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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.

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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.

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The renters’ rights movement must look beyond ‘affordability’

As we enter the worst recession in 300 years, renters’ incomes will be squeezed with chances of meaningful wage-increases remote for most. As such, all concerned with safeguarding and improving renters’ quality of life should turn their attention to minimising the cost of living where possible.

Given housing costs are renters’ greatest expense, how rent is determined should be scrutinised closely with rent reduced as much as possible. In addition to benefiting renters as individuals, reductions in rent would serve to fortify aggregate demand during the recession1.

Competing definitions of affordability

In 2011, the coalition government introduced a definition of affordability which provided a rented property would be classified as ‘affordable’ if it cost no more than 80% of the local market rent.

The definition was absurd.

It is impossible to calculate whether something is affordable if the formula you use takes no account of the renter’s income and essential outgoings. In response, various well-intentioned actors, including the Labour Party came up with their own definitions² of affordability focusing on renters’ income and ability to pay.

The limitations of a focus on ‘affordability’

Any suggestion that market forces should not be the sole determinant of renters’ housing costs should be broadly welcomed. However, limiting demands around housing costs solely to those of ‘affordability’ has served to tacitly legitimate the landlord and renter relationship, a relationship that is, at its core, inherently exploitative.

The principle that landlords should profiteer from renters has become locked-in as ‘something that goes without saying’, all calls for affordability demand are that landlords’ profiteering should not be so great as to cause renters excessive hardship. Crucially, a focus on ‘affordability’ for the renter has meant the landlord’s side of the relationship has avoided scrutiny.

Scrutiny of how landlords justify the rent they charge exposes the inherent unfairness of the landlord and renter relationship

1) ‘Supply and demand’ might explain rent levels, but explanation does not equal justification!

Housing costs for renters should be based on the actual cost of supplying the home, not what the market can bear. Sometimes, because of the layout of the plumbing in certain properties, it is impossible for water companies to provide individual water bills for each household. When this is the case, the landlord of the building will receive one water bill for the entire property and then invoice each household for their portion of the bill.

It is unlawful for landlords to make a profit from the re-sale of water in such circumstances as it is recognised it would be morally abhorrent to profiteer from something so necessary to human survival when the water company has already done so.

Given shelter’s own importance to human survival and given that everyone involved in the construction of the home has already been paid for their work and materials, there is no compelling reason why re-sale of shelter should be treated differently.

2) Landlords’ costs of supplying a home, outside of initial acquisition, are negligible compared to the rent they charrge.

45% of landlords own their renters’ homes outright without a mortgage. For such landlords, the ongoing cost of supplying a property to a renter is limited to the costs incurred keeping the property in a good state of repair and fit for human habitation (£73.17 per month on average for a three bedroom home). In comparison, the average rent on a three-bedroom home in Manchester is £895.00 per month.

3) It is unfair for landlords to expect renters to cover the cost of initial acquisition of the home through their rent, unless ownership is transferred in exchange!

As an alternative to pointing to the free market price mechanism, landlords sometimes use their Mortgage CMIs as justification for the rent they charge. It is unfair for them to do so. If landlords want somebody else, i.e. renters, to cover their costs in acquiring ownership of the home, as a basic point of fairness, ownership of the home should be transferred to the ones doing the actual paying in exchange.

Currently, landlords have their cake and eat it, at the renter’s expense.

Moving beyond affordability

If challenges to housing costs focus solely on ‘affordability’ a systematic investigation of landlordism, and subsequent exploration of pathways that could lead to greatly reduced housing costs for renters, such as nationalisation of the private rented sector, become foreclosed.

It is unclear why, historically, supposedly progressive actors have been content only to ask for ‘affordability’ on behalf of renters. There may have been a lack of courage in challenging landlordism head on, or perhaps a latent ‘protestant work ethic’ type notion that it is virtuous for housing costs to be at least a bit of a burden for renters.

Whatever the historic reasons, we are now in extraordinary times, merely asking for affordability is not good enough.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Tom Lavin</span></strong>
Tom Lavin

Tom Lavin is on the organising committee of ACORN Liverpool and a Justice First Fellow working in housing law at Merseyside Law Centre. He previously worked for Shelter as a housing adviser.

1 This argument is made here in relation to rent suspensions but can equally be applied to reducing rent.

² Housing charity Shelter state a rented property should not be considered affordable if housing costs are greater than 35% of net household income: https://blog.shelter.org.uk/2015/08/what-is-affordable-housing/  Manchester City Council came up with a more convoluted formula based on the average income of residents in the city: https://secure.manchester.gov.uk/info/100007/homes_and_property/7638/manchester_housing_strategy/2

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Post-Covid crisis how should the Private Rented Sector change?

