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Raising Exempt Accommodation Standards

As the cabinet member for housing at the UK’s largest local authority, one thing I quickly learned was that it’s not simply enough to assume that a roof over someone’s head solves all their problems. Tackling homelessness is of course very high on the agenda, but the quality of accommodation and the support on offer is also key.

That’s why in Birmingham we are focussing on the exempt accommodation sector. Exempt accommodation is an unregulated type of supported housing. It is often used as a means of housing those with no other housing options, such as prison leavers and people from other vulnerable groups.

This sector has almost doubled in size in the city over the last two years, from 11,500 units to close to 20,000 and we’re seeing huge increases of exempt housing in some neighbourhoods, as private landlords build up portfolios of leased and owned accommodation, and then apply for registered provider status, exempting them from licensing regulations and local scrutiny. Over £200 million is spent on such housing in Birmingham alone.

Such accommodation can only be regulated through the Housing Benefit system and the regulatory standards for registered providers, overseen by RSH (Regulator of Social Housing) not local authorities on the ground. There is little or no regulation of care, support or supervision provided, merely an extremely vague requirement for it to be ‘more than minimal’. Lax Tory regulations means the sector is ripe for corner-cutting, exploitation and profiteering.

And, while there are many responsible and respected providers, there are also horror stories of vulnerable people being exploited and of neighbourhoods being blighted by an explosion of sub-standard accommodation.

So as a Labour Council what are we doing to fix things in Birmingham?

We’re focusing on halting the growth in exempt housing while vital oversight work can be carried out to:

  • Improve property standards through inspection and intervention
  • Improve support through increased scrutiny of claims
  • Gather intelligence of suspected organised criminal activity and dealing with anti-social behaviour with the police
  • Better scrutinising new claims for Exempt status

In Birmingham we are working with responsible providers who, once accredited, become the main point of referrals for statutory agencies.

We are also rolling out a Quality Standards Framework and a Charter of Rights for residents (both co-designed with people who live or have lived in exempt accommodation) to set a local standard until Government regulations catch up.

A growing number of key partners across Birmingham have now signed up to only referring to providers that adopt both the Quality Standards and Charter of Rights. This of course requires a robust inspection regime and we are piloting one in the city.

But there is only so much we can do as a Labour Council. Ultimately we need the government to change course too.

The exempt sector has been, and sadly continues to be a rich market and there’s a clear need for stronger regulatory powers so that those who provide poor standards to their tenants, face real consequences. This effort is being spearheaded in Parliament by Steve McCabe, Liam Bryne and Shabana Mahmood on behalf of Birmingham’s Labour MPs, and new West Midlands PCC – Simon Foster.

On 19th April Birmingham Labour Group in collaboration with the Birmingham Labour MPs launched a city wide petition calling on Government for urgent policy reform:

The local impact in some areas is causing a misery for tenants and local communities. We firmly believe there should be local impact assessments implemented and tests of whether someone is fit to be a landlord to protect communities. We just need government support to do so and have put a bill to parliament that would guarantee this.

In Birmingham we’re making a difference and our message to unscrupulous providers is that we’re coming for you and your time will soon be up.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Cllr Sharon Thompson</span></strong>
Cllr Sharon Thompson

Sharon Thompson has been a Labour Councillor for the Birmingham North Edgbaston ward since 2014.

Once homeless herself, and a single mother at an early age, Cllr Sharon Thompson is currently the Cabinet Member for Homes and Neighbourhoods and on the WMCA Housing & Land Delivery Board.

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The Great Tory Planning Power Grab

Recent planning reforms by this government are nothing else than a power grab, and risk future housing and our response to the climate emergencywrites Councillor Johnson Situ.

It takes something special to unite councils (of all political colours), planning bodies and campaigners in almost uniform condemnation. In recent weeks, MHCLG has reached that feat with a string of announcements and reforms to planning, which as ill-judged as they are impractical. Robert Jenrick has given these proposals lofty names such as ‘Planning for the Future’ or ‘Right to Regenerate’ but scratch beneath the surfaceand this is nothing more than a power grab from a national government intent on deregulating planning at the cost of genuinely affordable homes being built and our ability to respond to the Climate Emergency.   

