It has undeniably been a challenging and eventful year, and the political world and our society have seen quite a few upheavals. None of this is truer than when it comes to housing, and social housing in particular.
Our broken housing market is still very much a reality. We see scores of people sleeping on the streets, thousands of children living in temporary accommodation, and those wondering how they will pay next month’s rent remind us of this every day. The tragic fire at Grenfell Tower asked us some compelling questions about the quality of our nation’s housing.
Housing associations have been hard at work, starting 48,000 desperately needed homes for rent and for sale – an increase of 13% on 2015/16. But we share the concerns of Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, who admitted last week that while progress has been made, the journey has only begun. And it comes as no surprise that the Chancellor is facing unprecedented pressure to make this budget the “Housing Budget”.
As the many people who have been, and still are, left behind by the housing crisis will tell you, a lot more needs to be done. And to truly complete the picture, we must address one of the biggest missing pieces of the affordability jigsaw - the cost of land.
It seems obvious to say that public land should benefit the wider society. But as a nation, we are still selling it to the highest bidder, hoping that affordable housing will follow. This is wishful thinking and hard-working people are losing out.
Instead of lining pockets, the price of land should reflect local need and circumstance, and allow for the right mix of homes to be built quickly. This is why Government should review its guidance on how the cost of land is set, so that publicly owned land can deliver 50% of affordable housing. That really would be value for money.
If the Government can commit to that, then we truly would have made great strides.
And we would be able to build on the positive announcements of the last 12 months. While some of these might not all have been headline-grabbing, the difference they will make to the lives of many cannot, and should not, be understated.
The £2bn announced for social housing, for example, was scorned by some as too small a commitment for the gigantic task of building the desperately needed affordable homes for those on the lowest incomes.
But this missed the point. Because what it did was show the huge shift in the Government’s attitude towards the sector. After admitting that, as a nation, we simply hadn’t given enough attention to social housing, the Prime Minister needed to act. And not only did she do that, she also directly reversed George Osbourne’s decision to cut all funding for social rent in his 2010 budget. The £2bn is a down payment on fixing our broken housing market.
To complete the picture, the sector secured a long-term rent deal and the guarantee that the LHA cap will not apply to social housing. These may seem like rather dull and technical matters but for housing associations it is a step change – it showed Government listened to our concerns and gave us the certainty we needed. One housing association, Home Group, announced straight after that it would invest £50million into new supported housing as a result.
Combined with last year’s Autumn Statement, which increased the size and flexibility of the pot for affordable housing, the Housing White Paper and the reclassification of housing associations as private bodies, we are finally seeing changes that will have a real positive impact. This is going to help our sector reach its ambition to build 120,000 homes a year by 2033 across a mix of tenures and create great places to live.
But much more needs to be done to improve access to high quality, affordable housing and the Budget must address the cost of land. We know that the overwhelming majority in England back building new homes in their local area. Let’s heed their calls and work in partnership to deliver genuinely affordable homes for people from all walks of life.