The Covid crisis exposes weaknesses at the heart of our housing system. The emergency ‘all in’ policy for rough sleepers, temporary eviction ban, lifting of Local Housing Allowance rates are all life-saving measures.  But we should all be ashamed that our housing system is so broken that such interventions were needed.  

Access to a safe, secure and affordable home is no longer available to hundreds of thousands of children and their families.  Our whole housing system has to change and alongside national investment in genuinely affordable homes, major reforms to the private rented sector must be a core part of that change. 

Labour Housing Group Patron Karen Buck MP, has done outstanding work on improving rights for renters, including bringing forward the Homes for Human Habitation Act in 2019.  Labour needs to campaign for a private rented sector where renters pay a fair rent, are treated decently by their landlord, get their repairs done on time and can put down roots in a community. 

There is hope that this is a moment to reflect on the powerful impact that our housing situation has on our health and inequalities in our housing system but this Tory Government is not bringing forward the legislation needed. For a decent and fair recovery, where no-one is left behind, we need urgent measures to keep renters safe and a programme of long-term reforms.

Renters need secure homes – this is better for them and for economic recovery.  It is a huge relief for renters that the eviction ban has been extended to the end of August but there is so much more to do.  Following years of collective action, the Government has scheduled the Renters Reform Bill, but we must continue to press them and our representatives in Parliament to make sure that it is debated and enacted as soon as possible.  The sooner that Section 21 ends, the sooner that tenants can feel secure in putting down roots in their community.

Private renters have very few rights to information about their landlord or new home.  It is not right that renters cannot check whether landlords have met certain standards.  Mayor Sadiq Khan’s blue print for renters in London sets out how we can improve access to information for renters and we should campaign for devolution to local and regional authorities to establish accountability locally for landlords.  For Labour activists, preparing for local elections in May 2021 will be a key moment to speak to private renters, listen to their experiences and work on local policies to support private renters.

As a local Councillor, I know just how hard it is to use the legislation available so that repairs are done on time, homes are properly maintained and renters are treated decently.  The powers to take action on these issues rest mostly with local authorities who have endured a decade now of funding cuts.  For a fully functioning private rented sector, which works for renters, landlords and the economy, we need a transparent and standardised funding settlement for local authority enforcement services.

The connection between housing and health was cemented in public policy nearly 150 years ago in 1885 in the Royal Commission on the Housing of Working Classes.  This relationship was maintained when Nye Bevan became the Minister for Health and Housing in 1945.  The Covid crisis reminds us just how linked our health is to our housing. We cannot afford to wait another 75 years before this connection is renewed in policy. 

Many renters report not just a detrimental impact of insecure housing on their physical health but also a strain on their mental health.  Not only are some of our most vulnerable households living in insecure homes but many of the key-workers who care for us, feed us and nurse us are spending their already low wages on private rented homes with very few rights.  We urgently need transformation of the private rented sector, for a recovery that leaves no-one behind.

<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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Keeping Everyone In

Chesterfield; many of you will know Chesterfield as home to the Crooked Spire and gateway to the Peak District National Park. Some will know it has a proud history of engineering based on the North Derbyshire Coalfield. Eric Varley and Tony Benn represented the town in Parliament in the latter part of the 20th century. Toby Perkins has been the MP for Chesterfield since 2010. In December 2019 the constituency became a little dot of red in a sea of blue just south of Sheffield.

When I became the first woman Leader of Chesterfield Borough Council in 2017 the issue crying out for my attention was the rise in rough sleeping. Whilst the number of rough sleepers was insignificant when compared with London and nearby cities their needs were as complex and the associated anti-social behaviour created a continuous stream of complaints from residents, town centre businesses and visitors.  Photos of sleeping bags and other paraphernalia next to the town’s coach station adorned the local press on a weekly basis.

The cause of this was a range of factors coming together. Some of the most common were drug or alcohol dependency, mental health issues or benefit changes, particularly the recent introduction of Universal Credit. We also knew that Chesterfield was attracting rough sleepers who saw it as a safer option than being in some of the surrounding cities. The generosity of local people, giving food, clothing and other items, combined with the lower risk of violence towards them, meant that some rough sleepers specifically came to Chesterfield.

