence and Abuse (CriVA).  

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Policymakers have ignored key worker housing for too long

As we start to look forward to the recovery, it is right that the government focuses on sustaining and creating jobs, especially within the key sectors of hospitality and tourism. Here the whole property industry has a critical role to play in supporting this agenda, especially through the increased provision of housing in inner London, which is both accessible and affordable, for not only those key workers who have been providing essential services during the current crisis, but crucially those working in the very sectors the government is actively seeking to support.

Although we are still very much in the response phase of the current COVID-19 crisis, significant attention is already being paid to the recovery phase, and the detailed plans to facilitate the gradual re-start of the UK’s economy. As well as recovery, there is also the longer-term lessons learned from the pandemic to ensure that the country is better equipped in the future to deal with any future public health crisis.

Whilst it is too early to draw firm conclusions and recommendations, both from an economic as well as a societal perspective, one obvious consideration is starting to emerge strongly. Namely, that we need to ensure that as a country we have a much greater resilience across key public sector roles, such as health and social care, and that we fundamentally review the definition of a ‘key worker’ to recognise those workers, often in relatively low-paid jobs, who keep the UK functioning.

Nowhere is this recognition more needed than in how we look to develop national, regional and local housing policies that seek to embed that resilience right at the heart of the communities where these workers are needed the most. Underlying this resilience is the need to house key workers in locations close to their work regardless of broader housing market pricing.

For many years Dolphin Living have championed, in a London context, the need for those workers who ‘keep the city alive’, and the need to increase the supply of key worker affordable housing in locations these workers want to live.

This reflects our primary charitable objective of providing homes in central London at below market rents that allows working Londoners on modest incomes to live close to their place of work. Our residents comprise not only those traditional key workers who have played such a crucial role during this crisis, such as health workers, the emergency services and teachers, but also those who play a key role in delivering and supporting London’s infrastructure over the longer-term.

Dolphin Living fundamentally believes that the need for housing for key workers in central locations has been evidenced by the coronavirus pandemic and the shift to new ways of working.

This crisis has forced us challenge many of the assumptions we have made about how our cities function. In particular we need to reconsider the notion that we can accommodate key workers on the fringes of London and beyond, yet still depend upon them in times of emergency to be available 24/7, often with little or no transport infrastructure to support them. This approach will surely result in a loss of key workers to central London as long commutes are even less desirable in light of the pandemic.

As a response we need to fundamentally review how we provide sustainable critical services alongside additional investment to support housing for keyworkers where they are most needed. The current issues relating to transport capacity considering social distancing disproportionately impact upon many of those we would define as key workers, who often cannot afford any alternative other than public transport and cannot work from home.

However, that is not to suggest that we should be seeking to deliver these new homes without some consideration around the locations and housing key workers actually want to live in. For it would be a mistake to look to re-create the police accommodation blocks of old without any notion of genuine and real choice for the key workers upon whom we all rely.

This notion of locational choice is something we have spent a considerable amount of time reviewing following polling we commissioned YouGov to undertake. Perhaps unsurprisingly we found that commuting time is a top priority for working London renters: 56% ranked the distance or travel time to work in their top three priorities, and over a quarter (27%) ranked this factor first. Similarly, 55% ranked having public transport available within ten minutes’ walk in their top three priorities, and a fifth (20%) ranked the factor first.

When we analysed the findings further we found that a clear majority (65%) of working London renters believe that an acceptable commute time is up to around 45 minutes, and nearly all (92%) think it should be no more than one hour.

Housing delivery in recent years has focused on those in the direst need both economically and socially, subsidised by market housing that in London is unaffordable to median earners. An unintended consequence of this approach, in high value areas particularly, means that little thought has been given to the needs and wants of the key workers upon whom we rely, as highlighted by this pandemic.

Therefore, we are asking that the government’s recovery strategy commits to a massive expansion of affordable house building, including a significant proportion of intermediate rental housing, within London as part of the overall pledge to support the capital’s economy.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Olivia Harris</span></strong>
Olivia Harris

Olivia was appointed as Chief Executive in April 2017. Previously, Olivia was Finance Director at Dolphin Living, providing financial and commercial oversight on a wide range of property and related projects, including debt and fund raising.