Much has been written about the impact of another top-down reform to the planning system. Firstly, it is important to recognise that the planning system does need reform. Secondly, a decade of cuts to local government has meant that the planning head count has significantly decreased over the years. Yet we must recognise the plan making process can be made far more nimble and better at including communities from the onset if planning departments are adequately resourced.

However, a recent report from the LGA which showed that more than a million homes granted planning permission in the past decade still had not yet been built highlights a wider issue that needs resolving.

Equally, our vision for building high quality, genuinely affordable housing must be coupled with our commitment to tackle the climate emergency – which includes driving up environmental standards in residential homes. That ambition is dependent upon a framework that empowers local authorities to make planning decisions that promote positive environmental and public health outcomes. However, proceeding with the recent announcement risks degrading local authorities’ ability to promote high quality, sustainable housing through the planning system. 

So, if the government were interested in planning reforms that supported councils to meet the housing crisis and respond to the climate emergency, here are some things they could announce, and if not, policies the next Labour government should introduce instead:

A build out clause in granted permissions

The Government’s new Right to Regenerate proposals, which seem to amount to privatising public land by stealth, are deeply flawed. Many councils such as Southwark have ambitious council homes building programmes and are using land to build council homes. It is also silent on land banking from developers. Surely, any reforms to planning should enable planning authorities to refuse planning applications based on record of building out permissions?  

Enable plan making that is responsive to the local community and changing environment

It is a well-known fact that the current plan making process takes too long, and a running joke that by the time most plans are completed they are up for renewal again. This is particularly concerning for our response to the Climate Emergency and enabling councils to develop the right policies to encourage carbon saving technology at the right time. In recent years we have seen significant strides made in the renewable energy technology and communities have come together to develop co-operative energy organisations, all of which needs a national planning framework that actively supports it.

A report by The Committee on Climate Change in February 2019 calculated that if the current 27,000-50,000 homes built in timber frame in recent years increased to 270,000 annually, this would absorb and store three million tonnes of carbon. Now this will not be the answer to meet the entire housing need, but creating a national planning framework that enabled local authorities to strengthen plans to respond to modern methods of construction, should be a priority.

Local Authorities are ready to go further and in recent times many have already strengthen their requirement for environmentally friendly energy, and increasingly car-free developments are a fixture in more local plans. Here in Southwark, we have committed to a net zero development across our key masterplan area by 2030.

Development in the area will be car free and the promotion of walking and cycling as well as electric buses, taxis and commercial vehicles will help tackle air and noise pollution.  We are developing a District Heat Network linking new developments to the South East London Combined heat and Power plant, which will deliver both significant savings in C02 emissions and cheaper energy costs for residents. This will complement a range of low carbon energy options on new build homes across the masterplan area

A spatial planning system, which gives local authorities the ability to have a more formalised say in transport infrastructure

One of the key recommendations from Labour’s Planning Commission was the need for a spatial plan which provided a national framework but also placed a formal role on the local authority. The message of addressing regional inequality will be ignored if local communities get no say on whether their area has better transport infrastructure, and that applies for inner cities as well as northern towns and coastal areas. Whatever your view is on Heathrow’s third runway, it is absurd that the local authority had no formal input within the decision making, when local residents will have to live with the impact on air pollution and traffic in the area.

In short, if this government were serious about meeting the housing crisis and responding to the climate emergency, it would strengthen the role of local authorities within its most recent proposals. Instead it has continued with a decade-long vision to deregulate planning. The stakes are high, and we will need to be bold to build the social and genuinely affordable housing the country needs, as well as responding to the climate emergency. Reheated policies from the 80’s will not work and that is why Southwark Labour, like many Labour authorities, will be fighting these new proposals and campaigning tirelessly to elect a Labour government.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Johnson Situ</span></strong>
Johnson Situ

Johnson is the Labour Councillor for Peckham Ward (Southwark) and Cabinet Member for Climate Emergency, Planning and Transport

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Mind the Construction Skills Gap

There is no hope of a house-building renaissance without first addressing the systemic construction skills gap. But what can we do?

This fetishisation of the academic – at the expense of the vocational – is undermining our ability to build homes. When I was the vice-Chair of a Board of Governors at an all-through school in 2016, Nicky Morgan – then Education Secretary – introduced Progress 8. The basic tenet of Progress 8 is that schools are encouraged to take the most academic subjects. There are too many hairdressers, as the Local Government Association once said.

