The Housing To Do list 2017 – how did we do?
By David Orr, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation
21 December 2017
Last January I published a To Do list for housing in 2017. So how did we get on?
My list didn’t anticipate a General Election. And the defining event of the year was the horrific fire in Grenfell Tower, about which I have written separately this week. The absolute requirement to ensure such a fire can never happen again will dominate our work in the months and years to come.
It is important, though, to acknowledge the progress we – the housing sector – have made.
The Housing To Do list 2017 – how did we do?
- Housing White Paper
We got our chance to provoke genuine debate with the Housing White Paper, which recognised the urgency to fix the broken housing market. Indeed, the Government has now set a target of 300,000 new homes a year.
- Get building
In October, the Government announced £2bn new money to support rented homes, including new social rented homes. This is the first new public investment in social rent for seven years and is a significant breakthrough. Of course, it’s not nearly enough, but as we spend the money and build new homes we further strengthen the case for continued investment.
- Get regenerating
With the announcement of new funds to support regeneration in the Budget, we have taken a small step in the right direction. But we need much more energy in this next year. We will be launching a new programme of work to support this in 2018.
- New garden towns and villages
The Government announced an intention to create at least five new garden towns and villages. This is an important statement of intent – and housing associations remain ideally placed to lead their development.
- Get land
This is the one area where there has been little real progress this year, with much talk, but no real change. If we are to build 300,000 new homes a year, every year, we need to revisit the 1950s and 1960s where land was compulsorily purchased at existing use value to build large-scale, urban extensions and new towns. We need to use a tiny amount of the green belt and some public land for the benefit of the public rather than selling for the highest possible price. This will be a critical area of work in 2018.
- Sort out supported and sheltered housing
We’ve made huge progress here with the decision from the Government that the Local Housing Allowance is not a competent basis for funding supported housing. Stalled developments are already being started. There is still work to do on funding support for very short-term supported housing. This will be a key focus for our Starts at Home campaign in early 2018.
- Ensure people on low incomes have homes they can afford
The Local Housing Allowance cap has been removed for all social housing. This is great news. Nonetheless, the overall benefit cap, freeze in benefits and some elements of Universal Credit continue to cause huge problems for people on very low incomes. Much remains to be done to ensure people have homes they can afford.
- Health and social care
At the start of the year, I called for a large-scale programme where housing associations build and manage step down care in strategic alliances with hospital and mental health trusts. We have made progress on this – but not enough. Housing associations are building effective relationships with health colleagues, but we haven’t yet reached the point where the NHS fully understands the importance of good housing and the support that housing associations can provide.
- Understand the potential that devolution brings
Devolution has created a new environment where housing providers have become a key part of the strategic discussion about ending the housing crisis. New mayors have prioritised ending street homelessness in their towns and cities. Big progress, but this is only the start of the journey.
- Build partnerships
Earlier this year, I called for long-term strategic partnerships and joint ventures to help us deliver more than individual organisations can working on their own. We have made some progress, but not enough, so we’ll continue with this work in 2018.
Housing associations are – and should be – private, independent organisations that exist for the benefit of the community. We’ve seen huge success in this area. There is now official recognition that housing associations are private organisations that exist for the benefit of the community and reinvest all their surpluses in delivering their social mission.
- Rent freedom
In October, the Government recognised that housing associations need more certainty about future rents. They decided to return to the previous rent policy. This was welcomed by our sector and will help us to deliver new homes and services. However, in the longer term we must return to boards being responsible for rents so that we can be truly accountable.
Overall we have made real progress this year. We are facing in the same direction as the Government and the nation and there is genuine commitment to tackling our broken housing market. We’ve got back to the start line and we’re ready for the race.
I wonder what a To Do list for 2018 will include? I’ll have my own views on that in the New Year – but please feel free to send your suggestions.
Season’s Greetings and a Happy New Year!