Top five things to look out for in housing in 2018
The New Year has already delivered a new housing minister and new profile for housing, CIH's head of policy Melanie Rees takes a look at what else to look out for in 2018.
This time last year I made three wishes for housing in 2017: for government to commit funding for new social rented homes; for local authorities to have the funding they need to implement the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017; and for adequate funding for supported housing. We saw some movement on all three but it wasn’t all that I hoped for.
Yes, Theresa May announced an additional £2billion for ‘social’ housing, but it will probably be at ‘affordable’ rather than social rents, and the proposals for supported housing funding allay some fears but still cause serious concern for short term accommodation, including refuges and other emergency provision.
So what will I be keeping my eye on this year? Here’s my top five:
1. New year…new housing minster
The ministerial merry-go-round continues with Dominic Raab MP becoming the eighth housing minster in as many years – and the 23rd in my 31 years in housing. Given the scale of our housing crisis, which government recognises, the lack of continuity is both disappointing and worrying. The housing problems we are facing have been decades in the making and we need long term focus, plans and resources to make sure that everyone has a decent, safe and affordable place to call home. It’s still very early days but I’m hoping that the new minister shows an understanding of what’s needed and a willingness to work with the sector to develop the lasting solutions we need so desperately.
2. The housing green paper
Sajid Javid’s September 2017 announcement of 'a wide-ranging, top-to-bottom review of the issues facing the sector' was broadly welcomed by a sector still reeling from the shock of June’s fire at Grenfell Tower. In his approach to gathering evidence to inform the housing green paper, housing minster Alok Sharma’s commitment to meet and, most importantly, listen to tenants around the country appeared genuine and was certainly well-received.
For me, this is the thing that makes the change of minster, and its timing, so disappointing. We know that civil servants were present at the discussions and this will provide some continuity because it’s vital that the reins are picked up as quickly and smoothly as possible if we are to see the kind of green paper we were promised by the original Spring 2018 deadline.
3. Rethinking social housing
I’m really excited about our Rethinking social housing project - a fundamental review of the role and purpose of social housing in the twenty-first century. What do we mean by social housing? What does it do? Who is it for? It includes a national debate and conversation to gather opinions on these questions from the people who live and work in social housing, board members and local politicians – and it would be great if you could join in too.
We’ll be sharing our findings as we go along with a full launch at Housing 2018 at the end of June. Along with recommendations for government, we’ll also be setting out some challenges to the profession in areas including getting the basics right, being the best we can be and tackling the stigma and unhelpful stereotypes attached to social housing and the people who live in it.
4. Homelessness – a little less conversation, a little more action?
CIH fully supported the development of the Homelessness Reduction Bill and the subsequent act. But new legislation alone isn’t enough to solve the shameful increase in homelessness and rough sleeping we are currently witnessing. We’ve been calling on government to make sure councils have the resources they need to meet their new duties and to address welfare policies which are thwarting efforts to prevent and tackle homelessness. But there are challenges to pose to the profession also.
Looking at the early adopters of the new legislation it’s clear that the right organisational culture plays a crucial part in delivering better outcomes for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, as our policy and practice officer Faye Greaves argues in this great blog. Housing providers might also need to do some honest soul-searching about the housing management practices which either make it difficult for people to access a decent, affordable home or else lead to them losing one.
5. New homes at rents people can afford
The shortage of affordable homes to buy or rent is a growing problem – and it isn’t confined to London and the South East. We know we urgently need to increase the number of new homes at truly affordable ‘social’ rents. To put this in context, in 2016/17 we lost 23,186 social rented homes under the Right to Buy scheme while only 5,380 new social rented homes were built – an 18 per cent fall on the previous year. With just 21 per cent of the £53 billion housing budget earmarked for affordable housing, in 2018 we’ll be continuing to call for this to be rebalanced towards homes for truly affordable rents.
Melanie Rees is head of policy at CIH.