I was honoured to be associated with an important new report published by the Chartered Institute of Housing this week. Written by Ross Fraser, Gemma Duggan, and John Perry, Building Bridges provides a comprehensive guide to effective partnership working between housing providers and local authorities, in order to build more homes, improve affordability and efficiency, and take people off the streets. Any council or housing association worth their salt would be well advised to read it and to take up its key recommendations.
Building Bridges aims to heal some of the wounds inflicted upon the housing provider-local authority relationship that were opened up by the National Federation’s needless Voluntary Right to Buy offer in 2015, a Faustian pact that was described by one senior politician as “collaboration”.
The report starts with leadership. Key figures on both sides of the fence need to step up to take a lead and create a culture of trust and effective collaboration. This means that larger housing associations (some of them covering hundreds of local authority areas) will need to think seriously about rationalising their stock and deciding who their key council allies will be. And any sensible local authority should also seek a strong relationship with just a handful of housing providers.
The report goes on to talk about planning, allocations, affordability and homelessness. On planning, the report calls on housing providers to become much more involved at a strategic level in contributing to local plans and joining forces to oppose nimby campaigns, something that very few have done in the past. Making alliances with councillors will be critical to this. The report also calls upon the government to loosen the constraints upon the disposals of local authority land so that councils can build more homes, and urges local authorities and providers to develop a new and more dynamic system for managing allocations and lettings, not just for social and “Affordable Rent” but for low-cost homeownership, market sales and intermediate rent too. The HCA should should end relet conversions from social to affordable following the GLA’s lead.
The report points out that the government’s decision to end investment in social rent has been a mistake, that many “affordable homes” are simply not affordable and that 75% of recent public investment has been in the private market, a demand-side measure that builds few new homes and just pushes up house prices and rents.
One of the most encouraging aspects of the report is a firm commitment to genuine affordability, with rents set as a proportion of local incomes rather than being set against a meaningless percentage of market prices (even 40% of a market rent in London is barely affordable to people on lower incomes). The report calls for the HCA to provide grant funding of £40,000 per home outside London to facilitate this.
Building Bridges reflects a growing change of wind within the sector and the country for investment in social rented homes. The political centre of gravity really is shifting. Three years’ ago, when we launched the SHOUT campaign at Parliament (calling for investment in 100,000 social rent homes a year) senior figures at the Nat Fed derided the campaign as a throwback to the past, but even David Orr is now calling for investment in social rent. The Nat Fed’s Budget submission calls for “a new generation of high quality homes for social rent” so they are coming around to the SHOUT campaign’s point of view. How times change!
SHOUT made its own Budget submission last week, repeating its call for such investment as a way of reducing waiting lists, re-balancing housing markets, creating jobs, stimulating the economy and reducing the scandalous £26 billion a year spent on wasted housing benefits. This thesis has been tested by one of the top economic consultancies in the country and found to be sound. Now it seems that more and more people are coming to similar conclusions.
“Say not the struggle nought availetth, the labour and the wounds are vain … But westward, look, the land is bright!”
The full report and the summary can be downloaded here.