A comprehensive whole-stock solution is needed
The stark statistics of our housing crisis are well known.
More than five million new households forming over the next 25 years; council waiting lists at 3.5m people; growing homelessness, rough sleeping and the use of temporary accommodation; house prices and rents in the private sector rising far more rapidly than inflation and earnings; developers hoarding land; and the effective end of social house-building.
Labour is now leading the housing debate, promising a ‘consumer rights revolution’ for renters, with the introduction of new legal standards for rented homes, to tackle rogue or absentee landlords.
But perhaps the most striking initiative is a report published by Shadow Housing Minister John Healey MP through the Labour Housing and Planning Innovation Network, which Healey set up in 2015.
The report describes how Labour in power in local government is building innovative solutions to meeting housing need, supporting mixed communities and enabling affordable home ownership — all in the face of massive cuts to local government finance since 2010.
The report concludes that Labour in power is the party of housing and planning innovation, featuring ground-breaking local council programmes in partnership with housing associations, developers, investors, lenders, landlords, public agencies and community groups across England.
Key initiatives highlighted by the Healey report include:
- Croyden London Borough founding a council-owned housing development company to aggregate smaller sites for new homes.
- Manchester City Council establishing a partnership with Greater Manchester Pension Fund to build 240 new homes.
- Birmingham City Council creating a council-owned company which built its 2,000th new home in 2016.
- Bristol City Council making domestic abuse victims top priority for social housing.
- Enfield London Borough establishing cost-effective, temporary accommodation for homeless people.
- Cambridge City Council providing interest-free loans of up to £25,000 to help bring empty properties back into residential use.
- Bradford Council preventing homelessness through private sector lettings.
- Reading Borough Council enabling £30m investment in the council owned housing company ‘Homes for Reading’ to meet affordable housing needs.
- Warrington Borough Council establishing one of the first local authority mortgage schemes, which has already underwritten £22.7m of mortgages.
- Exeter City Council setting-up new ultra-high standards for healthy homes.
- London Borough of Newham founding a wholly-owned commercial developer to stimulate the private rent and sale markets.
- Gateshead Council creating a £350m public-private partnership delivering 2,400 homes.
- Liverpool City Council establishing a scheme to turn dilapidated terraced houses into desirable, energy efficient homes.
- Barking and Dagenham London Borough supporting the right to invest in shared ownership of new homes for council tenants.
Each of these initiatives stresses the innovation of Labour in power to confront the housing crisis. However, as always, such initiatives can only make a relatively small contribution to reducing the scale of the housing problem now faced in England.
Only a comprehensive and ‘whole stock’ housing strategy, backed by proper funding to invest in new and existing homes (especially social homes), as well urban renewal and place-shaping, will begin to resolve a crisis that has been long in the making.
Kevin Gulliver is Director of Birmingham-based research charity the Human City Institute, writing in a personal capacity. Follow him on Twitter @kevingulliver
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