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“But what will Labour do differently?”

The general election is well underway. Across the country, thousands of Labour activists are speaking with voters and making the case for them to put their trust in us.

By all indicators, Britain is sick of fourteen years of Conservative failure. Only 15% of voters are satisfied with the government, and only 16% with Rishi Sunak’s record.

But we cannot take for granted the millions of voters intending to vote Labour, and need to reach out to the millions still who have not made up their minds. The need to make the case for a Labour government is greater than ever.

Voters may be sick of the Conservatives, but will still ask that crucial question: “what will Labour do differently?”

Housing is one of the sharpest dividing lines of this election. As the housing crisis intensifies it has risen up the list of voters’ priorities. It is an area where the Conservatives have most evidently failed, and where Labour has a clear plan.

Labour’s manifesto may well drop soon- this usually happens three weeks before an election. But, until then, how do we answer this question from voters?

Delivering the homes we need

Since the Second World War, the UK has failed to build 4.3 million homes compared to the average European country. Campaigns across the political spectrum recognise the need to build at least 300,000 a year to meet this backlog.

The Conservatives promised this at the last election, but repeatedly failed to deliver. They dropped a promised reform of the planning system to get Britain building, and scrapped their own housing target to appease their own backbenchers.

Meanwhile, a decade of austerity has hollowed out council planning departments, preventing them from making local plans to let communities have a say in what homes are built where. By accelerating the Right to Buy they sold off 113,000 council homes, while the number of households in temporary accommodation has soared to over 100,000.

Labour has a plan to undo these mistakes. With a sizeable majority, Labour will have the ability to reform the planning system to get Britian building, prioritising brownfield land to deliver 1.5 million homes over the next Parliament. By also reforming planning and slowing down the Right to Buy, Labour plans to deliver the biggest boost to affordable housing in a generation.

This won’t just be a builders’ charter either. By recruiting 300 extra local planners, Labour will empower local communities to take back control of their local areas and have a say over what is built where. And Labour will ensure that Section 106 agreements by developers are met, so that essential schools, roads, and GP surgeries are delivered alongside the homes we need.

Key to this will be a fresh generation of New Towns, built with mandated principles behind them, of 40% affordable and social homes, community infrastructure, transport links, and beautiful design.

By delivering the homes the country needs, Labour will put in the cornerstone to tackling the housing crisis.

Ending exploitation in the private rental sector and leasehold

The housing shortage has enabled bad actors in the private rental sector to abuse their power. While rents skyrocket, tenants are forced into overcrowded, poor-quality accommodation, often with the threat of eviction if they ask for even the slightest improvements.

The Conservatives came to power with a crystal-clear commitment to strengthen renters’ rights, and even introduced legislation in 2021 to do so. But the chaos of three prime ministers and sixhousing ministers, and the opposition of a hardcore lobby of landlord MPs have obstructed progress, and so Rishi Sunak failed to get this bill passed into law.

Not only will Labour strengthen protections for renters, but they will go further to ensure that they have the stability they deserve. A Labour government will end Section 21 ‘no-fault’ evictions, ensure that reported hazards in private rented homes are investigated within 14 days, and outlaw rental bidding wars.

Similarly, the Conservatives promised to reform the feudal practice of leasehold, to protect leaseholders from exploitative service charges and unfair practice. But, once again, this was watered down. A Labour government will pick up their mess by implementing the thorough recommendations for reform presented by the Law Commission.

Better and warmer homes

The UK has some of the oldest housing stock and least energy efficient homes in Europe. As a result, residents pay more for less, with higher energy bills, colder homes, and health risks from damp and mould, while heating our buildings also comprises 14% of our carbon emissions.  

Improving the quality of our homes will improve lives, tackle climate change and make the UK less reliant on oil-rich dictators like Vladimir Putin.

But Rishi Sunak has failed to take the necessary steps to improve home quality. Not only did he scrap the UK’s Energy Efficiency Taskforce as a political stunt, but his Great British Insulation Scheme, designed to insulate 300,000 homes by 2026, has so far only helped 7,720 households.  

Labour has a clear plan to improve home quality for the millions impacted by our poor-quality stock. A Labour government will introduce a ‘Decent Homes Standard 2’ for the private rental sector, after the first iteration by the Blair government improved lives for millions of renters. Meanwhile, a Warm Homes Plan will insulate 5 million homes by 2030, bringing them up to a minimum EPC C rating.

Reasons for hope

Fourteen years of Conservative housing failure have left the whole country footing the bill. But a Labour government with the energy and passion for change can put a stop to this. The party has a clear plan to deliver the homes we need, improve the ones we have, and protect from exploitation those at the sharpest end of the housing crisis.

“What will Labour do differently?” In housing, a hell of a lot.   

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Can a Labour government build more homes without exacerbating climate breakdown?

By Paul Brannen, former MEP 2014-19

With 40 per cent of global climate emissions sourced from the built environment, a future Labour government will need to be alert to the danger that its welcome pledge to build 1.5 million homes could exacerbate climate breakdown. The good news is that the exact opposite is also possible: every desperately needed new home could also help address the climate crisis.

Why is the built environment such a major cause of climate breakdown? Concrete, steel, bricks and breeze blocks can only be manufactured using large amounts of energy, energy which is still predominately sourced from the burning of fossil fuels. Concrete is an acute problem because, as well as the energy needed, the manufacturing process of extracting the lime from the limestone triggers a chemical reaction resulting in the release of CO2 into the atmosphere. In fact, concrete is responsible for a staggering eight per cent of total global carbon emissions. Steel is almost as problematic but is partly redeemed by its high recycling rates. Currently, virtually everything we build has an unnecessarily large carbon footprint.

The CO2 emissions do not cease once construction is complete, as buildings in the UK typically need to be heated for more than half the year and, increasingly, cooled for the rest of the year due to warmer summers. Again, this is mainly done using energy sourced from fossil fuels.  In this case, the solution is much better insulation but, even our newbuilds use far greater energy than those in comparable countries.

[Global CO2 emissions by sector – source UN Environmental Global Status Report 2017]

[Global CO2 emissions by sector – source UN Environmental Global Status Report 2017]

Is there then a material out there that we could use as a substitute for concrete, steel, brick and block? Yes: Timber! Scotland, Canada, the USA and the Nordic countries build 80 per cent of their family homes with timber frames. But England builds less than 20 per cent. Does it matter? Yes. Timber’s carbon footprint is considerably lower than most construction materials, plus it also stores carbon – a virtue that will be of increasing importance in achieving net zero.