Instead, Morgan wanted more young people to study English, mathematics, the sciences, geography, history and the languages. Given the measures are included in school performance tables, schools are incentivised to take them – whether they’re the right choices for young people or not.

But what about bricklayers, carpenters, roofers, scaffolders, electricians, painters and decorators? What about the legion of young students – particularly working-class boys in deprived schools like the one I oversaw, who come from chaotic households, detest books, but are good with their hands?

With a vocational college less than a mile from the school I was based in, at the time it was hard to see why we shouldn’t encourage vocational courses. But the system is designed as such you ignore Progress 8 at your peril. A better attainment record – on paper – might encourage prospective parents and pupils to come to the conclusion that our school was the place for them and that has serious funding implications.

In hindsight, perverse incentives like these have, I suspect, wider consequences. Exacerbating skills gaps across our vocations – construction in particular – is a serious barrier a housebuilding renaissance. This is a self-inflicted crisis.  On top of our indifference to the vocational, the centralised skills system, cuts to the Adult Education Budget, and the closure of adult education centres have all meant that the UK plc is increasingly unable to respond to the needs of employers.

In 2018, 44% of small-to-medium housebuilders dubbed the construction skills shortage a major barrier to building more homes – climbing from 27% in 2015 – according to a Federation of Master Builders (FMB) House Builders’ survey. Though concerns over skills shortages fell dramatically the year after for the first time in five years to 26%, the skills gap remained the third greatest barrier to housebuilding, and housebuilders were clear that they expected the issue to get worse before it gets better. Employers were also critical of the work-readiness of our young people. Research by the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) in 2018 found that over half (51%) of employers felt that school leavers weren’t prepared for the world of work. Business leaders across the industry have long felt the education system is decoupled from the needs of their businesses.

Without labouring the point, there is also greater uncertainty about the existing supply of construction workers. The non-UK workforce accounts for 14% of the construction industry – and over half (54%) in London – according to CITB. The scale of the exodus of Romanians and Bulgarians – more than half of them leaving the construction industry between 2015 and 2017 – should concern anyone who wants to see more homes built, not less.

The speed needed to tackle the skills shortage is all the greater, given the scale of the industry’s ageing workforce. According to the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, 45% of the workforce are over 50, meaning that employers will need a steady stream of employees: 400,000 each year, equivalent to one recruit every 77 seconds.

Clearly the picture is complex and the challenges manifold. While the skills shortages that have receded are likely to be temporary, there is greater uncertainty on the horizon. This is compounded by the general incompetence of a government which has been wholly unable to fix the growing mismatch between the construction industry’s skills demands and a falling number of people gaining construction qualifications.

The introduction of construction T Levels in September 2021 is probably a good start, but the Government has wasted too much time already. The Government allocated £64 million to tackle skills shortages in the digital and construction industries as part of the National Retraining Scheme in 2017. Fast forward to 2020 and the National Retraining Scheme has been incorporated into the £2.5 billion National Skills Fund, yet the talk of construction has been quietly dropped.

The Government long abandoned its promise, as part of its 2015 Conservative Manifesto – and again in 2017 – to deliver 3 million apprenticeships by 2020. In 2018/19 there were 23,000 apprenticeship starts across Construction, Planning and the Built Environment – just 1,000 more than in 2010. A generous reading may make the case that since 2011/12 it has consistently crept up from 14,000 starts, but that would be clutching at straws since it plummeted by 8,000 the year before.

As a result of reform to the apprenticeship system, there has been a sharp increase in the number of providers but it has made little dent in the number of apprenticeship starts. There are several conclusions – and solutions – we can tentatively draw from these facts. The overriding reading of the evidence is that the UK doesn’t have the skills to build its way out of the housing crisis. How do you scale up housebuilding if you don’t have the workforce available to do the work?

The challenge requires a cross-departmental approach on issues ranging from immigration, skills and apprenticeships, the curriculum, and the role of business and further and higher education. I suspect neither the Department for Education (DfE) nor the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government has paid due attention to the chronic skills shortages in construction – partly because the DfE has designed in vocational snobbery.

