Affordable Housing in the 21st century

Affordable Housing [existing/influential policies]

General outline

Houses in England are the most expensive per square foot save Monaco.1 One of the reasons for this is simply that we do not supply enough housing to meet demand. A blunt assessment of Britain’s current housing predicament can be found in Kate Barker’s influential housing review of 20042, where she suggests that homes “built today need to last approximately 1,200 years”. Indeed, the Government commissioned review identified that the current property shortage was due to a combination of factors including the consistent rise in house prices, the increase (and changing social trends) in the population, the lack of availability in developmental land, and stronger economic performance which has seen household incomes increase - inevitably pricing first time buyers out of the market by reducing affordability.

Government however, no longer directly control the provision of affordable housing. Instead they instigate policies and offer support to local authorities, registered social landlords and housing associations. Council housing is not the same anymore, and therefore the responsibility for housing provision usually falls on private sector developers, who rather than being interested in the provision of 'homes', are in it for financial gain.

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Housing associations, "not for profit" self sustaining organisations, were born out of late 19th century philanthrophy - consider the housing built for workers at Saltaire and Bournville - but became particularly prevalent during the Thatcher era of the 1980's. Under the iron lady, council housing - its role, deliverance and funding - was significantly changed. Funding for local authority housing was restricted and was instead directed towards housing associations. Furthermore, the "right to buy"3 scheme, which encouraged council tenants to purchase their own homes [by offering discounts on their homes], led to the best of the council stock being purchased - combined with the fact that councils were restricted from re-investing any profits in new housing stock, a defecit in social housing provision emerged. Initiatives and policy changes such as these eventually led to most councils handing over their housing stock, and responsibilities, to the housing associations [this was also known as stock transfer].

This legislative and devolutional approach by Government towards social housing endures. Direct government control of social housing is no longer the approach. Instead it is through policy and funding via the HCA and TSA that social housing is facilitated and delivered.4, "Sustainable Communities: homes for all [2005]5 and significant amendments to the section 106 agreement - this allows local authorities to force private developers to allocate some of the housing as affordable [but can also force them to contribute to green space provision, local infrastructure and services.6

PPS3 [2006], a current government planning policy, refers to affordable housing as 'rented and intermediate housing, provided to specified eligible households whose needs are not met by the market'. Furthermore, affordable housing should 'meet the needs of eligible households including availability at a cost low enough for them to afford, determined with regard to local incomes and local house prices'. Also, affordable housing should 'include provision for the home to remain at an affordable price for future eligible households or, if these restrictions are lifted, for the subsidy to be recycled for alternative affordable housing provision’.

When considering 'social housing' [housing for those in serious need - eg. the homeless as well as low income/key worker households], then there are issues of eligibility to meet if one is to obtain a so called 'affordable house' - this eligibility is assessed in a number of different ways according to specific local authority criteria. However, under the umbrella term of 'affordable housing', there are a range of different schemes and initiatives available. In the case of the Sheffield City Council, these include:

- New Build Homebuy (often called Shared Ownership) – Purchaser buys a share in a newly built Housing Association developed and owned property and pays rent on the other share to the Housing Association.

- Rent to Homebuy - a new product launched in July 2008 which allows the purchaser to rent before buying a New Build Homebuy property. This idea is now being applied to private sector housing schemes in an effort to shift properties. Kelham Riverside [apartment] scheme in Sheffield is one such example of this.7

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- Social Homebuy - Grant assistance for social housing tenants (Council or Housing Association), to buy their current home outright or on a shared ownership basis.

- Open Market Homebuy – Purchaser is assisted to buy a property on the open market. Grant assistance is then repaid on the sale of the property.

- Ownhome - A new partnership product offered by Places for People and the Co-operative Bank where the purchaser gets an interest free loan from Places for People for 5 years combined with a mortgage from the Co-op bank.

- Right to Buy – Gives to eligible secure Council or Housing Association tenants the right to buy their existing home at a discount.

- Right to Acquire – Gives eligible Housing Association tenants the statutory right to buy their existing home at a discount.

On many occasions, local authorities gift land to housing associations in exchange for the right to allocate the homes to tenants on their waiting lists. Tenants who are eligible for this register often include the following people who have been subject to, or find themselves in the following situations:
- Homelessness
- Demolition/clearance and also development – permanent moves
- Domestic abuse (now available to all tenures)
- Harassment (Council tenants only)
- Release of high demand properties (3+ bed houses, 2+ bed bungalows and disabled persons property)
- Mobility/mental health, learning disability/long term health needs
- Support needs
- Leaving supportive hostels
- Young people and the Children Act
- Overcrowding
- Redesignation of Older Person's Accommodation
- Service tenants retiring/leaving employment
- Special cases

The Future

Demand for housing continues to outstrip supply, and while ever this is the case affordability will continue to be an issue. Releasing more land for development for example may help, but the delivery of housing, still heavily reliant on the private sector, is likely to continue at the same pace. Ironically the better quality of housing is being delivered by the Housing Associations, while private development continues to lack general quality. Affordability is obviously related to the many other aspects of the economy, such as fuel poverty and the price of goods. Combined with the ongoing pressure of climate change, it is clear that housing, and its system of delivery, must be designed to anticipate the challenges enforced upon us by economic and political forces.

External links

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