THE BLOG

We've Listened to Your Ideas, Now Listen to Ours, Say Housing Associations

09/07/2015 12:25 BST | Updated 09/07/2016 10:59 BST

Housing associations share the Government's vision of homes as a foundation for getting on in life. Like this Government, we want to see more homes built, more people working and more families with a home of their own. And like this Government we want to help people off the merry-go-round of benefits, ensure that hard work pays and reduce the benefit bill.

We stand ready to work with the Government about how best to implement this. We are partners, not opponents, and constructive engagement is about making the solutions work better. By working together we can positively generate the solutions necessary to secure economic opportunity for working people and look towards building a brighter future for all.

Like the Government, we want to see a big increase in the number of new homes built. We are in the midst of a housing crisis so great we won't be able to house the next generation. Greg Clark was absolutely right to say this week that "It is a defining test of our generation of leaders that we care for and resolve the fears and foreboding of the next generation when it comes to that most basic of questions - where and what will I call home?

It is critical to our future economic and social success as a nation that we build the new homes the country desperately needs. Like the Government we believe that many of these homes need to be genuinely affordable for people who wish to buy and for those who wish to rent. And this isn't new. For decades housing associations have been building new homes for people, renting good quality homes to millions more, and helping people buy their own home through shared ownership. Over the past year housing associations built over a third of all new homes in the country.

We recognise that there are considerable challenges. We are ambitious in wanting to help people into home ownership, and have already helped over 270,000 households do so through Shared Ownership schemes. But extending Right to Buy must not undermine housing associations' ability to build more homes. They borrow private investment against the properties they own in order to build more homes and we need to ensure this isn't undermined.

The Budget's plans to reduce housing benefit will cause difficulties for some of our existing customers and will make it harder for housing associations to build the number of new homes they presently plan. That's why we want to work with the Government to solve the housing crisis. We need to focus and discuss how we can deliver our joint ambitions without undermining what housing associations already deliver. We have detailed proposals of how the sector can deliver to build more homes; help more people, including existing tenants and new buyers, buy their own home, and help thousands of others get back into work. We can do this and more if we work together to harness what housing associations can offer.

We also want to encourage people to work and many housing associations are running extensive programmes which support people into apprenticeships and new jobs. Over the past three years housing associations helped 12,000 people into work. This is the kind of extra value housing associations as well as a roof over people's heads. As well as the construction jobs we support, we help our tenants into work through training and job schemes.

There is much that needs changing. Given the changes to working age benefits, a cut in rents over the next four years will be a real help for some tenants, but massively constrain housing associations' ability to meet the shared ambition of themselves and government to drive housing growth and new jobs. At the very least 27,000 new homes will not now be built, though that figure could be much higher. The right to buy for housing association tenants further compounds this. We need to cut red tape so that housing associations have the flexibility to set rents to reflect incomes in their areas. We want to set rents that consider the impact of rent policy on other areas, so that hardworking families that we both want to see getting on in life, can afford their homes and live free from the welfare system. We know that this rebalancing of social and market rents will reduce the benefit bill and allow people to better reach their potential.

Housing associations are the most successful social enterprises in the country. Collectively, we have been by far the most effective public/private partnership in our economy. We have raised and invested £75billion of private finance to build new homes. We presently match £1 of public money with £6 of private investment. The instincts of housing associations are to collaborate and co-operate with our partners in central and local government and in the private sector. The sector is ambitious on behalf of the nation with a stated ambition to build, in due course, 120,000 new homes a year across all tenures and for people on all incomes. If, as a nation, we are to meet the aspirations of our people for affordable homes to own as well as affordable homes to rent, housing associations are key to achieving this.

Our offer is to work with government on a long term, strategic plan to deliver the homes we need over the next 25 years. We want to help to design that plan and need to be at the centre of delivering it so that our joint focus on aspiration can be extended both to our current tenants and even further beyond. We have a housing crisis. It is imperative that all the decisions we make are tested against the ambition to end that crisis - simply, will it deliver more homes?

Housing associations are ready and willing to do more. We offer a partnership to agree objectives and produce a genuinely strategic response. What the current generation, and their children's generation, need is a government and housing sector that work together to help them into the homes they need. This isn't about generating headlines, it's about building homes and meeting families' aspirations and the need to work together to achieve that.