Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start

I’m not one for New Year resolutions, they’re not worth the booze stained paper they’re written on. Whilst an arbitrary date might help some on the path to negating an annoying habit/chronic cake addiction, the reality is that most of us will fail to keep to those good intentions. Governments are not excluded from such foibles, especially when it comes to housing policy. Unfortunately, unlike the Konami games of old, you can’t just use a cheat code to solve a nation’s housing market problems. A pity really, given the way housing policy is currently heading we probably need all the ‘help’ we can get.

OK Time for Plan B

For all the positive vibes coming from the Barwell/Javid axis little has materially changed so far in May’s tenure as Prime Minister. The switch in rhetoric has been welcome, and you do genuinely get the feeling that Sajid Javid is sincere in his desire to improve the housing situation facing many in the UK. However rhetoric and reality have not quite met. At least not consistently. Indeed it seems at times that Mrs May is willing to do pretty much anything to help the housing crisis, apart from actually do things that will help on a practical level. Promises of a Britain that works for the many have so far fallen flat. That needs to change, sharpish.

Right to Buy, or at least its extension to Housing Associations, is seemingly getting kicked into the long grass (FYI check out Nick Atkin’s piece on why RTB has had its day here). Positive news over better regulation for parts of the PRS and the scrapping of lettings fees should help those renting. But policy and capital funding wise the Autumn Statement proved to largely be a bust. The vast majority of the £44bn earmarked for housing initiatives has been kept for demand side interventions. And of that all bar £15.3bn had already been announced.

A give away on Stamp Duty and a continuation of policies such as Help to Buy are not really what the doctor ordered. With Help to Buy being described by the Adam Smith Institute as being like throwing petrol onto a bonfire. Whilst the Stamp Duty cut is a great example of a policy that on the surface is great for individual households but is actually bollocks at the macro-economic level – a typical state of play for housing policy in the last 2 decades.

Elsewhere, although several million has been set aside to help with homelessness initiatives. Even here Theresa May has managed to piss me off. Her response at the last PMQs before Christmas showed just how little she understands the subject. She also showed that you can be right on a technicality, but utterly wrong on the bigger picture. Being homeless doesn’t necessarily mean you’re sleeping rough. But regardless, the lack of a safe, secure and affordable home has serious detrimental effects. Still, shout out to Theresa May’s researchers for finding the one technical point where the homelessness situation wasn’t total crap. But make no mistake, as a country we’ve been regressing alarmingly on this issue since 2010.

Here Comes the New Sound, Just Like the Old Sound

Since the clusterfuck that was the Brexit vote and subsequent change of personnel in Government I’ve been hoping for a significant departure, in practical terms, from the clueless/ideologically driven housing policy under Cameron et al. Sadly, some honourable mentions aside, what we’ve had so far is more of the same.  Plus ca change. Some improvements have been made, but it’s all a bit piecemeal.

Still, it could be worse, the Conservative Party’s attempt at revamping its social media presence is nothing short of alarming. Honestly, Activate is probably the shittest thing I’ve come across on social media since Mogg-Mentum. It sounds like the start of a fight on Robot Wars for fucks sake. Who are these clowns? Have they met real life people? One only hopes that Conservatives spend more time on fine tuning their housing policy in the upcoming Housing Green Paper than they have on their current social media engagement strategy. Otherwise we really are fucked.

As ever, you can find more of my stuff here and follow me on Twitter here.

Photo Credit – Emil Athanasiou (2015) Same Yet Different

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Why I’m rejecting Help to Buy

I’m rejecting Help to Buy, here’s why you should too.

Firstly, apologies, the title is a bit of a necessary white lie. I’m actually rejecting all forms of state assistance to buy a home currently on offer. But frankly a title that says “Why I’m rejecting, Help to Buy, Rent to Buy, the expanded shared ownership programme plus other miscellanea relating to Government schemes to purchase a home” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. But you get the point.

