Easing does it?

There’s been a real change in the way the government is talking about housing investment over the last week. Is it just talk or more than that?

Several days out of news and twitter contact have left me catching up with what seems a noticeable change in tone from the Lib Dem side of the government.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Dodgy maths, lazy assertions

One of the more obvious hostages in fortune in the coalition agreement was always going to be the pledge to stick to the commitment to end child poverty by 2020.

Abandoning the legally-binding targets set by the Labour government would have sent out all the wrong signals (especially for the Lib Dems) from the outset of the coalition. Yet even as the pledge was being made it was obvious that the government’s austerity measures were going to make child poverty worse rather than better.

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Hidden reality

If you missed Britain’s Hidden Homeless last night it’s well worth making time to catch on iPlayer.

The BBC documentary was presented by Speech Debelle, the Mercury-prize winning rapper with personal experience of what she was talking about. She spent three years sofa surfing and in hostels after falling out with her mum at 19 and wrote the opening song of what went on to be her prize-winning first album while in a hostel.

So this was far more than the standard celeb-fronted BBC3 documentary. You believed her when she said that hidden homelessness is three times bigger than the official figures suggest and that things are worse now than they were for her ten years ago.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing.


Fair rent

The proposed reduction of the ‘pay to stay’ cap to £60,000 raises introduces yet more contradictions into a policy that was already riddled with them.

Reports on Saturday (most comprehensively by Patrick Wintour in The Guardian) said a consultation paper will be published next month on the idea of charging social housing tenants a market rent once their income rises above a certain level. When the policy was first floated last year, the proposed household income was £100,000 but now Grant Shapps, with the backing of David Cameron, is apparently suggesting £60,000.

Read the rest of this post on my blog for Inside Housing.


Starter’s orders

Grant Shapps has predictably had a go but it’s hard to see the housebuilding figures out today as anything other than awful.

The housing minister tweeted that housing starts in 2011 were up 29 per cent on 2009. Curiously, though, he did not mention the figures that had just been published for the first quarter of 2012.

Read the rest of this post on my blog for Inside Housing.


Welfare reform Mark 2

With (depending on your point of view) neat or cruel irony the number of part-time employees hit a record high within hours of them being identified as a major target for a second round of welfare reform.

Official figures published on Wednesday morning confirmed that unemployment fell by 45,000 to 2.63 million people and the number of people in work rose by 105,000. However, within that total the number of people working part-time because they cannot find full-time work rose to a record high of 1.4 million. There are now eight million part-time employees and 4.2 million self-employed people – both the highest numbers since records began in 1992.

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Going Dutch

Here’s hoping that Grant Shapps found a bit more to do in the Netherlands on Monday than enthuse about self-build and get Kevin McCloud’s autograph.

The housing minister and the Grand Designs presenter were part of a UK housing delegation visiting Europe’s largest self-build project at Almere. There was also an event at the British Embassy aimed at boosting trade and business links.

They were clearly impressed by what’s happening and with good reason. There are more than 800 homes at Almere that people have built for around €50,000 less than the same property would cost in the commercial sector. Imagine something similar in Britain backed with planning reforms and help with finance and what Shapps is saying about the sector doubling in size starts to make sense (even if I wish he wouldn’t keep repeating the same announcements). If, as the minister told us two weeks ago, the future’s bright, it seems the future is orange too.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing.


Return of the undead

Another quarter, another big milestone for buy to let. The latest figures from the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) reveal some startling facts about the growth of loans to landlords.

The boom in buy to let is usually associated with the mid-2000s: the number of BTL mortgages rose from 120,000 in 2000 to more than a million in 2007. Then lending slumped after the credit crunch and the collapse of Lehman Brothers. By 2010 Fergus and Judith Wilson, the ex-teachers who went on to buy 700 homes, were pronouncing that the sector was ‘absolutely dead and will never return’.

Two years on and the corpse is back to life with a vengeance. BTL lending for house purchase is running 30 per cent ahead of levels seen a year ago (although down 9 per cent on the fourth quarter). As the CML points out, new lending to landlords is still around a third of 2007 levels, but that disguises the underlying trend.

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Silent speech

It’s hard to know whether it’s good news or bad news that there is so little legislation affecting housing in the new parliamentary session.

The Care and Support Bill will have implications for the sector but it’s effectively another delay to the government’s response to the Dilnot Commission’s funding proposals because it’s only a draft bill. See this from Rachael Byrne of Home Group and this from Simon Parker of the New Local Government Network for a flavour of the reaction to that.

Apart from that the Queen’s Speech had nothing on housing. The only piece of legislation from the Communities and Local Government (CLG) department is another draft Bill dealing with the consequences of abolishing the Audit Commission while the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will have its hands full with pensions.

Read the rest of this post at Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing.


Beyond our Ken

In the wake of the local election results it would be easy to conclude that housing does not count as a political issue. Easy but wrong.

Londoners elected the one candidate for mayor (Boris Johnson) who was promising to do least with new powers on housing (though he did at least pledge to create Homes for London). Voters in cities other than Bristol rejected the chance to have an elected mayor who could be in a position to demand the same and to take a strategic view of housing in their area.

And one of the gurus of opinion polling, Ben Page of Ipsos Mori, had this to say in a blog for Shelter last week:

‘Sadly this is one of those issues where there does not appear to be any happy ending anytime soon – and certainly not due to any election outcome in the UK. For organisations like Shelter, the challenge is to re-frame and re-articulate housing as the kind of mass issue that gets high profile coverage in an election campaign. And that is no mean feat.’

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