The government’s Housing White Paper released on 7 February, is called ‘Fixing our broken housing market’. We welcome the admission that the housing situation needs ‘radical’ action. But what the White Paper really says is ‘We know what we’re doing doesn’t work, but we’re going to carry on doing it’.
The Prime Minister’s preface says ‘our broken housing market is one of the greatest barriers to progress in Britain today…particularly for ordinary working class people’. But this government is attempting to push up rents, end secure tenancies and force councils and housing associations to sell-off social rented homes. The proposals in the White Paper would accelerate the privatisation of housing and the domination of property developers and speculators.
The government’s housing policy is in chaos. Under pressure from the campaign against the 2016 Housing and Planning Act, ministers are trying to introduce another wave of housing legislation and backtrack on significant aspects of the 2016 Act less than a year after it was passed (though mostly still not implemented). That Act remains a threat and the White Paper only adds to the layers of confusion and uncertainty.
These contradictions undermine the government’s suggestion that councils will be allowed to build homes again. We want to see this happen: it requires serious, long-term investment and all the threats in the Housing and Planning Act to be repealed. The main reason we have a housing crisis is that we’ve stopped building council homes and instead looked to private developers to build so-called affordable homes. This approach has failed miserably, but the White Paper continues to see the private sector as the solution.
There is one thing in the White Paper we fully support. It explicitly states that the housing crisis is NOT the result of immigration or because the country is ‘full’. We hope this will stop politicians using racist scapegoating to justify the lack of genuinely affordable and secure homes.
Below are some more detailed points from the White Paper.
Responses by 2 May 2017: email to firstname.lastname@example.org
The government says ‘Housing associations have been doing well’ and confirms a £7.1 billion budget for HAs to build ‘affordable’ homes, on top of the £23 billion they’ve received since the early 2000s. But HAs have not been building the homes we need. Throughout the 1970s, local authorities consistently built over 100,000 council homes a year. In 2015/16 HAs built 40,000 homes, but only 14% (5,464 homes) were for social rent. The remainder were ‘affordable homes’ at up to 80% of the market level (18,592) and shared ownership (8,767). HAs built more homes for private sale (5,205) than they did for social rent!
They’ve moved away from their founding ethos as ‘social’ landlords and increasingly resemble private developers in their culture and practice. The White Paper will continue that trend. It confirms that HAs will now be regarded as part of the private sector and will allow them to charge higher rents to existing tenants from 2020. This comes on top of the changes in the Housing and Planning Act which make it easier for HAs to switch between social and private housing sectors, weakens the level of regulation and ends the requirement for them to have local councillors on their Boards.
Local Councils, public land and regeneration
The White Paper says it wants to ‘encourage local authorities to build again’, but gives no commitment to the money needed for them to do that. It does say that £45 million will be available through a ‘Land Release Fund’ to build 160,000 homes on public land by 2020, but alongside the clauses in the Housing and Planning Act about the use of ‘brownfield’ sites, this could mean allowing private developers to use faster planning permission to build on public land homes that are unaffordable to most people. The White Paper also gives only vague commitments to protect the interests of residents living on estates ear-marked for large scale regeneration projects, where experience shows they are at risk of losing their homes.
The government says it wants to make renting fairer for tenants, but the White Paper gives no indication of how. It talks about ‘encouragement’ for longer tenancies, but there’s nothing specific to guarantee renters security or rent controls. The government is stalling on its commitment to end lettings fees, talking about ‘consultation’ instead of immediate abolition.
Private Investors and Developers
While it’s vague on commitments to protect tenants’ rights and build the homes we need, the White Paper says it wants to create ‘a long-term framework for investment’ for property speculators, particularly in the private rented sector. This opens the door to the kind of large scale institutional investors who dominate the housing market in the USA and elsewhere. The government says it wants to ‘diversify’ housing provision, but in fact it’s allowing big developers to control housing policy.
The Planning System
The White Paper suggests the slowness of the planning system is the main reason we have a housing crisis, but its own figures show that even when they have planning permission, private developers often don’t build. There are lots of ways the planning system could be improved, by making it more transparent, democratic and insisting that targets for social rented homes are met.
For the White Paper itself, click here.
For the consultations associated with the White Paper, see Housing Law Consultations.
For a House of Commons Library briefing in respect of the planning aspects of the proposals in the White Paper, click here
For the response of the Local Government Association, click here
For the response of Shelter, click here
For the response of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, click here
For letters to The Guardian in response to the White Paper, click here