Recent developments with a material known as engineered timber (or mass timber in North America) mean that it is now possible to build at height and at scale with timber in urban settings. Labour-led Hackney Council, has the largest concentration of engineered timber buildings in the world – including flats, offices, a cinema and a church.

[Murray Grove, Hackney, London - the world’s first modern engineered timber tower at nine storeys, built in 2009, Waugh Thistleton Architects]

[Murray Grove, Hackney, London – the world’s first modern engineered timber tower at nine storeys, built in 2009, Waugh Thistleton Architects]

Professor Michael Ramage of the University of Cambridge calculated that erecting a 300-square-metre, four-storey student residence in wood generated only 126 tonnes of CO2 emissions. If it had been made with concrete the tally would have risen to 310 tonnes. If steel had been used emissions would have topped 498 tonnes. Indeed, the building can be viewed as “carbon negative” as there is the equivalent of 540 tonnes of CO2 stored in the wood, resulting in a long-term subtraction of CO2 from the atmosphere.

A switch to building more with wood rightly raises questions around the supply of sustainable timber, forests, biodiversity, land availability, fire risk and timber builds. I have set out to answer these questions  in detail in my forthcoming book Timber! How wood can help save the world from climate breakdown. Suffice to say the construction industry can provide answers to these questions.  

Hopefully a Labour government will be up for the switch to timber for the sake of the climate. If so, what should they do to encourage a greater use of timber in construction? Six specific steps should be promoted by an incoming Labour government:

1. Implement the Environmental Audit Committee’s proposal to legislate for mandatory whole-life carbon assessment of all new buildings, including the amount of stored carbon, as part of the planning permission process.

2. Set maximum standards for the carbon footprints of new builds and their energy use, which can then be tightened over time as we aim for net zero in 2050.

3. Incentivise the use of nature-based materials such as timber in construction, including insulation, in part by recognising that the storage of carbon in buildings is a climate benefit.

4. Facilitate education about the use of nature-based materials across the whole of the construction-value chain.

5. Increase the home-grown sustainable wood supply by increasing commercial forest planting.

6. Implement the current government’s 2023 Timber in Construction Roadmap which includes working with industry and academia to identify opportunities and barriers to the use of timber in retrofit and promote best practice and innovation by 2027.

Labour is right to state that there is no magic money tree. There is, however – when it comes to tackling climate breakdown – a magic timber tree. A Labour government can deliver the homes the country desperately needs, and at the same time turn the built environment into a carbon sink rather than a carbon emitter. A win-win for Labour, the country and the climate.

[There are 1,000 tonnes of carbon safely stored in the timber used to construct the new Founder’s Building at the University of Washington. This climate benefit was recognised, monetised and sold for $150,000].

[There are 1,000 tonnes of carbon safely stored in the timber used to construct the new Founder’s Building at the University of Washington. This climate benefit was recognised, monetised and sold for $150,000].


Timber! How wood can help save the world from climate breakdown will be published in June 2024 and can be pre-ordered

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How we talk about homes matters

Knowing how to communicate effectively and having the right framing strategies at our fingertips can help us win support for new affordable and decent homes. In this article, Natalie Tate, Project Lead for Talking about Housing at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, presents the toolkit recommendations developed by FrameWorks UK with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Nationwide Foundation. Using these recommendations to help us talk about our homes will build support for solutions among the public and with stakeholder audiences, such as local branches and planning committees.

 The way campaigners and communicators talk about homes matters. We need to build support from the public for the changes that are necessary in our housing system. 

A proven framing strategy is available to anyone who wants to make the most of their voice when they’re talking to the public. It can help you tell a story that shifts thinking towards seeing homes as the foundation of a decent life. The recommendations are based on evidence – tested and verified through rigorous research and analysis by FrameWorks UK. This included interviews, survey experiments with a nationally representative sample, and peer-discourse sessions (a type of focus group). In total, over 7,000 people from across the UK were included in this research. You can learn more about the research and methods here.

People in the UK recognise the housing crisis. Even if they’re not experiencing the lack of decent affordable homes themselves, many people know someone who is negatively impacted, and it’s an issue that’s widely reported in the media.

So, what’s getting in the way of action? Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Nationwide Foundation teamed up with FrameWorks UK to understand how people in the UK think about homes – what mindsets are acting as obstacles to progress, and how we can prime more helpful ways of thinking by making choices about how we frame our communications.

We’ve been working together to reveal and share the best ways to frame our communications about homes, in ways that diminish fatalism, build understanding and activate a ‘can-do’ attitude.

How people think about homes

To persuade people that everyone can and should have a decent, affordable home, we must shift the dominant narrative away from property and wealth. Instead we need to move people to thinking immediately and primarily about homes as benefitting our mental and physical health, providing the foundation that we all need to thrive in our lives.

One of the big challenges we face as communicators is that although people see there’s unequal access to homes and that poor quality exists, they don’t know why these problems have come about and therefore they can’t picture how, or even if, they could be fixed. It’s our job is to build efficacy by explaining solutions, as well as helping people understand how we got here and who needs to take responsibility.

By using the right framing, we can help people to believe that change is possible and that it is worth calling for, moving them away from thinking that the problem is simply too big, or the system is too complicated to redesign.

Our recommendations to shift mindsets

Our top tips and examples for writing and talking about homes are:

  • Talk about homes as a source of health and wellbeing to build understanding of why access to decent and affordable homes matters.
    e.g. ‘Our homes are fundamental to our health and wellbeing. If our homes are poorly maintained, with problems like damp and mould, it’s putting our physical health at risk, as well as weighing us down with stress and worry.’
  • Describe homes as the ‘foundation’ for people’s lives, as an effective way to build understanding that decent quality homes are essential for us all.
    e.g.:New social rent homes will provide a firm foundation for families living in Swansea.’
  • Invoke people’s sense of moral responsibility to build collective concern and make the case for making decent and affordable housing available to everyone.
    e.g.:‘As a caring and responsible society, we need to do the right thing and make sure that everyone has a decent home they can afford.’

