What if we built enough homes?
Kate Henderson is Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation
16 May 2019
This looks like such a simple question. Another simple question is: what if we supported struggling communities to grow? Or, what if we made sure everyone had the support they need to live and thrive?
These look like simple questions, but they’re not. They’re some of England’s greatest domestic challenges, affecting millions of people. We talk about those challenges – more and more in recent years, which is a great thing – but we don’t often talk about what it would be like if we solved them, and what we actually need to do to get there.
This autumn’s promised Comprehensive Spending Review is a rare and precious chance. It may, of course, not come quite as expected, because it’s dependent on the UK leaving the EU with the Prime Minister’s deal. With Brexit currently delayed, nothing can be certain. But whatever the next few months hold, the current governmental spending plan comes to an end this year, and big decisions will need to be made soon about future investment.
So I believe we need to call for the investment that is truly needed in housing. We know that we face a housing crisis. Not enough homes are being built and as a result, homes are less and less affordable – pushing more and more people, more and more children, into poverty. There is also another housing crisis, one of under-investment in homes and communities in deprived places. This is just as much of an outrage as the shortage of new homes, and just as vital to fix.
Well, we can fix it. Housing associations can fix it, with the right investment from the Government. We know how many new homes we need – 145,000 affordable homes a year, including 90,000 for social rent. What we haven’t known until now is exactly what that costs, or, in the likely event that it costs a lot, been brave enough to say this is what we need.
Now is the time to find out what it costs and to say what is needed. The Federation is modelling an end to the housing crisis, working with expert researchers to understand the investment needed over ten years if we are to build enough homes in England. We’re also looking at what local communities need to invest in their futures, and how to ensure that those who receive benefits and those who are vulnerable get the support they need to thrive.
We will share our findings soon. And we will use them to push for transformational change in three key areas.
1. Invest in building the homes our country needs.
We believe the Government should make a long term, transformational investment in capital grant over ten years to build these homes, available across the country and flexible to guarantee highest levels of housebuilding. Our new modelling will, for the first time, set out how much is needed to achieve this goal.
2. Invest in places to bring the country back together.
Housing associations are anchor institutions in the communities they serve, investing in local services, neighbourhoods and people. But they cannot make the impact needed without funding and partnerships with other local stakeholders. We’ll be calling for a new, 10 year national regeneration fund that would enable housing associations and local partners to do just that.
3. Invest in the support to enable people to thrive.
People need a fair and effective welfare system and secure, joined up funding for supported housing to thrive. We believe the Government should reverse the household benefit cap, end the freeze on local housing allowance, invest in improving Universal Credit and create a national budget to fund the support costs of supported housing.
4. Invest in safety
Everyone has the right to feel safe in their home. The tragic fire at Grenfell Tower showed that systemic change is needed in building and fire safety, which we must invest in as a nation. We’re calling for the Government to broaden the scope of the existing £400m fund for urgent remediation works and, once new regulation has been agreed, to create a Building Safety Fund to cover the vital costs of making homes safe and secure for the future.
I know all this is ambitious. But ambition is what the people affected by the housing crisis need. We’re shaping this work now, and we’d really like to hear from members – and from anyone who believes this is as important as we do – to know what you think.
Let’s make this a transformational call for investment in people, in homes and in our communities.