Monday, 9 October 2017

Those Tory promises on housing ... some comments

In her address to the Conservative Party Conference last week, the Prime Minister has quite a lot to say about housing and, in particular, affordable housing.

Theresa May talked about the UK’s “broken housing market,” she pledged to boost investment in affordable housing by £2 billion, and spoke about “getting government back into the business of building houses … a new generation of council houses.”

This general shift in government thinking has, I think, been quite widely welcomed, though a range of housing experts have been extremely dismissive of the scale of the boost in investment.

For example, Michael Oxley, the director of the Cambridge Centre for housing and planning research described it as “chicken feed,” while Anna Minton, the author of Big Capital, called it “laughable.” She added that the number of rental homes that would be built as a consequence was “pathetic” and would make little difference to the “worst housing crisis in modern times.”

Personally, I consider the present Government and their immediate predecessors to be a key part of the problem. After all, it was the Tories who started selling off council housing in the 1980s, which was a key factor in unbalancing the housing market, and their more recent policy prescriptions have also been very damaging.

They have overseen a massive reduction in investment in affordable properties. They have re-invigorated ”right-to-buy” and stopped investing in “social rent” properties, dictated that Housing Associations must focus on the much more expensive “affordable rent” model (that sets rents at 80% of the inflated cost of private sector rents), and even came up with a nonsensical scheme for “affordable” starter homes, which would cost first-time buyers “no more than £250,000.”

It is little wonder that I remain extremely cynical about the Conservative Party’s commitment to genuine affordable housing.

But I did notice that the Prime Minister stated that the Conservatives would, once again, “allow homes to be built for social rent, well below market level.” She did, though, qualify this by specifying it would be “in those parts of the country where the need is greatest,” and I have no idea if the UK Government considers this to include Cornwall!

As a local councillor, I fully support the increased provision of “social rent” homes which often cost around £400 a month, as I have always opposed the focus on “affordable rent” properties which delivers, for example, three-bed houses with rental costs in excess of £600 a month that many low-income families struggle to pay.

At this time, we need to continue to put pressure on the UK Government to deliver genuine affordable housing and that includes converting existing “affordable rent” properties into less expensive “social rent” ones.

[This is my article in this week's Cornish Guardian].

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