Using these evidence-led framing principles to communicate about decent and affordable homes will help us to all have more impactful, productive conversations, whether that’s when we’re talking to a public audience in our work or to our friends and family.

Find out more

The Nationwide Foundation, Joseph Rowntree Foundation and FrameWorks UK want to enable anyone with a passion for improving our housing system to play their part in changing the narrative and building deeper public support for systemic solutions. We’ve created a suite of helpful and easy to use resources that can support anyone who wants to talk about homes in a way that’s proven to work.

The Talking about Housing project is co-funded by Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Nationwide Foundation, in partnership with FrameWorks UK. Natalie Tate is the strategic project lead, supporting voices advocating for the availability of more decent and affordable homes to apply the framing recommendations in their work.

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Labour’s London Assembly achievements and what winning a majority could mean

Housing is one of the biggest challenges facing Londoners. Keeping housing affordable, especially in the face of the Government’s cost of living crisis, has been one of the biggest priorities of Labour at the London Assembly.

Red Brick readers will know better than anyone the outcomes that come from the perfect storm of low supply, high demand, few protections of renters, recent hikes in interest rates and a decade of Government policy that has been dedicated more to keeping developers and landlords happy rather than providing housing.

London Assembly Labour’s work is helping protect our city from the damage the Government has done to the rest of the country.

While the Mayor has been delivering London’s Affordable Housing Programme, along with other crucial measures like the Council Homes Acquisition Programme, funding for domestic abuse shelters and emergency homelessness support, Labour Assembly Members’ campaigns have focused on what the Government in Westminster needs to do to support Londoners.

Particularly, we’ve seen wins on our campaign to raise Local Housing Allowance (LHA). Until last year, LHA rates had been frozen since April 2020 at 2019 levels – meaning that they would cover the cheapest third of homes in a local area as it was calculated based on the 2018/19 rental market. The huge jumps in rent since then were ignored by the Government, meaning that those claiming Local Housing Allowance were sometimes priced out of up to 98% of homes in an area – or had to cross-subsidise from the other meagre benefits they were entitled to.

Along with my London Assembly Labour colleagues, I campaigned for this to be raised – seeing the rate returned to a third of the market price. By putting pressure on the Secretary of State, along with raising the profile of those with lived experience of Local Housing Allowance, we were able to make sure that the Government weren’t able to ignore the issue.

The Government didn’t build in annual revaluations of LHA, so we know that this will need re-raising in coming years, but, hopefully, for now, this change will provide some much-needed respite for some of our city’s most vulnerable.

We’re the largest party on the Assembly, supporting the Labour Mayor, Sadiq Khan, but we don’t have a majority.

On 2nd May, our hope is to win more seats on the Assembly to build support for some of the most urgent housing issues facing our city.

Firstly, we must tackle the crisis in temporary accommodation. We know that councils spend £90 million every month on temporary accommodation – a 40% increase from the year before. Although there are some good temporary accommodation providers, we know many Londoners are forced into insanitary, overcrowded, and hazardous living conditions.

We know that everyone in temporary accommodation would rather not be there. They often end up in this crisis by being asked to leave informal situations – “sofa surfing” with friends or family – where they can no longer be accommodated, or private tenancies coming to an end (increasingly through Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions). Sadly, 64% of those in temporary accommodation are families with children. For many of those, the problems with the private rented sector and an under-supply of council housing means they are in temporary accommodation for months if not years.

This is the outcome of several years of failure: council underfunding, decades of right to buy meaning that the council houses were privatised without being replaced, low overall housing stock meaning that the cost of temporary accommodation is going up, and few rights for renters meaning that those in precarious situations are much more vulnerable than they need to have been. Our capital is seeing some of the worst temporary accommodation pressures, so London Assembly Labour won’t let the Government continue to ignore this problem.

Secondly, Sadiq Khan and London’s Government are focusing on council housing and affordable rent in the next stage of the Affordable Housing Programme – with the first stage seeing more homes for purchase built. Readers may have seen his pledge to build 40,000 council homes by 2030. Seeing how urgent the situation has become, this will also be coupled with schemes like the Council Homes Acquisition Programme that will subsidise councils to buy homes in their areas for their housing stock. We’ll make sure that the Tories in City Hall don’t cause problems for this programme, which we know will change lives.

Finally, we know that as a result of the crisis in supply chains stemming from the 2022 mini budget, labour costs and materials prices have slowed down construction across the country. In London, we risk housebuilding grinding to a halt it the Government doesn’t step up the funding for the Affordable Housing Programme. They are the ones who got us into this mess – we cannot have a generation of Londoners missing out on affordable housing as a result. Labour in City Hall make sure that the Government doesn’t oversee these problems getting worse and instead properly funds housing in London.

London’s housing crisis has been decades in the making, and it will take ambition from local, regional and national governments to address it. London Assembly Labour is just one piece of this puzzle, but we’re an impactful one – and we’ll make sure that our housing crisis doesn’t get worse for the next generation of Londoners.

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From promises to delivery – making Labour’s housing goals a reality

One of Labour’s most significant pledges ahead of the next general election is a promise to build 1.5 million homes over the next parliament. Doing so would go a significant way to tackling the housing crisis, particularly if such a level of construction were maintained in the long term.

However, this will be particularly difficult to do given the spending constraints which the party is also promising to maintain. At the recent Mais lecture, Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves promised to only borrow to invest, and to maintain the Conservatives’ fiscal rule of ensuring that debt was on a track to fall after five years.

Speaking at Labour Housing Group’s 2024 Annual General Meeting, Toby Lloyd presented a roadmap for how this might be achieved. Toby is an independent housing consultant, formerly Head of Policy at Shelter, and advised the May government on housing issues, with previous experience as a policy advisor for local councils, housing associations, developers, and the Mayor of London.

Toby’s presentation covered a number of key themes on how Labour’s housing promises could be delivered while maintaining their fiscal rules:

Making the existing system work:

The 1.5 million home goal is ambitious – the last time that this was achieved in a five-year period was from 1968 – 1973. While tinkering with elements such as the planning system may be helpful, relying solely on this, or on any other tweak will get in the way of the need to deliver – a Labour Government will need to hit the ground running and work with the system as it is, at the same time as initiating more fundamental reform.

