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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

Four steps to housing heaven? The government's housing White Paper


Following the publication of the long-awaited housing White Paper this week, CIH head of policy Melanie Rees gives her thoughts on what's significant for the sector.

The long-anticipated housing White Paper – fixing our broken housing market – has finally landed. It sets out a range of proposals aimed at remedying England’s chronic housing shortage. A mixture of previous announcements and some new ideas it focuses on four areas:

1. Building the right homes in the right places.

2. Building them faster.

3. Widening the range of builders and construction methods.

4. ‘Helping people now’ including investing in new affordable housing and preventing homelessness.

We’ve already seen many column inches and Twitter characters on whether this 104-page document is worth the paper it’s written on - and it’s fair to say that, on balance, the sector doesn’t seem convinced. Here are a few of the things that leapt out at me:

• Councils will be building new homes as well as enabling others to do so – great news! What isn’t clear is if those homes will be offered at market, ‘affordable’ or social rents or even a combination of the three. CIH estimates that nearly 250,000 of the cheapest rented homes could be lost between 2012 and 2020 so we’ll continue to make the case for new homes at social rents being part of the new supply mix

• The original starter homes proposals have been watered down significantly – and I’m very relieved about that. It was a huge worry that something so obviously unaffordable was ‘front and centre’ of the previous government’s response to the affordability crisis. While it hasn’t been scrapped altogether, it’s now more an option than a solution

• Older people’s housing is on the agenda, particularly in terms of helping older home owners to downsize. We need a decent range of housing options which recognise that older people are not all the same – sheltered housing or retirement villages are not everyone’s thing. And I firmly believe that those options need to be backed up with practical support to make the move. Social housing providers have recognised that the practicalities of moving to a smaller home are a huge barrier and have developed some great schemes to guide and support older people through the process. We must make sure that this learning is picked up in the wider housing market

• The government is planning to review space standards. Should we be worried about that? I’m not sure, but I know we already have the smallest homes in Europe and that some of the funkier designs and building methods aimed at speeding up and increasing supply in the 1960s and 1970s are giving us maintenance headaches today. We need to learn from this and make sure that today’s new homes are fit for future generations

It’s too early to say if the White Paper hits the spot but it’s clear that the Chancellor’s Budget Statement in March must come up with some hard cash to translate the government’s ideas for planning, land and new supply into the solutions we need so urgently.

Join deputy chief executive Gavin Smart for for a webinar on the housing White Paper at 11am on 14 February 2017.

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