Olivia is a Chartered Accountant and has worked for more than 15 years in the property industry and is Chair of the Westminster Property Association.

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Westferry highlights everything wrong with planning

I’ll always remember the moment on 14 January 2020, I heard that Robert Jenrick had approved Richard Desmond’s application for Westferry Printworks: 1,524 new homes with only 21% affordable housing.  The news came through on my way into work, preparing for the Full Council meeting that very night, that would adopt our new Local Plan ‘Managing Growth and Sharing the Benefits’ and a new Community Infrastructure Levy schedule. As soon as the decision was announced, the importance of the timing could not have been clearer. 

The publication of the decision that day, saved the developer £30-50 million and took that funding away from the residents of Tower Hamlets who, through the democratically led Local Plan process, had established infrastructure needs for the area: primary schools, health centres, community centres and green space and more.

At the heart of this very long and complicated story are 2 basic questions which still need answers.

First why did the Secretary of State approve the application against his own inspector’s and officials in his own department’s advice?

Secondly why did he approve the application the day before the development would have been eligible for £30-50 million infrastructure payment?

The decision had been a long time coming.  After Boris Johnson, then Mayor of London, approved the first application in 2016, the developer chose to almost double the size of the scheme in a further application.  Before the local Strategic Development Committee had a chance to make a decision, the applicant ‘appealed against non-determination’ arguably a tactic to avoid local decision making. 

During a parliamentary debate on the matter, Tory MPs fell over themselves to suggest that the fault in the process lay with Tower Hamlets Council – how painfully ironic that the delay was in part due to negotiations over the level of affordable housing.

In Tower Hamlets, we had been working on our new Local Plan for over 3 years (much of that time was spent waiting for the Government’s Planning Inspector to schedule our inspection – a required part of the process).  At its heart the Planning System – established in the Town and Country Planning Act 1947 – was designed to democratise the use of land and give people a say in the development which comes forward. 

Through months of consultation, we listened and heard our community want to see more genuinely affordable homes and confidence that new development brings with it the schools, GP surgeries, public transport and shared space needed to support a thriving community. 

The most concerning responses to the consultation were those which said residents did not feel connected to new development and that residents could never afford live in new homes.  And so, Tower Hamlets Council established a vision: ‘Managing Growth and Sharing the Benefits’- introducing new policy on genuinely affordable rents, access to open space, health impact assessments and more.

The same night that we approved our Local Plan, Tower Hamlets Full Council set a new Community Infrastructure Levy.  This was a progressive policy meaning developers had to pay their fair share to invest in infrastructure. The new levy established the Westferry Printwork sites as eligible for a Community Infrastructure Levy payment. 

For years, the owners of Westferry Printworks had benefitted from not having to pay this Levy on the grounds that the complexities of the site would make development ‘unviable’ if the payment was required. Thanks to the careful evidence gathering and analysis from officers, Tower Hamlets Council successfully argued that this was not the case and so the site became ‘liable’.

Amongst the deeply depressing and some frankly embarrassing contributions from Tory MPs in the debate last month, it was the hollow arguments on housing supply that really grated.  The suggestion that in some way, Jenrick was doing us a favour by allowing such inappropriate development to take place would be laughable if the consequences of his actions were not so serious. 

Tower Hamlets has a track record of approving high levels of housing and office development, is consistently home to the highest levels of affordable housing development by housing associations and has one of London’s most ambitious Council home building programmes. 

The Secretary of State and his cheerleaders really were grasping at straws to suggest that this development was making a contribution to housing in Tower Hamlets – Desmond already had a planning consent that he refused to build out and the vast majority of homes provided in this development would have been way out of reach for most of the UK, let alone residents of Tower Hamlets.

As a proud representative of Tower Hamlets, it hurt to hear our community attacked and undermined in the House of Commons by Conservative MPs who were reading lines from a script. After several weekends of revelations in the papers, Jenrick had tried to dodge scrutiny and when he finally had to face the music it was lazy to trot out lines about a ‘rotten borough’ which are out of date or blame the Mayor of London.

