At a time of huge and immediate need, why has the government made a u-turn on social housing funding models?
On 5 August 1864 the Union Rear admiral Farragut led an attack on the last remaining confederate stronghold in the gulf of Mexico. The bay was heavily defended by mines; known as torpedoes in those days. When one of his vessels hit a mine and the rest of the fleet began to withdraw, he issued the now famous order: "Damn the torpedoes full speed ahead!" The victory that followed remains one of the most celebrated in US history.
In economic terms we are currently navigating similarly dangerous waters. There has been and continues to be a need for urgent and drastic action but we remain hampered by an economic mine field.
When it comes to social housing, the need for action is extraordinarily compelling. Our research has highlighted a massive undersupply of housing and a severe lack of funding for new projects.
As an entrepreneur my approach is to identify a need and immediately begin to conjure up a way to meet it. In pursuit of this I have recruited SAF co-director, Juliette Tarrant with whom I have designed a real estate investment trust (REIT) that will enable us, and the government, to meet this need. In fact the government seemed to be both enthusiastic and supportive - not least illustrated when the Rt Hon Grant Shapps, MP and Minister for Housing and Local Government announced in his housing statement that the REIT was the governments preferred method of providing social housing. He promised support to establish and facilitate such entities.
We have met with treasury officials in the hope that they might be able and willing to give the banks a nudge so that they would assist our scheme. Unfortunately there was no such support to be found and so we began our own fundraising exercise under the watchful eye of corporate finance experts at Mazars.
Despite a lack of support we were keen to keep the government informed of our endeavours, and so we did. We shared information, data and research. So all is well, right?
On Wednesday evening I was shocked, to put it mildly, when I read about a proposal to enter into consultation about the role of REITs. What happened to the before mentioned fulsome support of the housing minister for REITS as the preferred method of providing social housing?
I was frustrated and disappointed on so many levels it beggars belief. The massive and to date unmet need from people desperate for accommodation remains the same. Further delay will come at a human cost.
Our REIT is due to launch in full this summer: driven by open market investment. But we are having to battle with mixed signals from the government and this latest proposition will do little to encourage local authorities that our plans are viable. We continue to push ahead and with pleasure share our progress with the government in the hope that it will consider SAF a helpful and risk-free pilot.
This is the time for decisive and sustained action. Not only is the most appropriate order in the circumstances to "damn the torpedoes" but it should be quickly followed by a plea to the government to stop firing.
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