Ensuring committed money is spent:

Eye-catching sums of money committed for unlocking or building new housing have recently been returned to the Treasury. These include two thirds of the £4.2bn earmarked for the Housing Infrastructure Fund, and £255m allocated to building affordable homes.  

Part of the reason that these funds have not been spent is inflexibility on the Treasury’s part – rules set by them in how the money can be spent mean that inflation and viability changes can quickly scupper a project. Adding flexibility into how these funds are spent will not only unlock this money, but will be crucial to ensure that future pots does not face the same issues.

Encouraging diversity in housebuilding:

Part of accepting the reality of the existing situation is realising that private sector developers will continue to deliver the overwhelming majority of homes for the foreseeable future. However, with the market as weak as it currently is and land values likely to fall, there is less incentive for developers to build, rather than to withhold their land supply.

In the short run there will be opportunities to acquire stalled private schemes and convert them into affordable homes, while in the longer term decent funding social housebuilding will be a key to restoring diversity to the sector, so that councils, housing associations, small builders and community groups can all contribute. Not only will this be crucial for providing homes for those facing the most acute housing need and driving up quality, it also will help make the whole development system less vulnerable to market cycles and so raise overall housing supply.

Strategic planning:

While tinkering with the planning system will do limited good in the short term, reasserting the proactive state role in shaping the development system will be crucial to achieving the 1.5 million homes goal.

Key to this will be reinvigorating spatial planning, which the state has taken largely abandoned over the last 14 years. Implementing a national spatial plan which clearly identifies the locations for strategic growth, and delivering this in partnership with regional and local stakeholders, would give a greater degree of purpose to the planning system.

This will be particularly important for the delivery of New Towns, best devised as extensions to existing settlements such as the new Cambridge Urban Quarter. In order to deliver these, Development Corporations with Compulsory Purchase powers will be needed to ensure that land is acquired for a fair price.

Improving existing stock:

While building new homes is key, the number of existing dwellings which fail to meet quality and safety standards is a crisis in itself.

Funding is needed for a ‘Decent Homes Programme 2’, to upgrade existing stock to current energy efficiency and safety standards. This will have significant savings down the line from lower energy bills, improved health outcomes for residents, and a decrease in major safety risks.

However, the UK’s definition of fiscal debt is unusual in including the debt of public corporations, including councils borrowing to invest in housing stock. Changing the measure of public debt used for fiscal rules to exclude this ‘public corporation’ borrowing would remove incentives for the Treasury and local authorities to ignore this pressing need.


After his presentation, Toby answered several questions from Labour Housing Group members on a variety of topics including siloed thinking in government, ending homelessness, ensuring that homes with planning permission are built, and empty homes.

We are grateful to Toby for speaking at the AGM, and look forward to working with him further.

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A Tenants’ Manifesto

Our leader, Keir Starmer, has vowed to enable communities to take control. This got me thinking about how we make this a reality for social housing tenants.

The Grenfell Tower tragedy and the death of Awaab Ishak have highlighted why it is critical that tenants have an effective voice. The responsible organisations, Kensington and Chelsea ALMO[1] and Rochdale Boroughwide Housing Association had tenants’ representatives on their boards. The problem was that they could not affect the culture and practices of these organisations.

The challenge is captured in the introductory paragraph of the London Tenants Federation (LTF) 2021 Tenants’ Manifesto.

As social housing tenants, we and our homes are often written about by government ministers, journalists, think-tanks, charity policy teams, architects and academics. Some portrayals are sympathetic to us, but many are not.

The vast majority of these ‘experts’ have no experience of living in social housing. It is essential for us that a strong and articulate social housing tenants’ voice is heard in respect of the decisions made about our homes and communities.

In 2016 the Conservative Government drove the Housing and Planning Act through Parliament with next to no engagement with tenants. I cannot imagine a government passing legislation affecting the private sector without consulting with lobbying organisations. The outcome was that the Act was passed, but was not enacted, because the in-coming Prime Minister, Theresa May, realised that it would cause too much hardship.

The reason that social housing tenants are disempowered is due to class. Most social housing tenants are working class, however there is also the sadly familiar intersection with other forms of discrimination.

The starting point of tenant empowerment and even more importantly improving the living conditions and safety of tenants, must be adequate funding for social housing. Councils and housing associations have been systematically underfunded for decades. Most councils are now reporting that they do not have sufficient funding to make their ageing stock liveable and safe. Social housing tenants have experience of making ‘tough decisions’ about priorities in their personal lives and this is an expertise that they bring to decision-making. However, it is unfair to expect tenants to serve on boards and take on legal and moral responsibility for housing that is insufficiently funded to be safe.

A tenants’ voice

Tenants either know best or a very least can bring a helpful insight. They need a voice at a local, regional and national level. Active tenants make a difference. I can walk onto a housing estate and tell from the standard of cleaning and communal repairs whether it is benefitting from an active tenants’ association. I marvel at the varied mutual aid initiatives that happen on many estates.

Effective empowerment requires training and support for both the unpaid, tenants, and paid, officers. Those being paid may need training to help leave behind negative stereotypes and to support them to deliver the outcome that tenants desire. Tenants also need support to engage effectively. We need to acknowledge that open democracy can bring to the fore difficult people, whose bad behaviour, if not effectively challenged, will alienate others. Tenant engagement is risky, the biggest risk is that there is no outcome from the consultation and that those who got involved are never seen again and their experience of powerlessness is reinforced.

The 2023 Regulation of Social Housing Act gives individual tenants new rights as customers but is weak on collective rights. When the Social Housing Regulator finds its stride, it should require housing providers to demonstrate that tenant engagement has made a tangible difference to the way services are delivered. The same criteria should be applied to funding applications to build new homes. Why should we be funding organisations who are not managing their existing homes well to build more homes?

A tenants’ levy

Councils, ALMOs and housing associations fund landlord lobbying organisations, but there are no parallel, equally well-funded, bodies for tenants. Landlord organisations may encourage collaboration with tenants’ groups on issues of mutual interest, such as increasing the supply of social housing, but there is little evidence of engagement on issues where tenants may have a dissenting voice, such as the CEO’s salary. Landlords should look again at the fairness of this arrangement. Also, a tenants’ levy of say a penny on the rent each week by every housing provider could help fund independent tenant activism.

