Affordable housing: why current plans to invest don't go far enough

Building more low-cost rented homes that people can afford will loosen the grip of poverty.

As a society, we believe in justice and compassion - but right now, hundreds of thousands of families in England are living in poverty in expensive, poor quality housing. We share a moral responsibility to make sure that everyone in our country has a decent, affordable home.

That’s why we need to build far more low-cost rented homes that people can afford – by doing so, we’ll loosen the grip of poverty.

So, how is England doing at building these homes?

JRF’s recent briefing on the social housing green paper shows that in England, we’re currently providing 30,000 fewer affordable homes than we need each year:

Affordable housing delivery England 2011/17

Source: JRF Analysis Unit analysis of DCLG Affordable Housing Supply data and Holmans (2013) projections

That’s 30,000 additional families locked out of a decent, affordable home each year.

The Government is taking some welcome steps to address this, but these steps don’t go far enough. Here’s why - back in September Theresa May announced an additional £2bn for affordable housing. That’s really welcome, and it was especially significant that she said this investment could fund social rented homes – homes with the lowest rents that we know can make a real difference to families struggling to make ends meet. BUT, that £2bn is to be spent over 5 years. It’ll pay for around 25,000 homes in total, or 5,000 per year. So that’s just one in six of the additional homes we need in England:

Source: Using the Social Housing Green Paper to boost the supply of low-cost rented homes, JRF.

More recently, at his Autumn Budget, Philip Hammond announced that he’d let councils borrow a further £1bn to build new council houses. Again, that’s welcome, but it’s spread over three years from 2019/20 and detail has yet to emerge on which councils will be eligible, let alone how many homes it will build. Ahead of the Autumn Budget, councils estimated that they have the capacity to build 15,000 homes in England, but that was with a very different settlement to the one the Chancellor offered. Either way, councils can make a valued contribution to supply of low-cost rented homes, but can’t bridge the 30,000 home per year shortfall on their own.

The Government makes repeated reference to the £9bn in total they’re investing in new affordable homes. This includes the £2bn mentioned above. But it’s important to remember two things: firstly, that this money is spread over five years, secondly that many of these new homes aren’t the low-cost rented homes we need. In fact, in 2016/17 just one in eight of the additional affordable homes delivered were at the lowest ‘social rents’.

We need a much more ambitious plan from Government, so everyone in our country has a decent, affordable home. Otherwise more people will find themselves locked in the same position as John:

… we just couldn’t afford anywhere when we were at her mum’s. That’s why we’d save up. It’s all the fees and deposits and everything else you’ve got to put down on houses. It’s these private landlords. I’d love to move into a council house but the list system is ridiculous at the moment … When we were at her mum’s we bid every week for, I think it was a year and we got nowhere.
John, single parent, participant in JRF/University of York Housing and Life Experiences Study

The housing market that John is trying to navigate was designed – it is the result of a set of decisions that were made about our society’s priorities and resources. Just as it was designed, we can redesign it so that it works for John, and thousands of families like his.

That’s why JRF is calling on the Government to use the forthcoming Social Housing Green Paper to set out a plan to close the supply gap, and build the decent, low-cost rented homes we need. It’s time to get behind the changes that can solve poverty.