As someone who has worked ‘professionally’ since graduating, who has had to move homes on an above average basis, who has experienced in-work poverty (that sucks kids, don’t try it) and who has been unable to save for a house because you know, life. It might be a bit odd to some to reject the assistance available. Particularly given the breadth of schemes on offer.

List of Schemes Currently in Play

  • Help to buy – Equity Scheme
  • Help to buy – mortgage guarantee
  • Starter Homes
  • Shared Ownership
  • Rent to Buy
  • Right to Buy v2.0 for LA tenants
  • (Voluntary) Right to Buy for HA tenants
  • ISAs to save

Why the hissy fit?

Fundamentally money that was going to be spent on housing the most in need in this country will now be spent elsewhere. Yet many of those who on the face of it would be set to be helped by Starter Homes (those unable without the cash and/or credit to buy, but ineligible for social housing) probably won’t be able to afford it. Had to rely on figures from Shelter here, because the Government appears to have lost the fag packet on which they did their sums.

As someone who puts a great emphasis on social justice the latest set of proposals from Government are incredibly nauseating to take. As someone who works in Performance, where methodology and reasoned decision making is important this blasé approach is deeply concerning. But it as a taxpayer that I’m fucking fuming. Money is being thrown around in the wrong way, often at the wrong people. In attempting to make it rain for the middle and lower middle class this Government has decided to stretch the definition of a affordability to its very limits. In doing so it is continuing the creeping death of social housing and the distortion of a highly dysfunctional housing market. That doesn’t end well, for anyone.

Right to Bollocks

The political bung that is the Right to Buy extension to Housing Association tenants, albeit in a voluntary form and with some tweaks after an agreement between Government and the sector (well, most of it), highlights the absurdity of thinking going on. Much needed council housing will be sold off to pay for other people to buy much needed social housing. Even with a like for like replacement (even 2 for 1 in London) it is unlikely that a net loss of social housing will be avoided. But that’s not the point. Replacements have never matched the numbers being sold, and despite some debatable sums being thrown about, the jury is very much still out. Often once sold the same property is then let at market rent. In many instances the person renting the RTB property is then claiming housing benefit. Meaning that the lucky owner profits twice at the expense of the general public. That is utter madness and piss poor value for money.

At a time of increasing homelessness and at best stagnated progress on inequality it is a disgrace that these policies are being pushed through without a social housing element. This country needs more of all kinds of housing. Not just the type that hopes to win votes. In the end this is what matters. Cameron et al. have decided to abandon those at the bottom of the pile to help those higher up. I want no part of that. Period.

You can find more of my stuff here and follow me on Twitter here.

A Public Service Announcement

Every now and then an article comes along that, a bit like Top Gun, takes your breath away (oh my, that volleyball scene…). Whilst I doubt Mike Iszatt will ever be my Goose, or even my Iceman, after reading his article I did feel the need, not for speed but to counter his piece.

The article’s opening salvo was to question whether our glorious country will become a nation of housing association tenants. Well actually what he meant was whether this would happen to the lovely, leafy Borough of Broxbourne in Hertfordshire (I didn’t know where it was either, used those adjectives to pad this out a bit). And by that he meant it appears that a number of new developments have quite steep proportions that must be set aside for affordable homes. So, to allay Mr Iszatt’s fears about the UK becoming one big social housing love-in I feel it is my public duty to highlight some facts and fun tit-bits.

1 – We are losing social housing, not gaining it

Between 1981 and 2010 the UK pretty much saw a net loss of social housing every year. Every year. A slight upturn in 2010 (go figure…) has hardly reversed the long term decline in those who rent from Housing Associations and Local Authorities in Great Britain. At the same time private ownership and private sector renting has blossomed. Don’t worry Mike I think we’re safe from becoming a nation of housing association tenants just yet. If you want the figures just nip over to the DCLG website and look at the live tables.