This was pure deflection and tribal politics. 

I invite everyone of them who tribally stayed ‘on message’ in the chamber to come and sit with me or any of my Councillor colleagues in our surgeries where we listen to and work with our constituents who desperately need a new home and action on health inequalities. 

The suggestion that Jenrick made this decision in the interest of overcrowded and homeless families is grossly insulting, at best.  I hope that they will think on their positions and consider whether they are prepared to stand by their statements in the weeks and months to come which I expect – through the Select Committee and the next decision taken by a different Minister – will reveal further irregularities  

This whole saga reminds us just how much needs to change about housing and planning in the UK.  For communities to accept and welcome new development, they have to have confidence in the planning system.  The ‘viability assessment’ process should be taken out of the regulations.

The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has made great progress in London with the ‘35% threshold’ process but many other councils still report viability assessments and the regulations which allow developers to vary their affordable housing contributions as a huge barrier to securing sustainable development.  Local Authorities still need more effective powers to intervene when sites are not being developed. 

The Secretary of State’s decision on Westferry Printworks casts a long shadow over the Government’s new proposals for ‘cutting red tape’ and encouraging ‘permitted development rights’ which give communities very little say over levels of affordable housing their high streets and neighbourhoods

The Westferry decision highlighted everything that is wrong with planning. But let’s try to make it a moment to galvanise us all to work towards delivering the homes, offices, community buildings and public open spaces that residents need.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Rachel Blake</span></strong>
Rachel Blake

Rachel is the Deputy Mayor for the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. She was elected to represent the Labour Party for Bow East Ward in May 2014 and appointed to Cabinet in July 2015.

Rachel has held Cabinet Member roles for Regeneration, Planning, and Air Quality. Rachel is now the Cabinet Member for Adults, Health and Well-being.

She has previously been called in as an expert witness to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee on its inquiry into the long-term delivery of social and affordable rented housing.

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Making land deliver

Last week saw the launch of ‘Making land deliver’, a new report from Network Homes proposing three big ideas to reduce land costs for providers of social and affordable housing. I took part in a panel discussion along with the report’s co-author, Reuben Young, Rico Wojtulewicz from the House Builders Association and Cllr Shama Tatler from Brent.

There is no doubting the importance and timeliness of the land reform agenda, and on this our panel was unanimous. Since 1995, the value of land owned by UK households has grown by an astounding 583%, while the combined value of the assets overlying land (i.e. buildings) has risen at less than half this rate. We are effectively channelling ever more of our national wealth into the hands of those who own a fixed supply of land. This represents a significant challenge for any government hoping to build, build, build its way out of a Covid recession.

 ‘Making land deliver’ suggests a three-pronged attack on the land value problem:

  1. Allow local councils, Homes England, and the Greater London Authority to compulsorily purchase land at existing use value.
  2. Consider social value and market value when selling public land.
  3. Reform the system of developer contributions to affordable housing.

Network Homes are right to look to the rules on Compulsory Purchase Order compensation for a mechanism to moderate the land market – an issue discussed in detail elsewhere on this blog. Removing ‘hope value’ from CPO compensation awards would tackle a critical barrier to solving the housing crisis in England and Wales.

However, I would caution that Network Homes’ specific call for compensation to be reduced to ‘existing use value’ is likely to conflict with Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which rightly requires compensation at market value. Instead, the UK should simply align itself with other ECHR signatories including Germany, France and Netherlands, by excluding potential development value from definitions of ‘market value’ for CPO compensation purposes. Removing ‘hope value’ would have the effect of reducing awards to levels closer to ‘existing use values’, while still fairly compensating landowners.

Secondly, public bodies considering land disposals should consider social value as well as market value. The government’s Public Land for Housing Programme so far boasts a build out rate of just 15% over the decade that it has been running, and just 6% of the homes planned for these sites will be for social rent. Reviewing and clarifying ‘best consideration’ rules to ensure social value is paramount in decisions about how to use public land is an obvious win.

