Tuesday, 14 February 2017

The Housing White Paper: Not impressed!

My column in this week’s Cornish Guardian looks at the latest policy statement on housing from the UK Government. It will be as follows:

Progressive politicians, housing charities and people living in low income households have known it for years. But now it is official: central government has admitted that the UK housing market is broken. It has even named its new White Paper: “Fixing our broken housing market.”

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid has claimed that the document represents a new “bold, radical vision” and is about ensuring that the “housing market works for everyone, including people on lower incomes, renters, disabled and older people.”

But the proposals in the document do not live up to the spin. The White Paper has been widely criticised, with even a former Conservative housing minister Grant Shapps – who one magazine cheekily pointed out “used to get booed at housing conferences” – stating that the White Paper would not “make that much difference.”

The document does mention the mismatch between wages and house prices, and the need for affordable housing, but the lack of any meaningful changes in policy show that it is platitude-heavy.

What we must not forget is that this present Government and its immediate predecessor have made some pretty fundamental and regressive shifts in terms of affordable housing, which are re-affirmed in the new White Paper.

The White Paper promises no new money and there are numerous areas which I feel need to be criticised, but I will focus on only two.

The Government has stopped investing in “social rent” properties, and has dictated that Housing Associations must focus on their new “affordable rent” model that sets rents at 80% of the inflated cost of private sector rents.

This may sound a technical matter, but the costly reality of these changes can be seen, week after week, on the Homechoice Cornwall website, which advertises properties for rent.

Last week, alongside two-bed social rent properties costing around £400 a month and three-bed social rent homes with monthly rents of £362-£365, there were also some affordable rent units. These included a three-bed property with a monthly rent of £617 and a two-bed bungalow at £575.

Such hikes are counter-productive, and lead to the ridiculous situation where some low-income families are struggling to pay these so-called affordable rents.

What is more, the Government is continuing to push on with its plans for starter homes. These allegedly “affordable” homes are defined as new properties for first-time buyers which cost no more than £250,000, with the scheme designed for households with an annual income of up to £80,000. It is frankly nonsensical.

Until central government comes up with alternatives for its affordable rent properties and starter homes, and increases investment in local-needs housing, it will be failing communities across the whole of the United Kingdom.

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