Sharing’s Caring

The rise of Shared Ownership as a genuine tenure option is both a welcome and worrying sight. The news that it is now seen a key route to getting on the housing ladder shows the fruits of labour of the CIH and its partners. But it is also a sign that for many home ownership remains a very difficult dream to achieve and that the market is failing them.

Unlikely Cheerleaders

In an ideal there wouldn’t be a Shared Ownership programme. And certainly not the gearing up of a tenure as is currently being seen. This is because Shared Ownership is the sign of market failure. Or at least, severe market dysfunction. Shared Ownership exists because people aren’t able to scrape together enough collateral to convince banks and/or building societies to lend them enough cash to buy a house. If household incomes and price of houses/their increase broadly matched there would be no need for such a product.

Sadly we don’t live an ideal world, we live in this one. Shared Ownership is needed and for a number of reasons it has had a welcome kick up the sweetspot. Firstly Government has bought into it, big time. From the point of view of the previous Prime Minister it was a perfect product to suit his Government’s agenda around increasing Home Ownership (see chart below, this was becoming an issue).

Chart 1 Falling Housing Owership

housing-tenure(3)Thus, instead of social rent housing, shared ownership was to become the new housing for poor people. Something that aligned with the thoughts of one or two in the sector as well. In addition to a few Think Tanks tied to Number 10. Secondly, the sector finally got round to looking at the long list of issues with Shared Ownership as a product (like maybe promoting it would be a good idea). Thirdly housing is becoming so unaffordable in parts of the country that products like Shared Ownership actually start to make sense.

Increasing Popularity, Increasing Problems

The CIH and Orbit* (plus other partners) reports on Shared Ownership – creatively called Shared Ownership 2.0, and Shared Ownership 2.1 have made genuine progress in terms of refining a product that for years was the inbred forgotten cousin of the sector. They might not like to admit it but Housing Associations did Shared Ownership the same way Nuns in Catholic Schools did the awkward bits of teaching sex education in biology i.e. embarrassingly blundering their way through in the hope that no-one was paying any attention because they didn’t have a clue.

The report rightly highlights the dissatisfaction with some of the aspects of rights and responsibilities. Always a grey area where there has been a substantial amount of confusion. Typically around who should do/pay for repairs (the customer) restrictions on sub-letting/adaptations (many) and the fact that when the rented element, mortgage, service charges and associated additional charges/red tape involved with stair-casing it wasn’t always the best deal for the buyer. These existing kinks have sought to be addressed by a variety of measures including ensuring greater levels of consistency of service across providers, tweaking the rules around eligibility and generally making the offer a bit more flexible.

Location, Location, Location

However, there are some issues with Shared Ownership that can’t be as easily ironed out. It is a perfect product in rising housing markets, where increased equity enables the part owner to leap onto a ‘proper’ i.e. fully owned house when looking to sell. It is also why as a product it works so well in London, the South, South East and South West (Chart 2, highlights the distinct regional variations). But if you’re in a shared ownership property in a depressed market where prices are stagnant, or worse, regressing, you’re more or less fucked. In such a market it would always make more sense to buy outright and avoid the red-tape (still a significant drawback).

Chart 2 – All dwellings annual house price rates of change: UK, country and regions

figure-5-all-dwellings-annual-house-price-rates-of-change-uk-country-and-regions
Source ONS – 12 month percentage change year up to Jan 2016

But, for those looking to buy in areas of increasing house prices Shared Ownership is an easy sell in every sense of the word. Hardly surprising as it was first conceived as a way of resolving affordability issues in and around the Greater London housing market for those on modest incomes. And as the report shows the product is much more affordable than outright ownership across a wider area (on day one, at least).

Putting it into Perspective

Shared Ownership is still a small proportion of the overall market, but as a tenure it is set to grow quite dramatically. As better exposure through Help to Buy branding (and the £4.1bn in funding), HAs getting their arse in gear (and the £4.1bn in funding), and massive pressures on the housing market in particular locations (can’t stress that last one enough, have I mentioned the increased funding?) all have an impact. More tweaks are needed, but progress is at last being made.