In the same way that there was no one cause, equally there was no one easy solution. One thing clear to me was that, as the new Council Leader, I needed to act. One homeless rough sleeper was one too many.  A collaborative approach was needed.  So, I approached Hardyal Dhindsa, Derbyshire’s Labour Police and Crime Commissioner, who I knew was tackling a similar problem in Derby. Together with Toby Perkins we set up the Chesterfield Town Centre Summit.  This summit, chaired by Hardyal, brought together all the public bodies (e.g. police, Chesterfield Borough and Derbyshire County councils, NHS, Probation…), the voluntary and faith sectors and the business community to tackle all the issues.

The group’s work is focused on three linked areas: Enforcement, Treatment and Support & Campaigning, for instance against government welfare reforms and for strengthening legislation against “legal highs” among other issues which had undoubtedly impacted on the situation on the streets.  By working together, the various agencies avoided duplication and identified any areas where support was not currently provided so that both could be addressed.

Our greatest success was the establishment of a Winter Night Shelter co-ordinated by Derby City Mission. Whilst tragic cases of homeless people dying on the streets were being reported daily, every night through the coldest months we were able to offer hot meals, sleeping bags, health checks and conversation. The shelter was hosted by a different church on a fixed rota, so it was not too onerous a commitment for one church’s congregation and volunteers. 

Chesterfield Borough Council, alongside two neighbouring districts, supported this work through its funding of voluntary agencies. We built a strong working relationship with local homelessness charity, Pathways, and others who support the hard-to-reach homeless.

Within Chesterfield council itself, our Homelessness Prevention Team works to provide accommodation for anyone who needs it and is a key player in the North Derbyshire Homelessness Forum, which brings together a range of agencies who are working to prevent homelessness and support people who are rough sleeping.

Little did we know when we closed the doors on our second successful year of the shelter’s operation at the beginning of March this year that the collaborative multi-agency working model developed out of the Town Centre Summit and the North Derbyshire Homelessness Forum would serve us so well during the COVID 19 Pandemic in responding to the government’s demand to bring “Everyone In”.

Led by Chesterfield Borough Council’s Homeless team manager, Derbyshire’s councils have brought in 80 people so far (as at beginning of June 2020), with the majority having been placed in hotel accommodation.

Some of those placed have already been found longer term accommodation, and a recovery plan has already been written to deliver intensive support to individuals experiencing overlapping and challenging issues such as offending, drug and alcohol misuse and poor mental health.

Those placed have been given three hot meals a day and it is hoped that, for some, this stability will give them a chance to seek a more permanent change, especially as support to everyone will continue.

We are now at a crossroads because the hotel accommodation, although effective, cannot be retained beyond the end of June 2020.

Chesterfield Borough Council has therefore led on the development of Derbyshire councils’ “Keeping Everyone In” recovery plan, which has now been submitted to the Government. The plan will ensure that we have the resources to re-house as many people as we can on a permanent basis, whilst continuing to offer the necessary essential support.

The rapid collective response right at the start of the pandemic and our transition now to recovery was only possible due to initiatives such as the Town Centre Summit and the long-standing Derbyshire Homelessness Forum. 

I would also argue that this type of response is only possible when there is clear, decisive political leadership such as that demonstrated by Derbyshire Police and Crime Commissioner Hardyal Dhindsa, Toby Perkins MP and myself.

Labour leading the way and making a difference to people’s lives. 

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Councillor Tricia Gilby</span></strong>
Councillor Tricia Gilby

Tricia Gilby is the first woman Leader of Chesterfield Borough Council and a Labour Councillor for Brimington South.

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Housing is key to tackling the UK’s loneliness epidemic

This year’s Loneliness Awareness Week could not have come at a more important time. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the UK had a loneliness epidemic. But the outbreak has drastically worsened and brought into sharper focus the feelings of loneliness felt by people of different ages. The latest figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that the equivalent of 7.4 million people across Great Britain said their wellbeing had been affected by feeling lonely in the previous seven days.

Despite this, the last few months have also given us many inspiring moments of social connection, even at a time of physical distancing. The coronavirus crisis has brought communities together and shown our capacity to reach out across social and generational divides. From mutual aid groups to young people sending letters and poems to older care home residents, we seem to have realised what is really important to us: connection and belonging.

Our politicians must act quickly to build on this momentum and create a more socially connected country for the long-term. Housing policy has a key role to play. If we don’t feel comfortable and safe in the home we live in, or have a neighbourhood which provides spaces in which to interact with others, then our hopes for more togetherness and less loneliness will be dashed.

