Paying the (affordable) rent

The affordable v social debate took centre stage in the Commons yesterday and also emerged as an issue in the prospectus for new borrowing for council housing.

Communities and Local Government questions initially saw the usual routine in which a Labour MP asks a question about social rented housing and coalition ministers boast about the affordable homes programme.

Yesterday was different. Perhaps it was because Labour’s Heidi Alexander challenged the obfuscation directly:

‘I asked the Minister about social rented housing, not just affordable housing. The truth is that this Government do not want to build social housing; they want to decimate it. Will he tell me why the number of social rented homes being built in London last year was roughly one tenth of the number being built in the capital in 2009?’

And perhaps it was because the minister answering the question was not the housing minister Kris Hopkins but his fellow junior communities minister Stephen Williams. Hopkins seemed to be confined to questions about private renting and self build and, disappointingly, was not asked about his contention on Newsnight that rising house prices are ‘a good thing’.

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


Does the welfare cap fit?

The debate about the welfare cap seems to be all about the politics. It should be about the contradictions at the heart of the policy too.

The coalition parties and the opposition are all supporting the measure that will place a legal restriction on most welfare spending from 2015/16 so, despite an expected Labour rebellion, it seems more or less certain to go through.

The cap started off as a political trap set by the Conservatives and Labour support reflects a determination not to fall into it.

Judging from his appearance on the Today programme this morning, Iain Duncan Smith seems determined to act as though Labour doesn’t really mean its support. But the example he chose says much about his priorities and the way the cap will operate.

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


Rights row: the UN and housing

Seeing ourselves as others see us can be an uncomfortable experience and so it is proving for ministers responding to United Nations special rapporteur Raquel Rolnik.

Her preliminary report in September called for the abolition of the bedroom tax and prompted a furious row with Conservative party chairman and former housing minister Grant Shapps. Now his ‘woman from Brazil’ is back with a final report that uses the approved Conservative term ‘removal of the spare room subsidy’ but still recommends that it ‘should be suspended immediately and be fully re-evaluated in light of the evidence of its negative impacts on the right to adequate housing and general well-being of many vulnerable individuals and households’. You can read the full report here [downloads Word doc].

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


More is less

There are at least three contrasting and sometimes conflicting imperatives at the heart of the prospectus for the Affordable Homes Programme published this week.

The first (let’s call it the HCA one) is a pragmatic desire to do more with less in difficult circumstances. The second (the political one) is the imperative of big numbers to be able to quote in press releases and in parliament. The third (the ideological one) is a determination to exploit these circumstances to accelerate the slow death of social housing. Amid the tensions between these three aims several vital issues are barely addressed or else ducked completely.

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


Taking the pledge

The weekend’s big speech by Ed Balls looks like significant news for housing under a future Labour government – and not just for the obvious reasons.

The national headlines from the shadow chancellor’s speech to the Fabian conference were taken by his pledge to restore the 50p rate of tax and subsequent accusations that Labour is therefore anti-business. The undoubtedly good news for housing was that it will be ‘a central priority’ if Labour wins power in 2015.

But it was Balls’s message about ‘fiscal discipline’ that was more interesting to me:

‘We won’t be able to reverse all the spending cuts and tax rises that the Tories have pushed through. We will have to govern with less money, which means the next Labour government will have to make cuts too. No responsible Opposition can make detailed commitments and difficult judgments about what will happen in two or three years time without knowing the state of the economy and public finances that we will inherit.

‘But we know we will face difficult choices. The government’s day-to-day spending totals for 2015/16 will be our starting point. There will be no more borrowing for day-to-day spending. Any changes to the current spending plans for that year will be fully-funded and set out in advance in our manifesto.’

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

While you were away

Not everything stops for Christmas and New Year. I’ve just written a post for Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing, on what’s happened in housing over the break.

The post features government guidance on housing allocations for local people, a House of Commons Library note on housing supply, an FT report on David Cameron’s fading interest in garden cities, a 5 Live programme on the housing market in 2014, James Meek’s London Review of Books essay on housing plus the latest on the bedroom tax.

Read more here.


City limits

Today’s Draft London Housing Strategy is the boldest attempt yet seen from a Conservative administration to get to grips with the housing crisis. It still does not go remotely far enough.

In his foreword, mayor Boris Johnson says London is facing an ‘epic challenge’ of building more than 42,000 new homes a year, every year, for 25 years. Of these, 15,000 would be affordable and 5,000 for market rent.

That is no exaggeration. As he goes on to say, that is ‘a level of housebuilding unseen in our great city since the 1930s’. To put it in perspective, the average over the last 20 years, at a time when the population was growing rapidly, was 18,000 per year. London has not come close to 42,000 completions a year since the war, even at the peak of the council housing boom in the late 1960s.

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


David Cameron and the £720,000 ‘affordable’ home

A comment on my blog a couple of weeks ago alerted me to a contradiction in terms: a £720,000 ‘affordable’ home.

The two-bedroom flat in Pear Tree Street, Islington appears on the Share to Buy website, the official home of the Mayor of London’s FirstSteps scheme that comes complete with the strapline ‘making housing affordable’. It’s available under a shared ownership, part-rent, part-buy scheme. As Tracy Dover commented: ‘I’d love to know who is eligible for shared ownership and can afford this!’

It can be yours for a £9,000 deposit plus monthly payments of £2,444 for rent, service charge and mortgage. By my calculations that represents around half the take-home pay of a household with the maximum eligible income of £80,000.

720

Read the rest of this entry »


Drawing the line

Where does sensible asset management stop and social cleansing begin?

That’s the issue highlighted for me by the sale of ‘Britain’s most expensive council house’ and the protest that followed.

I put that in inverted commas because I’m not sure the building near Borough Market in Southwark was actually being used as a house but what is clear that it was sold at auction for £2.96 million, 30 per cent more than was expected last week.

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


Export market

What price homes for Londoners when new developments are marketed first to overseas investors with a promise that there will be ‘no social housing’?

As The Standard reported yesterday, the ‘fully private’ flats at Capital Towers near the Olympic Park go on sale in Malaysia this weekend in what it dubs a ‘no riff raff row’.

That example comes from a report out today by Darren Johnson, a Green Party London Assembly member, who claims that a third of all buyers of new homes are from overseas and that two-thirds go to investors rather than occupiers.

He accuses mayor Boris Johnson of actively encouraging a process that leads to increasing concentration of housing wealth, a severe social housing shortage and the unnecessary demolition of existing stock and a lifetime of insecure renting for most Londoners.

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


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