Right to Buy, the Russians acting like an empire (again), big hair, leggings and electro music being popular amongst the ‘yoof’, a Government pushing policies that continuously undermine those further down the food chain. You’d be forgiven for thinking this is the 1980s with Thatcher in her prime. Regrettably it is 2015 and it’s an election year. Whilst Cameron and co may be stopped I can’t do a lot about the fashion choices and poor taste in music amongst the hell spawn younger than even I, sorry.
As if it needs spelling out Right to Buy is a bit like kryptonite to our beloved sector. It is the perfect political weapon to decimate social housing. In a country obsessed with home ownership and asset based capital it is a highly potent mix of aspiration and access to cold hard cash. It’s better than Help to Buy, it’s better than Shared Ownership and pretty much every other initiative designed to assist those with lower incomes acquire a property. Why? Because you can buy the property you are currently living in, in the neighbourhood where you have built up substantial local networks. More importantly you can do so for a fraction of the cost of even the best low cost home ownership products out there. Though frankly as a sector we have been bumbling through the provision of those products for years. Even better you can sell it on for large profit after a few years, especially if you are in the right part of London and the South East. It’s the postcode lottery (the good kind, not the one where your local hospital is shit).
Unsurprisingly it is bloody popular. The figures below show just how many people have bought their council/housing association property through Right to Buy (and it’s watered-down cousin Right to Acquire). So it is no surprise that the announcement last week that Right to Buy may be extended to include Housing Association properties has caused nothing short of alarm. Though nowhere near its heyday peak of the early 1980s allowing Housing Association tenants to purchase their home under Right to Buy will give the figures below a significant kick up the bottom.
On a side note for a beautifully biting critique of our reaction as a sector and attempts to nullify other policies of the Coalition I do suggest you read Rob Gershon’s piece in 24 Dash. The chap has a wonderful way with words.
Depressing Chart 2 – Right to Buy Sales – England
In addition to decimating social housing stock (see depressing graph 2 below) Right to Buy provides piss poor value for money to the tax payer. As a policy it has the dubious honour of being paid for by the taxpayer twice. The first time to build the property then, after it has been sold, we pay again as the property is rented back by the Local Authority that sold them, at higher rents. For a (slightly) oldie but goldie report on this utterly stupid situation please see Tom Copley’s report. His report, a year old today (Mazel Tov my friend) highlights the cost of Right to Buy in London, but it is a situation likely to be repeated up and down the UK. You know this, I know this but does the general public care? Probably not.
As Colin Wiles notes (I really do need to write my blogs quicker) Right to Buy is bollocks on a number of levels. It is an ideological weapon to suit the needs of those who wield it, a means by which to rid the country of a housing sector that has no real place in the vision of the UK held by those in Government. Interestingly, for me at least, Right to Buy’s second lease of life raise a number of questions in relation to the long term direction of our sector. Is this another nudge towards going it ‘alone’? How would it work if housing associations were allowed to buy their way out of historic debt/grants? Will this serve to discourage future uptake of grant (no grant, no strings, no Right to Buy)?
So what do we do? Fight the inevitable an uphill battle, because in essence we need to convince the general public that social housing is worth fighting for. But more critically that they should sacrifice the opportunity to make a quick buck in order to maintain it. Telling the Treasury to keep its dirty mitts off the Right to Buy sales receipts would also be worth doing. Cheeky sods.