Neighbourhood management

Tenant empowerment presents the greatest challenge for the largest and most geographically dispersed housing associations. Many areas have several social housing providers operating within them. I live on the eastern side of the Old Kent Road in Bermondsey, South London. We have a concentration of ageing, under-invested in social housing. Landlords include Southwark Council, City of London Corporation, Peabody and Hexagon. Problems on one estate spill over on to others. What we desperately need is a coordinated approach to investment, management and support for our community. My proposal is that diverse social housing providers devolve responsibility and funding for housing management to a new local and democratically controlled neighbourhood management organisation, whilst retaining ownership. This would allow councils and housing associations to use their assets to build new affordable homes, whilst management would become local and better.

These neighbourhood management organisations, would have a board of elected tenants, operate in urban areas where there is a high density of social housing and cover around 2,000 homes. Funding would be provided by existing housing providers contributing what they currently spend on housing management and maintenance into the neighbourhood pot.

Tenants Empowerment Grant

Up until 2010 there was a Tenants Empowerment Grant (TEG) of around £1m per year in England. It was slashed by the Government in 2010 and then abolished in 2015.

TEG paid for the support and training that council tenants needed to exercise their Right to Manage. 140,000 council residents on 130 estates have taken on the direct management of their homes. Tenant Management Organisations (TMO) consistently achieve higher levels of tenant satisfaction than the rest of the council stock. Tenants’ groups that gain confidence managing their estates often undertake wider activities to support their community. TMOs must hold a formal continuation ballot every 5 years to test with their residents whether they are staying true to their principles and they retain tenants’ support. If a TMO fails to gain the support of its tenants the TMO folds and staff lose their jobs, this level of jeopardy has a profound and positive effect on the culture of the staff team.

Whilst the Right to Manage still exists, without funding for training few tenants’ groups have been able to exercise this right since 2010. As well as restoring the Right to Manage as a funded option for council tenants, the right should be extended to housing association tenants. As with a neighbourhood management organisation, housing associations would still retain the asset and the rental stream, minus a management and maintenance allowance, therefore their ability to build new homes will be unaffected.

TEG also paid for tenants to explore options short of full management control, For instance a group of tenants may be particularly aggrieved about estate cleaning standards and want to take it over.

National and Regional Tenants’ Lobbying Organisations

Just before the TEG was cut in 2010 moves were underway to create a body known as the National Tenant Voice to represent the interests of social housing tenants and be a sounding board for the government.

In 2022 the Government set up a rebranded Resident Opportunities and Empowerment Grant of £500,000 for partner organisations to bid to provide training, capacity building and independent advice. This is exactly one of the roles that a national, mass-membership, representative tenants-led organisation should be performing. Hopefully, when the current contract comes up for renewal there will be such an organisation in place.

The LTF argue for a tenant-led think tank to generate policy ideas, rather than just respond to the agenda of the government of the day.

With Labour committed to greater devolution to regional authorities, tenants’ representation at this level will become important. A model is provided by Sadiq Khan’s Housing Panel, in which representatives of Londoners at the sharp end of the housing crisis advise on housing policy.

Combined approach

There are different approaches that people can take to collectively improve their housing situation, tenant associations, tenants’ panels, TMOs, housing cooperatives and community land trusts. If funding exists, the funding streams are separate. There is an argument more joint working, lobbying and sharing of ideas will give tenant empowerment a higher profile.

Community Land Trusts and other community organisations are playing a vital role in encouraging support for new housing developments when local opposition may be an issue. Hopefully, the Labour Party will not lose the idea of transferring unsafe homes from the private sector into public and community ownership. During the 1970s, 80s and 90s tenant cooperatives demonstrated that they could restore rundown street properties in a cost-effective way.

Low cost-high impact

We all know that Labour will inherit the consequences of the Tories’ financial mismanagement. In the context of overall government expenditure the cost of the proposals outlined is small, however their adoption will demonstrate Labour’s commitment to empower some of the most voiceless citizens of this country.

For too long tenants’ voices have not been heard with devastating consequences, if we can win the next election, we have the chance to change this.

I want to apologise to participants in the 2019 London Tenants’ Federation and 2023 London LHG conferences, whose ideas I have stolen without crediting them. My theft would be too egregious if I do not mention Sharon Hayward, Pat Turnbull, Lee Page and Cllr. Mick O’Sullivan.

Andy Bates is a member of the LHG Executive. He has recently retired from full-time work after 40 years working in council housing. For 27 years he was manager of Leathermarket JMB, a TMO in Bermondsey, South London. He is now an associate for Community-Led Housing London and TPAS, a CIH tutor and board member of Wenlock Barn TMO.

[1] You may be more used to references to Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO). This is a name that the organisation gave itself. However it is an important principle that it is correctly referred to as an Arms-Length Management Organisation (ALMO). Kensington and Chelsea own over 9,000 council homes. Every other TMO is much smaller, managing between 50 and 1,500 properties, with more direct resident involvement and scrutiny than was the case in Kensington and Chelsea. For a fuller explanation read Pete Apps’ excellent book Show Me The Bodies: How We Let Grenfell Happen

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Student Housing & the Next Labour Government

As a recent graduate, I remember vividly the housing experiences of my time at university. Most students have horror stories about their flatmates coming home late and causing a ruckus, or messy nights out (and the following 9am lectures), but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find stories of horrendous housing conditions, absent or hostile landlords, and university housing teams that often aren’t able to provide detailed or timely advice. In fact, as is sometimes the case, these teams aren’t there to help at all, such as with one current student telling me that “(their) university provides almost no guidance on seeking accommodation beyond halls.”.

While it should be said that many universities try their best with what resources they have, the crisis is national. Even the most effective university housing departments will struggle to plug the gaps without serious governmental intervention.

The problem we face

Many students in the private rented sector suffer in sub-par housing, paying extortionate rents, with nowhere and nobody to turn to for help. Often, the only ports of call are overstretched and underfunded charities like Shelter and Citizens Advice. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that many parents of students (especially those from lower-income backgrounds) are themselves renters and, in many cases, don’t know their own rights. This means these parents are often not in a position to lend help or advice when their children face housing issues.