Dwellings by Sector

2 – Whilst all social housing is affordable housing not all affordable housing is social

Just like that fact that whilst all Catholics are Christians but not all Christians are Catholics the merry-go-round regarding social housing terminology keeps on spinning faster. It is a deliberate misuse of wording to conflate a large package of measures in order to hide the inexorable fact that we are haemorrhaging truly social housing in this country. Alas Mr Iszatt also appears to be suffering from this affliction. Quite often when he states Affordable, he means social. Again the DCLG have produced some figures which highlight why choosing your words carefully. @Churchiechat might also be able to enlighten you.

DCLG Live Tables 1009 Additional New Build and Acquired affordable homes (England)

Dwellings by Sector new

3 – Waiting lists are sign of a larger problem

As someone who works in performance, whose very job is to look at performance trends and delve into data your cavalier approach to waiting list figures is utterly shocking. Causality v correlation my friend, they are tricky thing. Waiting lists are generally an indicator of wider structural issues not just people being sneaky little so and so’s. If the private market is providing for the masses there won’t be too much demand for social housing. The problem for Broxbourne, and the UK in general is that it isn’t.

House prices are rising way above wages and for many home ownership is out of reach, even private renting is a struggle. Based on a quick look on Zoopla the average value of a property in Broxbourne is a whopping £391,867, for the rest of England it is £279,985. A £60,000 cap on an applicant’s yearly income seems pretty reasonable in this light. Particularly because if you were looking to buy £60,000 will only enable you to borrow in the region of £200,000 (provided you have a deposit of £10,000). I can see why people might want to be on that housing list. Yes some housing lists may need a bit of a spring clean (double counting of applicants isn’t unheard of) but still focus on the main issue. You know, the complete failure to build enough housing, of all tenures to meet the demand.

4 – Councils provide very little grant funding to housing associations

Yes some Councils do provide capital grant to housing associations in order to ensure the building of social housing within their localities. But on the whole capital finance comes from the DCLG via the Homes and Communities Agency or from the private sector. However Councils do provide a very large sum of money to us via housing benefit. Though this is ultimately paid for by central government coffers (in the end), Local Authorities merely act as the middle men. However, I fully agree with you that this should be reduced. Given that one of the largest growing group of claimants of housing benefit is those in work (see graph below) I guess I have your support for a living wage for all UK workers? What about a reversal in the 60% cut in capital funding for social housing builds since 2011? More houses means lower rents, means less housing benefit being paid. What you say Mike? We might even get those pesky housing waiting lists down.

Housing Benefit Claimants in Work

HB Claimants in Work

Source: Single Housing Benefit Extract (SHBE), Department for Work and Pensions

5 – What on earth does your last paragraph mean?

At one and the same time you seem to lament and support Right to Buy. Bemoaning council housing being sold off cheaply but then stating the private sector is doing a good job? I find this paragraph odd because A) your party, the Conservatives introduced the policy and is trying to extend it to housing associations. And B) it makes no fricking sense, literally what are you trying to say?

Anyway I hope I have cleared a couple of things up. If you ever need some help on things to do with housing just holla. Failing that, there are some lovely chaps and chapesses at the National Housing Federation or Chartered Institute of Housing who would be more than willing to help. Toodle pips.

If you feel so inclined (I wouldn’t advise it, you will be disappointed) you can follow me on Twitter here or find me using the handle @ngoodrich87, you can view the rest of my blogs here.

Are we dead yet?

It isn’t often I get to doth my cap (figuratively speaking, hats don’t suit me) but I shall do so towards the BBC’s Panorama programme from this week.  Because when the BBC isn’t ‘accidentally’ ballsing up footage of the miner’s strikes or ignoring 50,000 people protesting against austerity measures (outside fucking Parliament, I mean how do you miss that?) they make very good TV documentaries.  In this instance the excellently put together BBC Panorama programme Britain’s Homeless Families (for a thoughtful blog on the subject matter see Jules Birch’s blog in Inside Housing).  The show adeptly highlighted the true cost of implementing policies that have served to marginalise social housing and tenancy insecurity within the private sector in this country. People suffering through no fault of their own.  What’s more the programme had the common decency to show people in work trying to get social housing and not just a bunch of Jeremy Kyle rejects living it large for the cameras.