That the Government done away with the Skills Minister in June 2019 and a replacement was only found in February 2020 does nothing to dispel the accusation. As we look ahead to the national recovery, the Government has a real opportunity to transform how we design and deliver skills training. Those decisions mustn’t be made in the corridors of Whitehall – they must be made collaboratively, with employers, councils, education providers, and they must be aligned with local economic strategies.

There must be a greater focus on attracting talent at home too. Without attracting new entrants to the sector and upskilling the existing workforce, the Government’s target of building 300,000 homes each year by the mid-2020s will remain out of reach.

The Government must also get more construction apprenticeships on board – and quickly. It must forge a narrative which doesn’t fetishise the academic over the vocational, and in doing so must encourage women and ethnic minorities to shatter the glass ceilings that exist in an otherwise male, principally white, industry. The failure to address construction skills gaps now will see the new homes, schools and hospitals needed for future generations unbuilt.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Jack Shaw</span></strong>
Jack Shaw

Jack is a Senior Policy Researcher for the Shadow Minister for Local Government and has previously worked for the Local Government Association. He is also a member of the London Labour Housing Group Executive Committee.

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Housing as a universal human right

When Leilani Farha, the former UN Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, spoke at the Labour Housing Group (LHG) Connected 2020 Fringe meeting, she argued that housing should be a universal human right. Is this achievable and if so how do we organise to achieve it? And will it bring an end to homelessness?

Her organisation, The Shift, set up in 2016, and the Municipalist Declaration of Local Governments for the Right to Housing and the Right to the City which was signed by 11 city managers across the world in 2018, plan to reclaim and realise the fundamental human right to housing:

THE SHIFT recognizes housing as a human right, not a commodity or an extractive industry. The Shift restores the understanding of housing as home, challenging the ways financial actors undermine the right to housing. Using a human rights framework, The Shift provokes action to end homelessness, unaffordability, and evictions globally.

In the film Leilani exposes the role that private equity firms play within the private rental market in city after city, and country after country, pushing up rents so that ordinary people are priced out of their own communities, alongside the mass replacement of homes where people had lived with buildings bought as an investment opportunity and now kept empty.

We are getting used to seeing the centres of our British cities hollowed out by investors buying up properties which they don’t intend to live in, but as the film illustrates, the scale of it is staggering. Two London examples are the multi-million pound unoccupied houses left empty in Belgravia, resulting in almost entirely traffic-free streets; and the replacement of council flats in one estate in Southwark – which previously had over 3000 residents – by homes that are left empty because they are simply seen as assets, mainly with foreign owners. The presenters talked about these as “dead zones”.

Other cities around the world are experiencing this form of social cleansing. In Toronto, tenants took part in a rent strike because so few repairs were being done by the new owners of their blocks, at the same time as rents were increasing by vastly more than average family incomes[1]. Tenants called the rent increases “eviction by any other name” and experienced harassment and threats for being involved in the protest.

In Kreuzberg in Germany, rent increases were seen to be forcing out both tenants and small businesses, to be replaced by corporate businesses and multi-national food companies. Footage shot in Milan, New York, Valparaiso (Chile), and Barcelona showed the threats (and violence) to families resisting being forced to leave the areas and communities they lived in.  The trend is even affecting Sweden, with its strong social democratic tradition.

We learnt tenants in many cities around the world now have the same property owner as their landlord, a private equity company called Blackstone which is now the largest property owner in the world. Their typical way of working appears to be the same across many countries: buy up blocks of flats, use plans to renovate them to force rent rises by far greater amounts than the cost of the renovations, and replace as speedily as possible the tenants who cannot afford the new rents. Blackstone also makes sure that they are pretty inaccessible to tenants, an office open just a few hours a week, as in a Swedish example.

The film describes companies buying up huge swathes of homes in inner cities as “vultures”, and “monsters than no-one can see”. What makes this all the more distasteful is the fact that private equity firms use investment from our pension funds. So our own pensions are involved here, without our knowledge or permission. Also, a chilling example was given from Italy of how Mafia money is laundered through housing investment.

Fortunately, some people can see what is happening, and are trying to stop dirty money from destroying our cities and shoving people out of the way.