During university, I had a drawn-out experience with a landlord who was personally quite hostile, and importantly did not abide by the law. A few of the breaches were fairly serious, such as not having a proper HMO licence for part of our stay, and not protecting our deposit in time in line with the regulations. HMO licences were introduced by the last Labour Government in the Housing Act (2004), alongside the requirement to properly protect tenancy security deposits with government-approved schemes. The licences were intended to improve housing conditions in places where properties were ‘Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs)’, as these are often where the most vulnerable reside, and deposit protection was introduced to afford tenants an impartial adjudicator where disputes arise over damage – as they so often do.

HMOs in England and Wales generally cover households of three or more unrelated groups, with mandatory licensing at five. Their purpose was to set down strict requirements regarding things like fire safety. Local authorities can set their own ‘Additional’ or ‘Selective’ schemes, with lower barriers before licensing becomes mandatory (for example, fewer tenants needed before a licence is required).

What recourse do students have?

If students face similar situations, what recourse is available? Some, but only if they know they it’s there. For example, with HMO regulations there is legislative provision for claims in some cases, but most students wouldn’t even know that HMO licences exist, much less how to deal with a situation where a landlord doesn’t have one. Other situations, such as when a landlord doesn’t protect a deposit in line with the law, can cost in excess of £300 to bring (unless you qualify for help with fees). They also have specific and somewhat arcane procedures that must be followed, lest a student open themselves up to cost and procedural arguments by a landlord who can likely afford a solicitor.

Claims like these can require in-person court hearings, which can be intimidating for anyone, let alone someone such as a student. Many also feel it to be pointless – as another student tells me: “students will live as they are, as they’re moving out in a year anyway” – something that law-breaking landlords no doubt rely on. Local authorities do have the power to prosecute landlords who break some of the more serious rules, but it is hardly surprising that in an era of mass funding cuts, they have run out of the time and money to do so.

The regulation is not enough.

The above covers claims with legislative recourse, but many breaches do not have such clear-cut paths to remediation or, even more importantly, preventing further transgressions. For example, many private tenants are used to landlords and agents demanding access to their property, sometimes without proper notice, and sometimes for spurious reasons. Many are unaware of quiet enjoyment, which is an implied term into every Assured Shorthold Tenancy, and guarantees ‘quiet enjoyment’ of the property without undue interference from the landlord or those acting on their behalf. Of those who are aware and choose to enforce it, they tend to have very little success. Damages in such cases are minimal if existent at all. At best, they might (in more serious cases) be able to obtain an injunction. This again, though, requires the tenant to not only be aware of their rights, but also the method (and perils) of enforcing them.

Where do we go from here?

So, how is this dire situation to be rectified? We can start by building on the successes of the last Labour Government.

The introduction of penalties up to 3x the deposit for non-compliance with the regulations were very effective. Allowing Rent Repayment Orders for non-compliance with HMO licensing regulations were also a good step forward. But we must go further. If a student does find themselves in need of advice, universities should be their first port of call. As such, government should legislate to ensure university student unions have an in-house or contracted full-time worker to deal exclusively with housing cases and advice. These individuals would ideally be lawyers, or at least have some form of legal training. Universities should also be encouraged to set up support groups and networks for students to share experiences on housing and how to deal with situations.

Aside from the private rented sector, many students in university-run halls are considered in law to be excluded occupiers (they are specifically excluded from protections afforded to tenants under the 1988 Housing Act and a subsequent Statutory Instrument), and therefore do not have the same rights and recourse that Assured Shorthold Tenants do. Labour should legislate to remove this loophole, ensuring that the protections apply equally to all tenants, regardless of who owns their housing.

In addition, Labour should build on the good work of the introduction of mandatory HMO licencing schemes, by lowering the threshold for mandatory licensing to that which many local authorities have rightly chosen: 3 or more unrelated people/households living in one property. This would provide greater protection to students especially, but also some of the poorest and most vulnerable in society, who often have little choice but to share accommodation.

Section 21 (no-fault) evictions are often used as a last line of defence for landlords guilty of breaking the law and being challenged on such breaches, and so it goes without saying that these must be scrapped. This must be implemented carefully, however, as some landlords may choose to raise rents to an unaffordable degree as a no-fault eviction by proxy. Measures therefore must be put in place to avoid this.

Of course, all of the best regulation and rights are pointless if tenants don’t know they exist or how to enforce them. This is why a key priority needs to be proper funding for local authorities to enforce regulations and dissemination of materials detailing rights and remedies to tenants, particularly students. This can be done in many ways, such as via public information campaigns, reframing the ‘How to Rent’ guide as aimed at explaining rights and remedies (including, for example, methods of claim), stricter penalties for landlords not providing the guide, or by encouraging universities and local authorities to provide the information actively to students.

These policies will not singlehandedly solve the wider housing crisis we face – but they would go some way to providing a more stable and equitable housing situation for many.

Johnathan Guy is an LHG member and Labour activist, currently working as a software engineer for a startup.

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More Snakes than Ladders

Occasionally an article comes along that encapsulates what you’re thinking. In the January 11 Economist there was an article entitled ‘The Housing Ladder, 1950-2005’ ( note paywall) which came close to summing up my gloom about housing policy over recent decades. Its key theme is that ‘a redundant metaphor (the housing ladder) is blinding policymakers’.

The ‘housing ladder’ has been with us as an idea for a long time, and I remember being subject to endless images of ladders when I was on the board of a major housing association, being used to justify turning away from the production of social rent homes. It was linked closely to the other deadly notion of aspiration, which was of course defined in a way that suited the new policy. 

I used to argue a) that the first step on the real housing ladder is a decent affordable home in any tenure, noting that the ladder might only have one rung, and that b) being brought up in an aspirational working-class family meant that my parents wanted their children to stay at school and have better chances in life, their own wishes to own a home were real but secondary. I always hoped that the housing ladder as a concept would wither away and stop being so damaging to the emergence of a comprehensive cross-tenure housing policy, but it looks once again that it will be the main housing topic when the general election comes.

Of course, calling out the housing ladder as a myth is likely to get you classified as a wild-eyed loon – it is so firmly in the centre of housing’s Overton window (ie the range of acceptable opinion) and is used by media and politicians of all shades all the time – so it’s great to see a serious mag taking the idea to task.  

‘The housing ladder’ is the notion that aspiring people will naturally progress (through thrift and hard work – and by avoiding smashed avocado on toast) from buying a modest flat (or even a share of one) at a young-ish age then trading up over the years as incomes grow and housing equity increases. 

Graphic: The Economist, based on ONS data.

