Three ways the Housing Bill can provide secure, affordable housing for all

The Housing and Planning Bill needs to focus on delivering more new homes of all tenures, argues Brian Robson.

Since the Housing and Planning Bill was published, many have argued it needs more balance. Organisations including JRF, the Chartered Institute of Housing and real estate firm Savills have stated that the current policy focus on home ownership will leave a gap in provision for those on lower incomes.

Today’s Communities and Local Government Select Committee report on Housing Associations and the Right to Buy adds their voice to the debate. The cross-party Committee say they’re concerned that changes might have a ‘detrimental effect on the provision of accessible and affordable housing, particularly affordable rented property.’

The Government is right to help people onto the housing ladder but, on its own, this does not provide a route out of poverty. People need a variety of stable housing options, but too many are being forced into the bottom end of the private rented sector with higher rents and less security. We need a much more ambitious plan to meet the demand for genuinely affordable homes. So, how could the Housing Bill be improved to make it work for those on lower incomes?

  1. We need to make sure that ‘Starter Homes’ – homes for sale with a one-off 20% discount – add to the overall supply of housing. There’s a danger that the Bill will allow the definition of what’s ‘affordable’ to be expanded, so Starter Homes could replace genuinely affordable homes on development sites. That’s bad news because just 3% of the people currently entering low-cost rented housing could have afforded starter homes or shared ownership instead. The Committee is therefore right to call for the definition of what’s affordable to be set carefully in relation to local and individual need.
  2. We need to make Right to Buy work for those on low incomes. Home ownership isn’t a guaranteed route out of poverty – indeed, the Committee ‘noted with concern’ JRF’s evidence on the number of home-owners in poverty. But the impact isn’t just felt by those who exercise their Right to Buy – it has a knock-on effect on those who would have rented that home after them. I’ve written for the JRF blog before about the importance of like-for-like replacement and the Bill could be improved if it insisted on like-for-like replacement of housing association homes.
  3. Stop the sale of council homes to pay for Right to Buy discounts. The Committee thought JRF’s research on Right to Buy and council house sales reached ‘significant conclusions’. We found that the forced sales were likely to lead to a loss of over 61,000 low-cost lettings in just five years, increasing poverty levels and the Housing Benefit bill. The Committee calls for Right to Buy discounts to be funded by central government, and that seems a reasonable position – it would preserve affordable housing, and reflect that this is a central government priority.

Those are just three ways the Bill could be improved. There are more in JRF’s latest briefing on the Bill. Switching the way existing or planned homes go on to the market – social rent, private rent, or for sale – won’t get us out of the housing crisis. We need more homes of all tenures to do that.