Tackling loneliness through housing: the story so far

Fortunately, the Government doesn’t have to start from scratch. In 2018 its official Loneliness Strategy was published, including a number of ideas for housing and planning to strengthen social connections. These included placing community at the heart of planning and design frameworks, funding research into community-led housing initiatives such as co-housing, and ensuring the wider urban design of towns and cities encourages social interaction through thriving high streets, parks, and other communal spaces. Adding loneliness to the portfolio of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) helped cement this focus.

Since then, the Government has released its follow-up annual report on tackling loneliness, published in January 2020. Progress has been made, it said, by including loneliness measures in the English Housing Survey, giving £125,000 towards co-housing research and exploring the role of design in tackling loneliness at various conferences. With all due respect to these measures, they are not going to suffice in the post-coronavirus world. Rather than light-touch nods to loneliness – a piece of research here and a few conference presentations there – the Government need to put social connection at the front and centre of housing policy, and treat it as seriously as the issue deserves.

Tackling loneliness should not be some after-thought; a soft, woolly topic to be explored once all the important issues have been sorted out. Loneliness is as bad for you as 15 cigarettes a day. It kills people.

What more must be done?

Tackling loneliness has got to be made an explicit priority in the planning system, nationally and locally. Though promoting social interaction is mentioned once in the 61-page National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), tackling loneliness as a specific aim is nowhere to be seen. Next time the framework is updated – which may be some years away – the section on ‘promoting healthy and safe communities’ should be updated to include a focus on reducing loneliness. More achievable in the short-term is updated ministerial guidance on the framework, setting out how local authorities can plan for developments which foster social bonds across ages. Local authorities should not only be nudged to think about loneliness in their local plans, but required to do so.

This general emphasis has got to be accompanied by specific examples of schemes which have shown promise. The Government is right to highlight co-housing as one model which can bring people together. Residents often play an integral role in the initial design of the community, which typically consist of private properties with pooled funds for communal resources and facilities. Intergenerational living is increasingly high on the agenda, for instance through integrating general needs housing with housing for older people, retirement villages acting as hubs for the whole community, properties designed for multi-generational living, and simple yet effective design tweaks such as having interconnected gardens between properties, or building windows that look out on to communal courtyards.

It is the design not only of housing but of the wider village, town or city which can make all the difference in bringing people of all ages together. Are there enough good-quality communal spaces such as parks and squares to encourage social interaction? Are there enough benches for people to sit down on and chat? How about level pavements and fewer trip hazards so that older people can walk into town?

Tackling loneliness is not only linked to bridging generational divides, but reducing ethnic and income segregation, too. It’s no good fostering close connections between some groups if others are left out – or worse, stigmatised. Last year’s south London scandal over a private playground that barred poorer children entering from the socially-rented block of flats opposite was a case in point. Thankfully, Henley Homes reversed the policy once their disgraceful approach was splashed across national newspaper pages.

Connecting the economic to the social  

The Henley Homes example points to a broader point: you cannot disentangle the economics of housing from the social connections you may seek to create through it. That is why progressive housing policy will win out when it comes to tackling loneliness. We already know that those on lower incomes are more likely to be lonely. Good-quality social housing can help massively, providing homes people can be proud of and live comfortably in, so they are happy living in their community. Gentrifying developments which reduce the number of socially-rented homes in favour of expensive private flats, forcing people with roots in the local area to leave, are only making matters considerably worse. 

Providing better conditions for private renters is crucial, too – another group more prone to loneliness. The Government should prioritise the development of its framework for longer tenancies for private renters, so they feel more secure in their property and have a better chance to build connections with neighbours in the long run.  

Time for action

The coronavirus crisis has illuminated both the tragic scale of the UK’s loneliness epidemic, and the desire of the young, old and everyone in between to overcome it through stronger social connection. If our streets, neighbourhoods, towns and cities don’t foster feelings of togetherness, then we have no hope.

It’s time for housing policy to respond.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Sam Dalton</span></strong>
Sam Dalton

Sam is a policy and public affairs professional with expertise in housing, social care, social connection and loneliness. He led an inquiry on strengthening ties between young and old alongside the parliamentary group on social integration, and authored its ‘Healing the Generational Divide’ report published last year.

Sam has written for The Fabian Society and Left Foot Forward, as well as think tanks, social ventures and charities. He led policy workshops for young people at last year’s Millennifest events in London and Bristol.