The problem is the facts no longer fit the fable, as the article shows. Home ownership peaked 20 years ago at 70% and has since fallen despite vast policy interventions. The ratio of house prices to earnings was around four from 1950s-1990s and is now eight. Home ownership before 30 is now around a third when it used to be more than a half and is increasingly dependent on inherited wealth or family support. Those who make it onto the ladder are much less likely to trade up. The flood of easy mortgage finance across the world following financial deregulation is now a thing of the past, after the USA mortgage market triggered the global financial collapse, and homeowners’ vulnerability to higher interest rates is now plain to see. The Tories, at huge cost, have tried to reinvigorate home ownership through demand subsidies, but the 1990s paradigm isn’t returning any time soon.

The Economist, data from the Resolution Foundation.

The article places the right to buy of council homes in this context, noting that this ‘one time trick’ transferred a tenth of the housing stock from the state to private ownership in a little over a decade, costing billions but giving a major boost to the appearance of success of home ownership. It also comments that even the successful implementation of the target to build 300,000 homes a year for a decade would only reduce the house-price to earnings ratio to 7. It argues that the ageing population means that homes recycle back onto the market much more slowly than they did.

Normally if I make this kind of argument I get challenged with the sneer: ‘I bet you are a homeowner’. Indeed, I am, and I’m a classic housing ladder person although without much trading up – starting in a council house, fortunate to buy a share of a £15,000 London house in a poor area in the 1970s because it was cheaper than private renting, just when Westminster Council allowed joint mortgages between unrelated people for the first time. All I had to do was sit and watch the value rise. But the responsibility of the lucky generation – mine – is to think about what policies are suitable for the less lucky generations that have followed.

So, as the article states, the private rented sector is no longer ‘a waiting room’ prior to home ownership. It is a destination. Social housing has been shrunk massively and deliberately and can no longer meet more than a small share of need. Those who get into home ownership are taking on mortgages well into normal retirement age. The housing costs of older people – home owners and private renters alike – are escalating rapidly, pensioner poverty will rise, and the state will catch much of the burden.

“The housing ladder may have died two decades ago but its allure as a metaphor remains. That continues to blind Britain’s politicians and voters to the reality of the property market. Rather than harking back to a bygone age, Britain’s politicians need to accept that there is more to housing than home ownership.”

The Economist.

The case I’ve always made is for a comprehensive national housing strategy that covers all tenures, building on their strengths and tackling their weaknesses. It will take a generation to turn things around and to stop housing costs crippling most of our households. In case you doubt it, I support home ownership as the preference and the best solution for many households. It will rise again in a sustainable way when peoples’ incomes rise in relation to property prices, so we should build more, subsidising supply where it is sensible but not wasting cash on demand subsidies that push prices up. We must tackle land costs and developers’ profit-first models. We must build much more social housing for those that need decent homes at lower rents, a hugely successful model that requires investment but not ongoing subsidy. And we must professionalise the private rented sector, the last great unmodernised industry, defining its role more clearly as home ownership and social rented gradually climb back, as surely they will.

See ‘The Housing Ladder, 1950-2005’, The Economist Jan 11 2024. Online (note paywall). No byline.

Steve Hilditch was a founder member of LHG when it formed 42 years ago, and edited Red Brick blog for 10 years, publishing a compendium book of 100 posts in 2020. He has worked as a housing professional and consultant, advising the last Labour Government, various Select Committees and many Labour Councils on housing matters. He recently carried out a detailed housing review for the new Labour Westminster Council.

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Poll Position

By comparison to 2022, this year has been rather steady, at least in terms of political polling. Britain Elects’ poll of polls tracker generates an average share across all published polls and recorded the Conservatives’ share as 26% on 2 January, 25% on 30 November. The equivalent figures for Labour were 47% and 44%.

Consistently strong leads in the polls and several stunning by-election results served to bolster the sense that the Labour Party is a government-in-waiting. According to Ipsos, nearly 2 in 3 Britons expect Labour to form the next government.  

Part of the reason for this is the damage wrought to the Conservative brand since 2019, particularly in terms of sound economic management. As a colleague has put it, the next election could well be a case of “better the devil you don’t know…”

Alongside this mainly repetitive pattern in headline voting intentions, there have been some important developments in public sentiment and discourse in relation to issues which look likely to feature at the next general election. 

One of these is housing – an issue which Bagehot, The Economist’s political columnist, identified as the starting point of “most problems in British politics”. He also framed the ‘Builders versus the Blockers’ conversation on housing this year, subsequently adopted by Keir Starmer and Lisa Nandy among others.

Here are ten features of public opinion in relation to housing, drawn from Ipsos polling on the topic this year.

1. Labour continues to perform well among mortgage holders, and owners.

This tenure has been the last remaining ‘bellwether’ tenure since Labour won over private renters in 2017. Across September to November, Labour’s share among mortgage holders was 47%, much improved on the estimated 33% it got in 2019. This matters because of the tenure’s voting power; mortgagors were 25% more likely than private renters to turn out to vote in 2019.

2. The public have a dim view of the Conservative’s record 

Just 18% of voters think the Conservatives are doing a good job at improving housing in Britain. Those who voted Tory in 2019 are more generous but, even among this group, just 29% were positive. Importantly, in June, three-quarters of Britons attributed rising mortgages to the government’s economic policies.

3. This translates into a strong Labour lead on the issue.

Asked which party has the best policies on housing, 40% say Labour, 14% the Conservatives (the party’s largest lead of 11 policy issues). No surprises really given this is the historical norm, but Labour had been trailing on the issue at the end of the 2000s.

4. Housing has become more salient in voters’ minds.

In 2005, on the eve of the general election, just 5% of people spontaneously mentioned housing among the most important issues facing the country. It simply wasn’t top-of-mind and its salience fell to similar levels during the pandemic having been 17% at the 2019 general election. Our last measure was 18%.

5. The housing crisis is local and global.

Ipsos found housing to be a top five issue determining the way people voted at May’s elections (ahead of immigration). While all housing is local, housing crises exist worldwide. A global study this year found new housing supply to be the top infrastructure investment priority (among 14 options) in Australia, Ireland, Canada, Chile, Germany, Netherlands, and Poland.