41 cities included London, Manchester and Birmingham, inspired by Leilani’s campaigning work, have set up the Cities for Adequate Housing Group and signed the Municipalist Declaration of Local Governments for the Right to Housing and the Right to the City. Together and individually, they are working to combat the destruction of their cities. Several mayors talked about how they are buying back empty properties, surely what needs to be done in London, whilst others are bringing in laws aimed at stopping companies from buying up large tracts of land or property. Control of the growth of Airbnb is also part of the story, given that this sector also serves to drive ordinary people out of their cities.

Working to create an entitlement to housing as a human right is clearly the only way forward. Whilst we are waiting for a Labour government, we must urge as many cities as possible to join in. As the Cities for Adequate Housing Group says: “local governments cannot stay on the side-lines and need to take a central role.” In order to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal for housing[2], we all need to sign up to a worldwide commitment for the right to housing.

If we want the next generation to be able to live in the cities we currently occupy and love, something has to change. And we need urgently to explain to them what is happening so that they can help us make those changes.

Labour Housing Group Executive has agreed that we will work, with the Front Bench team, towards establishing the Right to Housing as a human right in the UK. This will be a fitting campaign for 2021, to celebrate our 40th year of existence.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Sheila Spencer</span></strong>
Sheila Spencer

Sheila has been Secretary of the Labour Housing Group (LHG) since 2018, having re-joined LHG Executive after a gap of many years.

She believes that housing is a critical issue across the country and that Labour has great housing policies – but many people, including many members, do not yet know how Labour intends to solve the current housing crisis when next in power.

Sheila wants to see Labour in the forefront of people’s minds when they consider what needs to change. She has worked all her life in housing – in the areas of homelessness, supported housing and housing need. Sheila was a city councillor in Newcastle and is now retired.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Andy Bates</span></strong>
Andy Bates

Andy is a long-standing member of the Labour Party.  He is a member of the  Old Southwark and Bermondsey CLP.

Andy is on the executive of the London Labour Housing Group. For LHG Executive Committee, he is promoting and co-ordinating LHG members going out to speak to CLPs and branches about housing issues.


[1] Over 30 years, rents in Toronto have gone up by 425% compared to 133% for average incomes.

[2] SDG11: “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” by 2030

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Does the housing sector hold the key to an improved electoral register?

As we all know, there are gaping holes in electoral registers in the UK, but it appears that it is not just in the United States that some right wing politicians seem to be happy about people being excluded from voting. A debate in the House of Commons in early November, during the discussion of the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill 2019-21, has highlighted this once again.

Following amendments made in the House of Lords, a majority of MPs sadly voted to reject the proposal to add 16-year-olds to the register, or to provide them with information on how to apply to join the register when they receive their National Insurance number.

Last November, just before the deadline to register for the 2019 General Election, the Electoral Commission revealed that between 8.3 million and 9.4 million eligible voters were not on the register from their current address; this is about 17%  – just under 1 in 5 – of the adult population.

We should be alarmed enough at that fact on its own, but other data published for 2018 shows that 1 in 4 Black and Asian people were not registered to vote, and nor were around 1 in 3 amongst 18-24 year olds. Furthermore, whilst almost 1 in 5 of social tenants were not registered, around 1 in 3 of private tenants were not on the list to vote. These are indeed shocking figures, and we really do need to take action to rectify this.

In part, this is due to the botched introduction of individual electoral registration made by the Coalition Government in 2014: against the advice of the Electoral Commission, instead of parents registering their adult children or institutional landlords like universities registering everyone in halls of residence, each person now has to register themselves, and must do so each time they move.

The change was rushed in without either electors or universities being given time to understand what the change meant. As a result, at least 600,000 voters vanished from the electoral roll, and a significant proportion of these have not yet been recovered.

While many universities have made efforts to encourage students to register, including information about registration in packs for first year students in halls or elsewhere, there are huge gaps in registrations for private tenants – both students and others – and particularly those in multi-occupied buildings where it can be hard for registration agents employed by local authorities to gain access.

Even without new legislation, it is arguable that local authorities could do more to encourage registration, for example using the contact they have with council tax payers, benefit claimants, parking permit users, blue badge holders, care users, and indeed, parents of school children.

