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A Mixed Bag of Challenges and Opportunities Lie Ahead for Britain's Housing - And I Am Optimistic

12/08/2015 18:16 BST | Updated 12/08/2016 10:59 BST

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To mark 100 days of the first Conservative government in nearly 20 years, HuffPost UK is running 100 Days of Dave, a special series of blog posts from grassroots campaigners to government ministers, single parents to first-year students, reflecting on what's worked and what hasn't, whilst looking for solutions to the problems we still face.

Like most of the housing sector and much of the country at large I was glued to the TV on election night. Greater political minds than mine will be assessing those remarkable results, but coming off the back of our massively successful Homes for Britain campaign I was confident that we had engaged with all parties ahead of the vote and put Britain's need for housing at front and centre of an electoral campaign for the first time in history.

And the prime minister certainly didn't disappoint. Giving his first speech outside Downing Street on the morning of 8 May, Mr Cameron named housing as one of the fundamental priorities for his new government, saying that 'building homes that people are able to buy and own' was a key section of implementing their vision for a 'one nation' society.

Since then it would be an understatement to say that a lot has happened in the world of housing. There are many ways to assess the success or failure of each of these policies so for ease I will stick with the simplest - how each of the major housing initiatives that this government has announced either helps or hinders the potential of the nation to build the 245,000 homes it needs each year.

Firstly - the extension of Right to Buy to housing association tenants. As we said before the election, housing associations want to help people meet their housing aspirations - whether that is through shared ownership, rented homes or homes for sale on the open market. At its best, the policy has the potential to spread home ownership whilst maintaining the stock of social housing and adding to overall housing supply. However we have serious concerns that, if we don't get the balance right, this policy may result in even fewer homes being built and a subsequent increase in rents in the private sector. By way of a comparison, Right to Buy for council homes has since its introduction in 1980 led to almost two million homes have been sold - with less than 350,000 replacement homes built. Right to Buy can certainly support some tenants realise their goal of homeownership.

Nevertheless, great care must be taken to ensure that housing associations are fully compensated by government for discounts of up to £102,000 in any scenario which involves them selling a property so they can build another home to replace it. Housing associations - with their local expertise and ability to generate massive private investment - are well placed to positively influence the application of this policy and we hope to continue to engage with government here.

Secondly - the land and planning reforms announced by the chancellor on 10 July, which promised to simplify planning rules and use public land to build 150,000 homes by 2020. This we wholeheartedly welcome. We are pleased that government has recognised that one way to boost the supply of new homes is release public land and simplify planning to help speed up new housing developments. It also has the added benefit of giving certainty to developers through increasing the amount of land available for new homes. It is crucial however that every new development includes affordable homes and essential infrastructure such as schools and roads so people can live near to where they work.

We are also excited about the new possibilities devolved powers will bring in Greater Manchester and other areas across the UK so that decisions about land and housebuilding will be made at a local level to truly meet the needs of local communities. Housing associations are perfect partners to assist in this process, using their local knowledge and business expertise to help provide bespoke local solutions to housing and growth, ensuring greater devolution and greater prosperity go hand-in-hand.

A third major policy area affecting the social housing sector was the announcement in the Budget of a 1% annual cut in rents each year until 2020. This is an area we cannot support. The housing association sector will be faced with a £3.9billion hit as a result of this announcement, which I can't help but feel has the potential for major negative repercussions in future. Housing associations are the most successful public-private partnerships in history and have created their business plans based on the current rental formula - a ten-year agreement for which was agreed just over one year ago. A reduction in their rental income will damage their ability to keep building, meaning at least 27,000 fewer desperately needed homes (and this could be much higher). Housing associations want to work with the Government to meet its housing ambitions, but this policy will make it much harder for them to do so.

So - a mixed bag of challenges and opportunities lie ahead for housing in the UK. At the National Housing Federation we take pride in the housing associations we represent and the potential they have to secure a sustainable future for the housing market. And I am optimistic. In the new secretary of state for the Department for Communities and Local Government Greg Clark MP we have a politician committed to ending the housing crisis, describing it recently as the "defining test of our generation of leaders".

And we have an eye on the future. Launching our Plan for Homes in July, we set out how housing associations can build 120,000 homes for rent and sale, create over 170,000 jobs and inject £8.1billion into the economy. In addition to their social mission housing associations have huge economic potential to drive our economy forward and spread opportunity to the most disadvantaged. By providing secure homes for all we build a foundation on which anyone and everyone can build a better life for themselves. To hark back to Mr Cameron's comments that I referenced at the start, I can think of no better 'one nation' goal than that.

David Orr is Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation

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