6. The housing crisis is an affordability crisis, especially for renters…

At the turn of the year, we found a third of private renters reported spending at least half of their personal monthly income on their rent. In May, we found half rated the availability of affordable properties to rent as a very serious problem. Social housing is also believed to be in short supply. 

7. Under-supply is seen as a political failing, but people matter too…

Overly restrictive planning features near the top among a list of reasons for the undersupply of housing but, in the public’s eyes, comes behind political disinterest and local opposition.

True to form, the same Ipsos polling found public support for new housebuilding to be very conditional on the detail and practicalities. The public are more ‘maybe’ than nimby or yimby, implying a need for astute local leadership on the issue.

8. Confidence is low…

Two-thirds lack confidence Britain will build enough homes in the future. Most people expect homelessness to get worse. Many aren’t sure that a change of government will make things better.

The public are bold on housing and supportive of action – this year we added provisions contained within the Renters Reform Bill to our list of rent caps, taxing second homes, and extending Right to Buy (yes, that) of popular policies. Above all, people want to see evidence of action because they haven’t seen much so far.

9. …but positivity is possible (and necessary).

Our research for Prince William and the Homewards initiative showed that facts, figures and case studies have the potential to shift perceptions into more positive territory. When people are shown that schemes like Housing First can make a sustainable difference to homelessness and can deliver savings and alleviate pressure on public services, they become more engaged and more encouraged that some progress is possible.

10. Don’t assume people are as interested as you!

In May, two in five Britons and a similar proportion of private renters said they had not heard of the Renters’ Reform Bill. And while private renters are widely recognized as having had the rawest deal from actions taken by the Conservative government in recent years, this group has the lowest propensity to vote.

This depends on the issue – in June, three-quarters of Britons said they were following news about rising interest rates very or fairly closely, a higher proportion than were following stories about public sector strikes and the war in Ukraine.

The next general election campaign will likely amplify, but also disrupt, what we’ve witnessed during 2023. As it is on much else, Labour may be in poll position on housing but the race isn’t won yet.

Ben Marshall

Ben is a Research Director at Ipsos UK and long-time commentator on public opinion and housing. He has managed for-policy research and evaluation projects for a range of clients including the Chartered Institute for Housing, Shelter, DWP, DLUHC, The Royal Foundation (supporting Homewards), Create Streets and The Economist.

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Forgotten Generation

“We are on our knees in terms of the housing crisis. I have worked in this sector for 35 years and this is the worst I have ever seen it”

 Fiona Fletcher-Smith, chair of the G15 group

To remedy what is already a catastrophe, we need to activate a national housebuilding programme to deliver the housing that the country needs now and into the future. It is only at this scale and by targeting the housing shortfall and needs of the country that we will stand a chance of providing the housing solutions this and future generations deserve.

Simply put, we need a lot of every type of housing, but mostly housing that is affordable, sustainable and secure. The housing we need is not being delivered due to a constrained planning environment, market conditions and funding complications. This is exacerbated by poor governmental leadership – 16 Housing Ministers in 13 years is not helpful. Institutes are unable to enact the measures needed due to being too risk averse and unable to support the affordable housing sector as they should.

Homeownership rates among 19-29 years olds fell by two-thirds over the period 1989 to 2013, from 23% to 8%. The housing shortage is also leading to an increased number of concealed households, with the number of adults living with their parents rising to 4.7 million in 2021, an increase of 700,000 compared with a decade earlier.

For younger people this is yet another setback in a long line of measures that are holding them back – lower relative incomes, rising housing costs and student loans. Not only is this having a significant impact on their short- and long-term life options, it also directly impacts on national productivity as younger people are held back in their careers due to their immobility.

In many areas of England, younger working people are often not eligible for, or are unable to secure, social rented homes. Due to a lack of affordable supply, home ownership or rental is beyond their financial reach too. 

Set against median incomes, we can see that most forms of affordable (intermediate) homes are out of reach to people under the age of 35. This pushes more and more people into living in overcrowded or inadequate homes.

Chart 1 – The chart above shows what households should be spending on housing costs (green bars) based on the latest ONS data for median incomes against what is charged (blue bars). The affordable threshold for housing cost is calculated at 40% of net income (London Plan), which is the criterion set for affordability. It is 30% of gross income (Manchester housing strategy). The housing costs above are taken from actual housing offers around London and represent typical costs. It clearly shows that for people on median or lower incomes, they must exceed allowances to afford a home.

The Government states that you can buy a home through shared ownership if both of the following are true:

  • your household income is £80,000 a year or less (£90,000 a year or less in London)
  • you cannot afford all of the deposit and mortgage payments for a home that meets your needs

Yet, there is a huge gap between incomes and housing costs. The median incomes for all people aged between 30 to 39 (2020 ONS), in England was £32,259 – dropping to £27,087 for women, who make up the nearly two thirds of people buying shared ownership homes. Even with London weighting, this is a far cry from what is needed to buy a Shared Ownership or Discounted Market home in London which require incomes above £48-63,000 as shown below. A report from UCL illustrates that over the last 7 years, the value of the staircased share has increased by 60% implying that shared ownership is becoming less affordable.

Chart 2 – Example of typical incomes required for Shared Ownership Homes in London.
Chart 3 – Example of typical incomes required for Discounted Market Sales Homes in London.

The result is that well over 50% of younger working people, regardless of their jobs, do not have access to any independent housing options – this is a terrible situation and it is only getting worse. We are not building enough homes and not the right types of homes either.

To overcome the disparity between income and cost, we need to greatly increase housebuilding. We need to look beyond housing types and focus more on whether they are actually affordable to people. Too many people are getting further into debt and spending far too much of their income on housing and energy rather than wellbeing and their prospects.

There are a number of housing models (discounted rents or fixed shared equity) that can ensure affordability, but we are not providing anywhere near enough of these homes. Affordable housing providers and Local Authorities, if given the right levels of support, funding and expertise, can make significant inroads into delivering the homes we need. All suppliers of affordable homes should be supported with access to appropriately priced land and funding.

With the right housing policies and structures in place we can deliver the homes we need that are affordable, safe and protect us from the climate. We need stability and a determination to resolve the housing crisis. We can then aim to make housing a human right and begin to address the shortcomings set in front of younger people.

Pieter Zitman is an affordable housing provider and champion. He recently founded a Bursary to support disadvantaged architecture students in South Africa.