But the really fresh thinking comes in the third proposal: to replace the Section 106 system for delivering affordable housing on market-led schemes in England with a new, ‘un-gameable’ and non-negotiable system of developer contributions. It works like this:

  • Councils set an affordable housing tax rate for all development in their area.
  • Developers submit a Gross Development Value, on which they will pay the local tax rate.
  • That GDV is used to set the price at which the council can buy homes on the scheme on completion for use as social and affordable housing.

A developer could submit a ‘pessimistic’ GDV to pay less tax, but would then be required to sell homes to the council at ‘pessimistic’ values. This balancing of incentives is the beauty of the proposal. However, there are some thorny issues to work through.

Firstly, this system appears to leave developers in control of the type, size and design of the homes they will build, with councils having only the right to purchase those homes at a pre-set price at the end of the process. There is no guarantee that developers will build the right homes for meeting local housing need, or even that they will meet minimum space standards for social housing. True, councils could spend their tax revenues on delivering the right homes elsewhere – but this relies on Network Homes’ first two recommendations to provide an alternative source of land right-priced for social and affordable housing.

Secondly, the intention to balance power between developers and councils through this proposal may be undermined by the broader planning system. Could a council find itself under pressure to purchase homes of the wrong type or at the wrong price to prevent sites stalling in this system? If that council was worried about how to satisfy its Housing Delivery Test and so avoid losing its planning powers, perhaps. This could be resolved by capping the price which can be paid for affordable housing, for example using plan-stage viability assessments when allocating land.

Despite my quibbles, new thinking from social housing providers is extremely welcome here. Network’s ‘Making land deliver’ follows on the heels of its 2019 report into barriers to social rent delivery for HAs. Both reports provide valuable insights from the front-line of housing delivery, and crucial back up for non-practitioners like me who are campaigning on these issues. I would absolutely encourage other social housing providers to share their experiences and ideas.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Rose Grayston</span></strong>
Rose Grayston

Rose has 10 years of experience in providing policy, research and strategic communications support to progressive campaigns and their leaders. 

She has managed and led successful campaigns to reform English planning rules to incentivise the delivery of affordable homes, to reduce borrowing rates for local authority house-building, and to build political and public support for reform of England’s broken land and house-building systems. 

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Councils can save cash through specialist and age-friendly housing

The Newcastle Labour Party manifesto (April 2019) set out an ambition for ‘More and Better Homes’. Within the manifesto there is an express belief that everyone should have the right to a decent home.

Data shows Newcastle’s population is projected to reach 311,300 by 2030 an increase of 12,400 on 2019 figures. The most significant feature in the population projections is the growth of people aged 65+ (21.5% by 2030). This increase will have implications for support services, extra housing, adaptions and other care related requirements.

Newcastle City Council has a strong commitment to ensure all residents have access to affordable housing, especially those who experience a long-term disability or who are vulnerable. Maintaining independence within a community setting has a lasting impact on mental and physical wellbeing.

For many people a move to institutional care can mean the removal of access to personal income, lead to deskilling and increase dependence. It is also more expensive in social care terms compared to providing the option of specialist accommodation.

Aligning housing needs and support services can create efficiencies and savings

Whilst population projections show an increase in the prevalence of people requiring specialist and/or supported housing, there is also a predicted rise in people living with a learning disability and/or autism. Similarly, a range of specialist accommodation is needed to replace outmoded provision, create efficiencies and savings via a better alignment of housing needs and support services.

A significant proportion of people with care needs, especially older people, enter residential care through crisis. Newcastle City Council is challenging the current care and support providers with a firm belief that suitable housing and housing services should be available to allow individual residents with care and support needs, either cognitive or physical, have a choice to maintain their independence and community links for as long as possible.

In helping to prevent, or at least delay, admissions to residential care, around 180 Assisted Living apartments, built over the past five years are estimated to have saved the Council around £300,000 p.a.

In addition, 235 new or remodelled sheltered apartments have been completed and a further 276 level access homes for older people. Over the next two years, a further 100 Assisted Living apartments are expected to be built (delivering revenue savings of circa £150,000) alongside 72 sheltered apartments and approximately 200 other level access homes.