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

Photo Credit – Tom Page – Img_3852

*Full disclosure, I work for Orbit although like hell would they put me anywhere near something like this. Mostly because it’s not anything to do with my current role. Mostly…
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How to Make Friends and Influence People

It is a broken record on repeat but the sector needs to do more to get heard outside of the bubble that is housing.

About 18months ago I moved to deepest, darkest Warwickshire, Bidford on Avon to be precise. It’s the kind of place where time hasn’t so much stood still but lost all interest and buggered off elsewhere. For me and the lady-friend, who like busy cities the same way the Body Coach likes a greasy kebab after an all day session down the Winchester, it suits quite well. However, one of the things we hadn’t expected was the reaction of some of the locals.

Down the Rabbit Hole

Bidford, like most of Warwickshire, is as about as Blue as you can get without seeing portraits of Margaret Thatcher in every living-room. It is conservative with small, medium and large C’s. Whilst I had clocked this early on in the move I hadn’t quite clocked what impact it might have. As a keen gym enthusiast (the heavy weight, not treadmill running kind) I’m pretty much as broad as I am tall (being 5ft 8inch helps). I’m reasonably tattooed with a full sleeve supplemented by a half sleeve and a chest piece. Finally, I own a Staffie. In short, I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, and frankly neither are they mine.

Exhibit A – World’s Least Dangerous Dog

The first time I saw a middle age woman clock me and my dog, stop, then walk across the road it made me laugh. After the 3rd or 4th time it really began to piss me off, I swear I could hear the anuses clenching as I went past. After a while, and through general interaction with people in the village such instances became rarer. More so after many people actually stopped to chat to the dog (yes, people do that). These days the local teenagers refer to her as “Well cute” whilst my general presence appears to be accepted.

What happened? Well, me and the lady-friend made a conscious effort to show that both of us, and our dog were perfectly normal everyday people and posed no threat/ill to anyone. Essentially we went outside our own bubble. In many ways social housing is still yet to do this. Neil Jackson (all the cool people are called Neil…) provided what I thought was the best blog of Housing Day by highlighting this point. For all the effort (hats off to Ade Capon, the lad has worked tirelessly to grow the event) given on the day how many outside the bubble came across it/engaged with it? A snap poll with the Lady-friend concluded, not many. I won’t bore you with her precise words but they were akin to, “Oh, that thing OK…”.

All is not lost

Scientifically valid checks against impact aside (see here for the actually rather impressive figures). The sector is still capable of influence Central Government policy. One of the greatest examples can be seen with Shared Ownership. Consistent targeted lobbying alongside co-ordinated work has seen something that frankly has been a backwater bolt on to social housing gain significant traction.  To the point where there may genuinely be a ‘fourth tenure’ of mainstream housing in this country.

Such an achievement didn’t come through the back slapping, circle-jerk that the sector is occasionally prone to. And whilst warmer noises have been coming from the new-look Government, they frankly couldn’t have been much colder. Nick ‘Kind of Stating the Obvious’ Clegg’s serialised memoirs in the Guardian (let’s face it, no-one else would bloody do it) have highlighted what many thought. That a significant part of the Conservative Party is hostile to social housing and see it as a Labour Voter breeding machine. Let’s hope Mr Barwell’s warm noises come to something. Historically the NHF Conference has led to conciliatory noises from Government followed by business as usual. Real change occurs outside our housing bubble.

The above does raise the old ‘what does it all mean/what should we build question’. But I loathe the term used to describe the intersection of two roads. And quite frankly the mid-life crisis that is the sector’s inability to decide what it wants to be is starting to bore. So I shall ignore it here.

Regardless, continuing to speak to, and build bridges with, those who have not been traditional bed-fellows is a must. Pushing how good the sector is, and what it can bring to the table is also essential. Alongside Health and Education, housing is one of the 3 pillars a person builds their life on. It is something that everyone needs and can understand the importance of. Even if how someone conceptualises what a safe and secure home looks like is different, we all need one. The trick is to tap into that and tie it to how we can help this Government achieve its aims of more housing for all.

