Three things we need to solve the housing crisis
As the election approaches our head of policy Melanie Rees looks at three areas we feel need urgent action to solve the housing crisis.
The housing white paper had a mixed reaction when it was published back in February.
Some commentators felt that it didn’t go far enough to address our housing supply and affordability crisis but CIH welcomed the proposals it outlined and the shift in policy focus.
It was good to see the need for homes to rent as well as to buy recognised along with a role for councils in providing them. But we were clear that the proposals had to be backed by resources and called on the chancellor to use his March budget to do so. He didn’t – in fact it was the first time for many years that housing didn’t figure at all.
While the housing white paper has been somewhat eclipsed by the calling of a snap General Election, our response to it includes the same calls for action we will be making of all political parties in the run up to 9 June.
1. Develop a long-term plan to increase housing supply and affordable homes in particular
We need to build around 250,000 homes in England alone to keep pace with our growing population. In 2015/16 just 140,660 were completed. This included 32,000 new affordable homes – the lowest number for 25 years. We need a broad range of options to cater for households on different incomes – including homes at lower rents.
Yes, proposals in the white paper go some way towards addressing this, but government spending on housing is still too heavily skewed towards promoting home ownership. Government will invest £51 billion in housing by 2021 but just 16 per cent is for affordable homes to rent. With our estimates projecting a loss of 250,000 social rented homes between 2012 and 2020, government needs to take steps to address this. Rebalancing funding would help and, in the long term, reduce the housing benefit bill.
2. Develop a comprehensive strategy to reduce homelessness
Homelessness is rising. The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which CIH has supported, is a good first step towards tackling this problem. But legislation isn’t enough – local authorities need resources to implement their new duties and we need to increase the supply of new affordable housing as part of a long term strategy to prevent and beat homelessness.
3. Make sure that housing and welfare policy join up
Government policies on housing and welfare contradict each other. A series of increasingly punitive welfare cuts mean that even social housing is out of reach for some households and this will get worse when the local housing allowance cap takes effect in April 2019. We are worried that this is leaving some households unable to find anywhere to live and this will completely undermine the aims of the Homelessness Reduction Act.
We are also concerned about the future of supported housing as the review of funding plays out. As uncertainty continues, many organisations have delayed decisions to develop new schemes with others considering withdrawing from provision altogether. It’s vital that the replacement funding model adequately meets new and future need as, if we don’t get this right, we risk placing added burdens on already stretched health and social care services.
It’s taken decades of failure to build enough homes to get us where we are today. A long-term problem needs a long-term solution – five year parliamentary cycles, or just two years in this case, are counter-productive when what we need is consistent, concerted focus and action. That’s why we’re calling on all parties to work together to develop a long-term plan to build the homes we desperately need.