"We need to ensure that the homes that we build are properly connected within the communities that they are part of".
We asked tenant, Anthony Bailey what he would do if he was in charge of housing across the country. Here is his manifesto.
We again as a society find ourselves with a huge shortage of affordable housing and a need to build housing as fast as we can. A key thing that any future housing policy needs to do, is learn from all of the mistakes that were made the last time, we needed to build a lot of housing very quickly.
There is a great deal of debate as to whether we should build out on the green belt that surrounds out towns and cities. At first it seems like such an easy and obvious solution to the current crisis. However we in the past, have allowed towns and cities to expand outwards claiming more and more of the greenbelt, often to build large numbers of system built housing, especially during the 1950s and 1960s after the relaxing of the green belt laws by the then housing minister and later PM, Harold McMillan.
Today many of the large peripheral housing estates built during that period still feel far removed and disconnected from the towns and cities for which they are part of. A lack of a local economy and community services to engage people, and poor public transport connectivity, never really provided the services that these new places [estates] needed, to thrive and be successful. So pushing towns even further out into the green belt is not the straight forward answer or solution, as it may seem.
We need to ensure that the homes that we build are properly connected within the communities that they are part of, not only to ensure an aesthetic high quality environmental design that compliments the existing environment, but also connects those homes in more ways than just providing electricity and water.
Within a future housing policy I would like to see a commitment to review current building standards, for all types of domestic dwelling construction, irrespective of tenure. To ensure a quality environment is created, both in terms of structures and space, especially as prefabricated construction is again becoming a fashionable choice for house builders.
The Private House Building Sector:
Today the private house building sector is very good a building small [Shoebox] family homes and apartments in condominium blocks, for outright sale. All very well so long as the resident does not go on to develop an illness or disability, wish suddenly requires their home to adapt to their own changing circumstances.
I personally find it amazing that today, post Disability Discrimination Act 1995, the private house building sector are still by enlarge, not building housing suitable for a person living with an acute disability need.
In most parts of the country house prices, have become exuberant against average earnings. The government’s current notion, that home ownership should be the ‘default’ aspiration for everyone, for a many people, is not a realistic option, within the circumstances that they find themselves living within. And of course, what is wrong with having the aspiration to rent your home anyway.
Thy type of tenure someone has is surly less important, so long as people are happy and comfortable with the sort of accommodation that they occupy, as their home.
With the appalling increase in homelessness that has again become visible, across many of our towns and cities, there is a clear need to be investing in homelessness services as well as just building more accommodation. Many of the organisations assisting homeless people often inform us that the people using their services often have additional support needs over and above that of housing alone. And so just providing units of accommodation to house people, on its own may not be enough to create mixed and stable neighbourhoods and to prevent a revolving door cycle for some of societies most vulnerable citizens.
Future housing policy should recognise the importance and need for supporting people within their homes and should restore an appropriate level of funding for this, within the social care sector.
After both the first and second world wars, council housing was seen as the fastest and cheapest way to build quality homes. Homes ‘fit for heroes’ returning from the wars, which the average worker would be able to afford, as the rents would be controlled at a level in line with average earnings. In recent years however council housing has become under funded, stigmatised, and is often seen as an environment from which people need to escape. Paradoxically the homes built after both world wars ‘fit for heroes’ are to the large part still standing, and still being rented out by the bodies which today manage those homes. A great many people still value those properties, as their homes.
Future housing policy should remove the borrowing cap on local authority housing revenue accounts, opening the valve to allow local authorities to increase their building capacity. Where there has been a vote under Tenants Choice (The Housing Act 1995), those affected local authorities could either consider the provision of a new age of council housing stock, or work more closely with local housing associations to identify land and provide funding options to increase the supply of social housing within their local areas.
There is also a need to deal with the stigma that has become associated with council housing. Many families are now paying high rents to private landlords in return for poor levels of service and again this does not benefit anyone.
We should try to build sufficient local authority or housing association properties for everyone who would like to live in one. Ending the frantic bidding process that only sees people with the highest priority being successful. After all, housing is a basic need that we all share, and all have a need for.
Future housing policy should bring an end to the current definition of affordable housing and return all housing part funded via state subsidy, to social rent based upon average earnings. We should also end the use of fixed term tenancies for social housing, except for accommodation where an upper age limit applies I.e. youth transition accommodation.
Right to Buy:
I personally do not have a problem with anyone aspiring to purchase their own home, and it can help to create mixed and diverse communities too. However the problems that currently exist around the right to buy policy are a result of the policy being poorly managed, and of not allowing homes sold under the policy, to be replaced with fresh social housing stock.
It would be appropriate to allow all sold properties under right to buy, to be replaced with a like property, and for social housing providers to be able to buy properties back should they be resold at a future point in time.
It may also be appropriate to end the universal approach to right to buy. Right to buy should only be permitted where social housing can actually be replaced by building new homes within the same local area. If this is not possible then right to buy should not be available. There are of course lots of other home ownership options available.
The private Rented Sector:
Many people are now being forced to pay high rents to private landlords in return for very poor levels of service delivery. The past government has introduced a cap on the amount of benefits tenants can claim in housing benefit, if they rent from the private rental sector.
Future housing policy needs to be bold and firstly (re)introduce rent controls for the private rented sector and again look at agency fees etc. but with an increase in the supply of council and housing association accommodation, more people will be able to apply for a social rent property.
Curbing excessive rents is an easier and more humane way of managing the housing benefit budget, rather than forcing more and more benefit claimants into poverty conditions.
The reality is that people come in all shapes and sizes, and peoples housing needs can be very different too. In the past ‘one size fit all’ approaches to housing delivery have rarely proven successful. Everyone needs a home but everyone needs a different home.
We do need to be building more homes, but the current policy of pushing home ownership above all other tenures, is never really going to begin to provide a stable home for everyone.
We need to be building all different types of accommodation, of all sizes, and of all tenures. To create mixed and sustainable communities, we need to be providing different types of support too. Achieving this would provide everyone with a range of proper housing choices, rather than the current scramble to just get whatever one can.
I personally don’t understand why building more council and social homes has not been of greater priority to governments past. The huge economic drive that house building creates is of benefit to everyone. Lots of young people would need to be skilled up in construction trades, the materials supply chain benefits, and then the people acquiring their new homes need to decorate and furnish their homes too. The stability generated then makes it easier for those people to sustain employment and so on. It is surly a win win situation for all.
Housing policy, standards and funding options need to be co-ordinated at a national level. However the housing needs of one local area can be significantly different to the housing needs of another local area, and so this means that local people are best placed to decide how housing can be effectively delivered on a local level.