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

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 Problem Shared, A Problem Halved?

In many ways the Shared Ownership product is a rather useful metaphor when looking at the Social Housing sector in the UK. Those who know it, who ‘get it’ tend to champion it to the bitter end. Outside of the bubble rumour, misinformation and gossip tend to undermine something that, in the right place, at the right time and the right people can be an invaluable alternative to mainstream housing. Oh that’s the other thing, it’s totally outside the norm for most people as well.

Some Light Reading

If you haven’t had a chance I would strongly recommend reading Orbit and the CIH’s report on making Shared Ownership the 4th mainstream tenure. It rather accurately and succinctly sums up the product and doesn’t shy away from drawing out some of its deficiencies (in its current form) notably:

  • Inflexibility around moving between shared ownership properties
  • Potentially costly requirements tied to stair-casing
  • Failure to market a consistent product
  • Localised variations to a nationally offered product
  • Considerable difference between supply and demand
  • Limited lender appetite

There are of course some significant pros, for the most part:

  • A pathway to full home ownership for those marginalised by the existing market
  • Security of tenure for those looking for a way out of private renting
  • Flexibility (to a point) to adapt one’s housing situation to their financial one
  • Affordability in an increasingly disjointed housing market

The Broader Context

The Government has substantially increased funding available for Shared Ownership, tying in to a belief (ideological as much as anything) that Home Ownership is the main tenure that should be supported. After the inevitable willy waving, and blaming of a party that hasn’t been in power since 2010, the detail is interesting to say the least. A total of£4.7bn has been set aside for Shared Ownership and Affordable Homes for the 5 year period 2016 to 2021. That mulla will fund:

  • 135,000 homes for help to buy and/or Shared Ownership
  • 10,000 for rent to buy
  • 8,000 for supported and older people accommodation (these could fail to materialise if LHA restrictions, currently delayed, are implemented)
  • 0 social rent properties

The last figure on that list isn’t actually included in the prospectus, indeed you can’t actually find any reference, aside from rent to buy,to renting – either social or affordable. With the current funding stream for that out of favour tenure due to end in 2018 grant funding for none home ownership products could very well cease. That should set all sorts of alarm bells ringing, especially at a time when every form of homelessness is on the increase. But you know, politics, money goes where votes are. And baby, there’s a bucket load in home ownership.

Opportunity Knocks

Considering the historic mis-match between demand and supply for Shared Ownership any increase in this type of housing tenure is welcome. Particularly a product that allows those worried about the insecure nature of private renting, but ineligible for social housing and unable to afford outright ownership, a type of housing that meets their needs. It also allows the sector to right some historic wrongs.

I can count on one hand the number of non-housing people who know about Shared Ownership housing. They all now own one, this is largely typical of when people know about S/O they like the idea (if not always the reality). Finding Narnia is often easier than finding, and then buying a S/O property. And that is before you hit the administrative cock ups our side.

Having worked in and studied the sector for a while the horror stories of bungled S/O are legend. Legal documents without HAs on them (bit awkward when the lender sort to repossess), all sorts of faux pas around tenant rights and responsibilities. A fundamental lack of knowledge about the product outside of one bloke who left in the late 90s. In short S/O doesn’t have a glorious history. This funding regime can provide a consistent, coherent product that can help one element of the 3 sub-crises that make up our current of the housing crisis. And gloss over years of ballsing it up.

The Catch

This Government seldom gives without taking something, the Housing and Planning Bill, along with the latest funding regime, are designed to steer HAs away from social and affordable rent provision. Though in truth some don’t need much steering. So far there has been a complete blindness to the need of a diverse set of policy interventions from Cameron et al, home ownership is truly king. Don’t get me wrong, S/O is a darn good product, but it is not for everyone and it is not a silver, gold or even rainbow coloured bullet for our housing woes.

Whilst some in the sector might be getting moist at the thought of becoming even more a provider of housing for sale instead of rent, it is worth remembering why we are here. If you are having a bout of amnesia, just look at the DCLG figures homelessness. Might be worth showing your local Tory MP as well, because the recent rise is largely their party’s fault.