But it is also possible for the housing sector to more do to help. Firstly, all councils, ALMOs and Housing Associations could make registering to vote easy for their tenants, getting people to sign an electoral registration form when they sign up for a new tenancy, and reminding them to re-register every time they move. Many housing organisations carry out programmed tenancy checks, often using electoral registers as part of the exercise, so they could easily contact and provide a prompt to all those not registered. At the very least, registering to vote should form part of every conversation with a new or relocating tenant, and at least once a year with all other tenants.

Secondly, information could be made available to housing staff, and to community organisations, particularly those working with tenants whose first language may not be English. They could explain who is allowed to register to vote and for which elections (it’s not entirely straightforward, as all Labour Party canvassers will know!), as well as the need for each individual to register and how to do it.

Thirdly, and very importantly, all support and care providers should ensure that their staff know how to help people register and how to vote. This should be part of the contract for every employee working with vulnerable residents, including helping them to access information about the candidates and the political parties they represent, and helping them to access the voting system, all of which can be done without displaying any political bias themselves. Coming across a resident who had wanted to vote but could not get to the polling station, fill in a ballot paper, or register to vote without help is amongst my least favourite experiences on Polling Day.

Finally, what can we do about private tenants, some of whom move every year as a result of Thatcher’s dismantling in 1988 of security of tenure in the private rented sector? It’s of course really a matter for Parliament to change the way that this is done: in Australia, individual voter registration has been in place for years, with voters staying on the register even if they move, with cross-referencing between multiple databases making it far less likely that people will be lost. In this country, the work has to be done by each council on a separate basis, with thousands of people coming off the register in each district every year, meaning a huge waste of resources.

Until we get a change to address this (and, my preferred option, to introduce compulsory registration) at national level, we have to rely on action at a local level. Private sector housing teams could ensure voter registration is mentioned at all meetings with landlords, even making it a requirement to issue an electoral registration form as part of landlord licensing and accreditation schemes.

The easiest solution to the unacceptable rate of electoral registration in the UK would be to automatically register people when they got their NI number, and require people to register each time they moved. But until we have a government that wants to make it as easy as possible for people to register, housing organisations which are in touch with a significant number of electors one way or another could take some responsibility for helping them to make their voices heard.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Sheila Spencer</span></strong>
Sheila Spencer

Sheila has been Secretary of the Labour Housing Group (LHG) since 2018, having re-joined LHG Executive after a gap of many years.

She believes that housing is a critical issue across the country and that Labour has great housing policies – but many people, including many members, do not yet know how Labour intends to solve the current housing crisis when next in power.

Sheila wants to see Labour in the forefront of people’s minds when they consider what needs to change. She has worked all her life in housing – in the areas of homelessness, supported housing and housing need. Sheila was a city councillor in Newcastle and is now retired.

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Tackling the Environmental & Housing Crisis: The Case for Green Homes

Coronavirus has upended everything. Within the space of a week in the spring, the pandemic has taken centre-stage in our social and political lives and has remained there, immovable, ever since. So interwoven into the experience of everyday life has the virus become, it sometimes feels difficult to think about much else.

In many ways it’s absolutely right that our attention should be so fully devoted to discussing covid-19 and, in particular, how to contain it. Bearing down on the spread of the virus to protect life and jobs is arguably the single biggest challenge the country and the world has faced since WW2.

But there are two additional crises that lurk not far into the horizon. In fact they are already here. These are the dual threats of the housing crisis on the one hand, and environmental collapse on the other. As scientists have evidenced, the latter creates the conditions for viruses like covid-19 and others to spread in the first place.

Left unchecked these twin crises will get worse and spin out of control.

Just consider this. It’s possible that environmental degradation could lead our planet close to becoming uninhabitable by the end of the century. The destruction of nature isn’t just about climate change — undoubtedly an existential risk and one that has received a lot of attention since last year. It’s also about extreme biodiversity loss and a rapid decrease of land and soil productivity — two issues which get too little attention and which, in the words of the UN, are “eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

On the other hand, the collapse of affordable housing has proved a disaster for many and may get worse. Home-ownership is out of reach for a generation of young people, in parts of the country average rent equates to three-quarters of median pay, and tens of thousands of families live in insecure temporary accommodation. Without access to a place people can reliably call home, the foundations of democratic norms — norms which rely on basic levels of socio-economic security for all — are at risk.