Independent living is more than just a tenure type

Building new accommodation is only part of the solution to providing a first-class housing offer. This is why in 2019 we commissioned the Housing Learning Improvement Network (LIN) to carry out an independent review of the older person’s service offered by our Arms-Length Management Organisation (ALMO), Your Homes Newcastle (YHN). As a result the Housing Plus vision was developed with the following aims:

  • Making living easier, so customers can focus on living their lives to the full. 
  • Working with partners to provide services that reduce social isolation, meet the needs of diverse groups and sustain tenancies
  • Giving customers choice, independence and control; recognising there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to living a happy and healthy later life

Titled ‘More than just a roof’, this recognises independent living is more than just a tenancy, it is also important to tailor how people access the service, and the services that are offered, so that as needs change – the service offer changes.  YHN are working closely with partners to develop a more streamlined offer for customers, with a planned launch in 2020-21.

Newcastle is also committed to delivering a wide range of quality supported housing options for adults with a Learning Disability and Autism as part of a ‘continuum of support’.

Two models provide a real alternative to residential care and shared living. These are Community Cluster bungalows and Concierge Plus apartments.

  • Community Clusters provide bespoke care and support packages for up to six people within a ‘courtyard’ development,
  • Concierge Plus offers a mixture of housing, welfare and care support for individuals with less complex needs. 

These products enable people to live more independently in their communities, close to family, friends and established support and social networks. 

Over the last 5 years around 86 bungalows and apartments have been built for people with learning disabilities and/or autism, delivering estimated revenue savings of around £1.7m.  Over the next couple of years, a further 46 homes are to be completed, with further revenue savings of around £1.0m.

Looking and learning in the North East

Newcastle’s approach to people centred housing delivery for those with a specialist and supported housing need was picked up by the Housing LIN in the series of good practice examples. Particular praise was given for the older people’s housing scheme, ‘Tree Top Village’ in Walker, Newcastle.

Exclusively for people aged 55 plus, Tree Top Village consists of an impressive main building, offering 75 sheltered housing apartments, bordered by 36 one and two-bedroom homes and 8 bungalows with gardens, encompassing a restaurant and small retail, whilst providing a warm relaxed and friendly environment. 

Designed to become the centre piece of the wider Walker Regeneration Programme, the whole development went a through a thorough development process, which had at all stages, been influenced by the immediate community and potential residents.

In 2019 recognition of the work we do, and our partnering approach, Newcastle City Council was awarded for the second year running ‘Local Authority of the Year’ at the Northern Housing Awards.

This was in recognition of our partnership working and innovative approaches to housing delivery for all tenures and needs groups. Newcastle was shortlisted for the same award in 2020, but sadly all awards ceremonies were cancelled due the pandemic.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Councillor Linda Hobson</span></strong>
Councillor Linda Hobson

Councillor Linda Hobson was first elected to Newcastle City Council in 2011. She is the Labour Councillor for Blakelaw Ward where she grew up. 

A critical care nurse by profession, Linda is an elected trade union official, holding a number of roles within UNISON, including deputy Regional Conveyor.
Linda was previously the Cabinet Member for Adult Services and is now Cabinet Member for Housing.  

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Capital funding can keep the economy moving

A Brief History of Time

Housing affordability, or more precisely the lack of it, has been the perennial policy issue of the past decade. Successive Governments have appreciated the scale of the problem, if not the effectiveness of the tools with which they have chosen to address them.

Subsequently, a seemingly endless slew of schemes, initiatives, and re-heated ideas (and no small amount of funding) have been thrown at the task at hand, but with very mixed results. The consequences for those on the periphery of society have been nothing short of catastrophic.

Looming Threats

The past 40 years has seen the state very deliberately reduced the role of public bodies in the direct provision of housing, see Municipal Dreams by John Broughton for an excellent overview of this sorry state of affairs. Councils, once a leading provider of new housing, have been removed from the picture almost entirely.

Housing Associations, now the state’s preferred deliverer of social housing, have never been able to match the numbers of their Local Government counterparts. Whilst a move to a ‘property owning democracy’ has seen the deliberate failure to replace housing sold via Right To Buy, decimate social housing stock levels.

The National Housing Federation (NHF) estimates an additional 350,000 homes per year are required until 2031, with 145,000 of those each year needing to be an Affordable housing product (NHF 2020).

