PM promises £2bn to housing associations – but more is needed

September 19, 2018 / Isla MacFarlane
PM promises £2bn to housing associations – but more is needed

As has been widely reported, Theresa May plans to hand housing associations billions of pounds over the next ten years. However, experts are dubious that public attitudes towards social housing can be so easily bought.

Theresa May is throwing £2bn at social housing to get more affordable homes built and ease the stigma of living in a council house.

In a speech at the conference of the National Housing Federation, Theresa May will tell housing associations they can apply for the money over the next 10 years to give them financial security.

Naturally, the funding has been taken as good news, especially the part about being able to bid for government money until 2029. “The really big news here is the Prime Minister’s long-term commitment to funding new affordable homes,” David Orr, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation, said. “This represents a total step change.

“For years, the way that money was allocated meant housing associations couldn’t be sure of long-term funding to build much-needed affordable housing. Now, by changing the way in which they allocate funding, ministers have given long-term confidence.

“Ultimately, this will have a huge impact on building the affordable homes that thousands of people across the country desperately need.”

However, Theresa May’s attempt to reverse Margaret Thatcher’s legacy will prove more difficult. A poll commissioned for Scottish Housing Day shows that social housing is perceived as lower quality than other tenures. The poll showed that only 13% of Scots think that social housing provides the best choice for a high-quality home.

Félicie Krikler, director of Assael Architecture, said, “Instilling ‘pride’ in living in social housing and challenging the existing stigma, as May puts it, means rethinking how to design and crucially manage social housing. Pride in one’s home is made possible through quality and contextual placemaking, where community-bonds are encouraged among residents and with the wider community. But past failings show that no matter how good design is, it falls by the wayside when managed poorly.

“The additional funding must be used to pioneer good, long-lasting and inclusive design, as well as allocating a significant chunk of funds to ensure that the management of social housing serves the general public. If not, we are destined to let history repeat itself.”

There are also doubts that the money will stretch far enough. The numbers of people in desperate need of social housing is sky rocketing – 90,000 new homes for social rent a year are needed to meet demand.

“Whilst good news, there is still more work to be done,” Ben Denton, Managing Director of Legal & General Affordable Homes said. “Over the past decade, only 3,000 affordable homes have been delivered each year, highlighting the need to smooth the way for more institutional money to enter the sector.”

The Labour Party has said that the promises fall short and that, if the Conservatives are serious about fixing the housing crisis, they should back Labour plans to build a million genuinely affordable homes.

The National Federation of Builders (NFB) welcomes the extra funding, but thinks that the country cannot afford to wait until 2022. In addition, the NFB is sceptical that the language used focuses on major developments but not the broken planning process.

Housing associations play a key role in diversifying the housing market, as well as delivering a wide range of sites. However, typically partnering with small and medium sized builders (SMEs), they experience many of the same barriers to building that the non-volume sector faces.

It is therefore frustrating to notice the lack of reference to the inefficient planning and plan-making process, affecting the major developments that the prime minister would like registered providers to deliver.

Richard Beresford, chief executive of the NFB, said, “NHBC Foundation research identified that 40% of small builders build for housing associations because the supply barriers SMEs face are also encountered by registered social landlords. We are disappointed to see that both the Government and the opposition avoid discussing the elephant in the room: the broken planning process. Extra funding for £2 billion is extremely welcome, but it will not be accessible until 2022, it will not fix the inefficient planning process and does little to dispel the negative myths around social housing.”

Local councils agree that 2022 is too late. “Homes for affordable and social rent are desperately needed across the country now, not in 2022, and the measures announced today fail to provide the funding certainty councils also need to play a leading role in solving our housing crisis,” said Lord Porter, Chairman of the Local Government Association. “Our national housing shortage is one of the most pressing issues we face.

“Any new access to funding for housing associations to employ more brickies and less bureaucrats and build more affordable homes is positive but does not go far enough. The Prime Minister is wrong to suggest that councils are not capable of building the new homes at scale without recognising they are being hamstrung by Treasury restrictions which prevent them from borrowing against their existing housing stock.”

It seems that £2bn over 10 years may be nothing more than a good start.

PICTURE CREDIT: Raul Mee

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