But this needn’t be our fate. We can carve out a different future, one where we provide housing security for everyone and safeguard nature at the same time. Doing this requires implementing a wide range of governmental interventions and creating market conditions which favour people and the planet above unbridled profit. But there is one policy area where we can begin to tackle both crises at once — and that’s unlocking the potential for environmentally friendly housing while making housing genuinely affordable.

So how do we do it?

Change begins with shifting how we think about housing. Much of the debate frames environmental protection and boosting housing supply through the prism of trade-offs: we sacrifice the former for the latter (or the reverse), say by building on the green belt (or choosing not to). But new-build and enhancing environmental protections can be two sides of the same coin.

Indeed, innovation and policy change is already moving us in that direction. Some developers are incorporating enhancements to ecosystems within their developments, like increasing beehives and bird boxes in urban settings. In parallel, bodies like the London Assembly champion ideas to nudge or require developers to think green — like incorporating requirements for minimal ‘green space factors’ into planning and recognising innovative ideas through award schemes.

In addition, the more we can transform the infrastructure that neighbourhoods rely on towards sustainable ends, the more we can move in this direction. For instance, we must ensure transport links are green — whether it’s by prioritising walking and cycling links above roads, and when roads are necessary ensuring they’re used by electric cars, not gas-guzzling vehicles.

A second step lies in pushing back on historic, out-dated practices in the development industry. At the forefront of this change is challenging a de facto presumption in favour of demolition. Demolition is massively wasteful — in the UK alone, the construction industry accounts for 60% all materials used. In addition, the development industry accounts for 45% of carbon emissions, and when demolition happens it releases huge amounts of “embodied carbon”. The alternative should be a presumption in favour of refurbishment with demolition there as a genuine last resort.

It is possible to refurbish whilst unlocking affordable housing. The long-term consequences of covid are likely to be empty office buildings in the centre of cities, as white-collar workers shift to working from home on a more regular basis. Local and regional leaders must therefore find ways of bringing back empty premises into use as affordable and quality housing. We’ve already seen councils take similar steps to revitalise centre city living when perceived urban decay has been a challenge in the past.

In cities like Liverpool city centre, living increased by 181% from 2002 and 2015, whilst in Birmingham it increased by 163%, and these changes were a result of proactive policy interventions. Living in these areas is now associated with a good quality of life, in effect embracing the Mayor of Paris’ 15 minute living concept where everything one would need (whether it’s access to gyms, restaurants, the supermarket, or schools) is within close walking distance.

A third move is embedding the circular economy into any new affordable housing development. From deploying renewable energy sources, like heat pumps and solar, through to releasing more subsidies for insulating homes, change is well under-way on this front. The shift needs to be coupled with sustainably disposing of waste and in particular food waste — an issue that lies behind a whopping 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

What this means is getting people to waste less food in the first place, and when waste is inevitable making sure it’s composted or ends up in anaerobic digestion plants not landfill or being incinerated. Crucially, using resources intelligently helps with the affordability of living expenses. Cutting fuel bills can lead to hundreds of pounds in household savings, whilst eating not wasting edible food can save the average household £500 per year.

These are just some changes that we can make to marry the need for genuinely affordable housing with sustainability. What’s outlined above does not negate how difficult achieving the scale of transformation we need to see will be. But the urgency with which we increasingly understand the environmental crisis, coupled with new technological opportunities, means citizens, policy-makers and developers are very clearly beginning to envision and see the opportunity to build another future.

This week Labour challenged the government to ‘Build it in Britain’ and support the creation of 400,000 jobs, including in the crucial manufacturing sector, through a green recovery from the Covid crisis. Action now would support the creation of new jobs and tackle the climate and environmental crisis, and includes expanding energy efficiency and retrofit programmes, including in social housing.

For too long we’ve negated people’s right to secure housing whilst undermining the natural world. Covid-19 is undoubtedly the biggest short challenge facing us, but we need to walk and chew gum at the same time, keeping focused on tackling the twin threats of insecure housing and environmental breakdown.

The moment for change is now.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Pancho Lewis</span></strong>
Pancho Lewis

Pancho Lewis is a Westminster Councillor, where he is Shadow Cabinet Member for Environment, and works for the food waste start-up Too Good To Go.

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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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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.