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

S is for Social

Housing Association decides to make the most of its historical mission to help the most disenfranchised by totally abandoning its raison d’être.

So I’m a little late to the game. Sadly life events are getting in the way of blogging as much as before. However the beauty of being a perennially pissed off chap (Churchie Chats, you ain’t got shit on me grump-wise) is that eventual something will bring the Wrath of Khan Me into focus.

You Can Go Your Own Way, But we don’t have to like it

If you have haven’t noticed Genesis under Neil Hadden, their Chief Executive, has made the decision to move away from social/affordable rent i.e. abandon the fundamental purpose of being a Housing Association. Apparently poor people are no longer his organisation’s problem, well those who can’t afford home ownership at any rate. More specifically he stated:

“We are not able, or being asked, to provide affordable and social rented accommodation to people who should be looking to the market to solve their own problems. I do think [the Budget] is a watershed in all sorts of ways.”(Inside Housing 30/07/15).

In stating that we (as Housing Associations) are not being asked to provide social rented accommodation Mr Hadden is correct. But then again we weren’t in the 1960s, or the 1970s, when LSVTs came along in the 80s and 90s again this wasn’t a Government backed program, well not at first. Back then groups of individuals and organisations identified a real burning need within the communities they lived and sought to do something about it. No-one asked them to, they just did it. That situation hasn’t changed to this day. No-one asks for social housing, but there is one hell of a need for it.

That quibble aside, no worries Genesis, I’m all up for supporting new entrepreneurs. I’m sure we can set up a Crowd-Funding page for you to get you all set up in your brave new world, hell I’ve even sorted out your new organisation’s name ‘REvelations’ – the first E will be backwards, ‘cos that is apparently what all the cool kids do these days. The pay-back is that you give us your social (and affordable) rent houses, your historic grant and charitable status and you can kindly jog off into the sunset.

Jokes aside I do have some sympathy with Genesis, after all the sector, following years of relatively easy-going and achieving fuck all influence in Central Government, has been seeing some rough times recently. This could be an attempt at wrestling back some control/autonomy in interesting times. However, I don’t believe throwing in the towel is the answer, especially when you help to fund the research piece which has facilitated tougher times coming about (tut, tut). But as Tom Murtha has noted (I must get that chap to do my Lotto numbers) mission creep and now outright jumping ship will be the long-term death of social housing. Just a cursory look at the figures of Social, actual Social housing new builds and you can see Tom’s point.

However, for all the ills of providing housing other than Social rent I fundamentally believe a diverse portfolio is needed and that social and Low Cost Home Ownership products can co-exist. Not everyone wants to rent, not everyone wants to own. Not everyone can afford to do either privately. This means there is an opportunity here for Housing Associations to assist those at the bottom end of the money scale to fulfill their housing pathway of choice. It also means that if you ain’t building or expanding, time to go sister.

The Elephant in the Room

What this sorry state of affairs does reinforce is the monumental diaspora that is the Social Housing sector. A bit like the Labour Party there are those that would love Hippy-Esk communes (hard lefties), those who want Co-op housing (moderately hard lefties), those focused on social care, those just on General Needs (Centre Lefties), and those who are selling their souls to Tony Blair the devil (Centre Right/Genesis*). Our message/purpose is lost in a haze of BS and mission statements. A culling/merging of organisations is required. Handily a lot of first generation housing chaps and chapesses are coming up for retirement in senior positions. That should help the process a bit…

Wrapping it Up

I can understand why Genesis are looking to move the way they are, I just believe it is fundamentally wrong. No doubt the reaction of myself and a number of other in the sector will be seen as nothing more than the “depressingly predictable howls of protest” by Mr Hadden. But that is the joy of this sector, you can present a bad new idea and we can poo poo it.

*I of course speak in jest here.

Das Capital

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

Right to Buy SalesIn 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.

Depressing Chart 2 – Dwelling stock by tenure, UK, 1980 to 2012
Dwellings by Sector

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.

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.