Looking back at Robert Jenrick’s speech at the International Housing Summit
The first day of our International Housing Summit opened with a pre-recorded message from Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. Melanie Rees, our head of policy and external affairs, shares her thoughts on what she heard.
Last week saw the launch of Homes at the Heart – a joint campaign with the National Housing Federation, Association of Retained Council Housing, National Federation of ALMOs and Crisis, which is calling on government to place housing at the centre of its plans to rebuild the post-COVID-19 economy. Watching the Secretary of State’s opening address, I was keen to get a sense of his, and the government’s, commitment to housing as part of that drive.
Beginning by saying that the pandemic has underscored the importance of homes and communities, the Secretary of State paid tribute to the role that everyone in the housing sector has played in getting the country through the coronavirus crisis. I’ve been truly impressed by the way our members and their organisations have stepped up to meet the range of challenges posed by the pandemic - it’s heartening to know that government has seen that too.
Other headlines included:
• There were no new announcements but there were promises that things we have been waiting for will be coming “soon” - a new programme of investment in affordable housing, a Renters Reform Bill ending no fault evictions, and the social housing white paper (“later this year”)
• A round-up of the housing-related emergency measures including an extended ban on possession proceedings and steps taken to bring rough sleepers in from the streets – a move described as “an extraordinary silver lining to the COVID dark cloud”. Yes, it was amazing to see rough-sleeping addressed, albeit temporarily, in little more than a weekend, rather than over a five year timeframe but, as a whole sector, we have to make sure that the opportunities to solve rough sleeping permanently don’t slip through our fingers
• Statements like “we have to get Britain building” and “we have a moral mission to build more homes” along with recognition of the role that construction has played in creating jobs and rebuilding the economy and confidence in previous downturns all sounded positive. But what types of homes will Britain be building? The Secretary hinted that the imminent new affordable homes programme will include “affordable” housing, “social rent”, shared ownership and supported housing with new routes to home ownership including the recently consulted on First Homes scheme. As always, we will need to unpick the terminology and the detail to see what this means in practice
• While we desperately need new homes of all kinds, including homes at social rents, this mustn’t be at the expense of quality. The Secretary stated that the aim is to build “homes we will all be proud of” – homes of all tenures, which are safe, green, more beautiful and rooted in communities. This is an aspiration I think we can all get behind and one which we will all need to hold government to account for delivering
Will housing, and homes at social rents in particular, really be at the heart of the government’s future plans? It will be missing a massive opportunity if it isn’t. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait long to find out.