For context with the 241,000 homes completed in 2018-19, was a 30 year high. In short, both Government and the Market have failed to produce the housing we need as a country.

Consequently, and perhaps somewhat bizarrely, England becoming increasingly reliant on the market to deliver social housing. Just over 40% of all social and affordable housing units were delivered via Section 106 (S106) obligations in the period 2015/16 – 2018/19 (MHCLG, 2020 Live Table 1000S). This is manageable in a rising housing market, but as we head towards a sharp economic downturn, it is unlikely to remain the case.

Putting it bluntly, developers do not develop when the we are in a recession, well at least nowhere near as much. So, whilst there will be a certain amount of ‘flow through’ for S106 agreements from developments already in motion, we are likely to see a drop in social housing being delivered through this part of our planning system.

More problematic is this Government’s choice of direction on housing policy means we’re likely to see even fewer social rent units being delivered. Its flagship policy, the First Homes initiative, will heavily rely on S106 contributions as a delivery mechanism (MHCLG 2020) thus the (already low) output of submarket rented homes will reduce further.

The sums involved are not insignificant. NHF estimates increases in current grant provision, to the tune of £1bn per year (NHF 2020), would be required to mitigate the loss of sub-market rented homes from S106 due to the rebirth of this aborted Starter Homes programme.

Required Approaches, History Repeating

So, what can reasonably be done? During the Covid19 crisis we have seen some extraordinary, justified, Government interventions. It is necessary to extend such moves further into the housing market. Housing is by one of the key policy areas where Government can drive counter cyclical measures.

By providing capital funding at a time when many developers will be scaling back production, we can keep elements of the economy moving. It is estimated that for every £1 spent on construction, output stimulates £2.84 in Gross Domestic Product (Capital Economics 2019) and thus for a Government, this is money well spent.

Over the long term the figures are significant.

In its report for the LGA (and others), Building New Homes – an updated economic appraisal, Capital Economics estimates that up to £320bn could be generated through increased economic activity (LGA 2020).

Elsewhere, as and when developers get into trouble during the market downturn, going back to the future may provide the way forward. The National Housing Clearing Scheme successfully saw the Housing Corporation (as was) provide £350million for the purchase of 9,600 homes following the 2007/08 crisis (Hansard 2009).

It enabled the addition of stock into the social rented sector, whilst enabling developers struggling to shift completed units off their books. Indeed it’s been one of the key recommendations from the Commons Select Committee for Communities and Local Government Interim Report on protecting rough sleepers and renters (CSCCLG 2020) and a reboot of the scheme should be a serious consideration.

Combating housing inequality needs public funding

For decades with have held back some of the most effective tools to combating housing inequality and market dysfunction in the UK. Sustained and expansive, publicly funding, housing development.

It is no coincidence that the greatest number of homes were built when Local Government was enabled to directly provide public housing. This needs to be revisited in earnest otherwise we are doomed to repeat the errors of the previous decades.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Neil Goodrich</span></strong>
Neil Goodrich

Neil Goodrich has been in the in social housing sector for just over a decade. A Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) and Former Chair of CIH Futures.

He currently works as a Business Insight Manager for Orbit, a Housing Association that operates in the Midlands, East Anglia, South and South East.

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Landlord licensing can help protect our communities

Before I became the cabinet lead for Housing Services in May 2018, I had worked in inner City housing for over 25 years and thought rather arrogantly I had seen it all. The squalor, deprivation and human misery I have seen while out with our licensing inspection officers shocked me out of this complacency.

On one of my first visits we went into a small unlicensed 3 bedroom terrace house which had families in each bedroom, the living room and the loft. The rear garden shed was also used as accommodation but was at the time empty. The property was damp, poorly decorated, dirty carpets, broken and worn furniture with dangerous electrical and gas fittings. Each family were charged from £600 to £1,000 per month for their room.  I am sure that Charles Dickens would have seen similar scenes in Victorian London.