This week also saw an opinion dividing piece from nouveau agent provocateur Peter Hall.  In a series of punchy blogs, and an article or two in 24housing, Peter has raised some interesting points.  If you are of a slightly squeamish disposition I would go and see a doctor.  But seriously, old school thinkers on social housing would do better to look away.  Social rent is dying a slow death, all hail affordable rent is essentially the lad’s tag line.  On first glance I was tempted to politely show this train of thought the front door, but once you look at the nuts and bolts it does have legs.

For Mr Hall public opinion has long been negative of social housing because of its reinvented purpose in the late 70s and 80s (cheers Iron ‘Lady’).  Artificially mixed communities have been promoted and implemented for a number of years but the jury is still out.  A large amount of resentment stems from the public purse paying for nice housing for poor people.  I can’t argue with much of what is being said here.  Peter’s proposal, a genuinely flexible and affordable rent model could well provide a workable model for social housing.  If it can provide a decent yield for investors and housing associations alike, and counter negative perceptions of social housing then sign me up sweetheart I’m sold.  Flexibility for Peter is the key, work with investors on a viable development mix and match the level of rent customers pay with their earnings.

A key thing for this policy would be that it would be able take into account localised housing markets.  Something many Londoncentric policies do not (bedroom tax anyone?).  By tying into the local market level then drilling down (or up) rents as appropriate, social landlords will have the ability to adapt business plans and operate free from a restrictive rent formula.  It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but as shown in Britain’s Homeless Families the lack of social housing and the insecurity of the private sector means more homes from social landlords are needed, period.  If this is flexible rent mechanism is a means by which to provide them, then so be it.

As with any idea there are questions to be asked.  What could landlords do to ensure that those paying extra, for what is essentially the same product, feel they aren’t paying over the odds?  After all it would be those paying the higher rents who are effectively subsidising the lower rents in the scheme.  Would it be a two track repairs system?  That would be a very quick way to piss off a lot of people.  But whatever the pros and cons it is clear that the current state of play needs to change.  New ideas like those put forward by Peter need to be given thought and piloted.  No point in completely replicating that past.  And as figures released by the Department for Misappropriated Statistics, known to you and me as the DWP, suggest, many people are still struggling.  In January 2009 there were 446,809 housing benefit claimants who were in work.  By December 2013 there were 1,038,008 housing benefit claimants who had a job.  That is a more than doubling of the number of housing benefit claimants who in work in just 4 years.

Pretty Graph (1) Number of Housing Benefit Claimants in Work

DWP (2014) Summary Tables for Housing Benefit Recipients
DWP (2014) Summary Tables for Housing Benefit Recipients

Ultimately it will take some innovative thinking to change the current malaise we find ourselves in.  We need more housing from all sectors, personally I feel the government should get off its ass and provide more funding. But hey that’s just me (one of the joys of being young is you are allowed to be idealistic, oh and you have hair on your head, lots of it…jealous?).

I would say this, unlike Leonardo Di Caprio’s character in Wolf of Wallstreet I haven’t been both a rich and a poor man so I can’t say I would take being rich “every f@*king time”.  But I have been a poor and un/non-poor bloke, and being poor definitely sucked.  A little state support now and then goes a long way.  Another thing I would add to Mr Hall is that, as a person of #generationrent I champion public funded housing for the less fortunate for the same reason why I pay my taxes, national insurance contributions and support the NHS.  One day I might need the bloody thing.  But I do like your thinking.  I will ask you not to write us off just yet.