This is despite Newham having one of the most extensive, longest running and most effective landlord licensing schemes in the country. Set up in 2013, renewed for another 5 years in 2018, the current scheme lasts until 2023.  To do this we had to persuade a somewhat sceptical Government that licensing was necessary to tackle serious anti-social behaviour and housing hazards but also to protect tenants from exploitation and criminal landlords.

There are an estimated 17,000 landlords who have to register, pay a fee and comply with the terms of the license and we estimate there are at least 47,000 households renting privately licensed accommodation in Newham.  Since February 2018 we have fined 247 landlords and prosecuted 38. Recently we have doubled the number of enforcement officers.

We have a huge private rental sector in Newham. In 2001 only 17% were privately rented; now it is nearly half of all homes. Prices of properties in Newham were traditionally low and this enabled private landlords to buy homes cheaply by London standards. However, between 2011 and 2018, rents increased in Newham by 56%, house prices by 89% – but salaries have only risen by 21%. Median monthly private rents in the third quarter of 2018 were above £1,400.  This is one of the chief reasons that 50% of families in Newham live in poverty after their housing costs are taken into account.

There are a number of myths about local authorities and private sector rental licensing.  I have been to ‘lively’ meetings with local landlords who are convinced that this is a “money making machine” for the Council and do not understand that their license fees are ring-fenced for enforcement and cannot be used to cross subsidise other council services.

We are definitely not, repeat not, “anti-landlord”, but we are anti exploitative and criminal landlords. There are many conscientious landlords who want to work with us to drive up standards.  Many landlords will privately admit that bad landlords who fail to maintain their properties drive out their tenants who live nearby.

Some residents and tenants are frustrated that we are not always able to take the immediate and direct action to tackle anti-social behaviour and disrepair that they want to see enacted. To prosecute bad landlords we need to obtain sufficient evidence of criminality (“beyond reasonable doubt” standard) which is needed to satisfy the courts. It can sometimes be a slow and complex process.

To be clear, licensing is a success story, but is far from being a panacea for all housing ills in Newham. For example, we cannot license rent levels for affordability. We have a long wish list of improvements, including ending the incredible exemption that local authorities and the National Asylum Service enjoy from being licensed (and that includes our own council). We need the government to keep to its promise to get rid of section 21 (no fault evictions) but also the abolition of immigration checks on rental agreements and no recourse to public funds.

The Covid-19 pandemic has made all of us in housing stop and think about what we can do protect our community. Despite staff working from home they have managed to prevent many illegal evictions and stop people being thrown onto the streets.

Targeting our inspections and enforcement on dealing with damp, disrepair, overcrowding, unlawful HMOs, poor energy efficiency and fuel poverty would seem an obvious initial response to Covid-19.  To be frank, we are also worried that when/if the Government allows housing courts to fully operate again then there could be a huge increase in evictions (legal and illegal).

Licensing and our Homeless prevention and assistance service will be working together to manage this. We will not hesitate to prosecute anyone who criminally evicts or harasses tenants. We will also, if appropriate, refer them also to planning enforcement, council tax fraud and HMRC.

Future plans include: completing the setting up of new Empty Homes and Energy Efficiency teams; a communications campaign planned over the summer to increase awareness of rights and responsibilities for tenants as well as legal requirements for landlords; creating post(s) within the service to support PRS tenants and advise landlords.

We are stepping up not only enforcement but also our advice and support. Hopefully, when a future Cabinet lead goes out on inspections they will find a different story.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">John Gray</span></strong>
John Gray

Born North Wales.  Leeds University Politics Graduate and Post Graduate Diploma in Housing from Westminster University. Background is in social housing management (Council & Housing Associations).   

Currently on unpaid leave of absence from large UK Housing Association for political duties. Practitioner member of Chartered Institute of Housing.

A Labour Party Councillor in Newham, London since 2010 representing West Ham ward. Deputy Executive Mayor (Statutory) and Cabinet Member for Housing services since 2018.  Member of Labour Housing Group. 

Technical member IOSH, Appointed Trade Union Safety representative, Chair of UNISON Greater London Housing Associations Branch and National Executive Committee member for Housing Associations and the voluntary sector (General Seat). 

Pension trustee for 3 funds and Joint Vice Chair of the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum. Occasionally does triathlons, keen walker and social media blogger.