Et tu, Nat Fed?

With a proposal on the table for housing associations to, ahem, 'voluntarily' accept the extension of the right-to-buy policy, I explore the cost to social housing and local authorities...

Et tu, Nat Fed? With a proposal on the table for housing associations to, ahem, ‘voluntarily’ accept the extension of the right-to-buy policy, I explore the cost to social housing, local authorities, and the sector…

The Story

So, this is how much it costs to get the right-to-buy policy extended to housing associations: thirty pieces of silver.

Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. This news has got me angry. I’m really not sure what’s going to happen now.

Okay, let’s keep the synopsis simple: the National Housing Federation have negotiated a deal with government ministers that, if accepted, would see housing associations ‘voluntarily’ adopt the extension of the right-to-buy policy. This would bypass the need for the government to introduce legislation to force the policy’s extension…and also mean that parliamentary scrutiny, legal battles, and, potentially, the reclassification of housing associations as public bodies could be side-stepped, along with the £60bn addition to public debt the latter could entail.

A couple of organisations have provided brief comments (see responses from the CIH and LGA), but these have generally been lacklustre (more on this below). Despite this, I’ll not dissect the details of the proposal – at least, not too much. There are smarter commentators in the sector than me who will do that with far greater aplomb.

Right now I’m an angry man. I’d like to try and explain why. Maybe you’ll feel angry too?

Not One-For-One OR All For One…

The problem with right-to-buy hinges on the proposed one-for-one replacement of properties sold through the scheme…or rather, the lack of that happening. Which is to say, one-for-one replacement is not happening. As long as that is the case, any new supply measures attempting to address the housing crisis in this country will be scuppered, like pouring water into a leaky bucket (dear Liza, dear Liza…)

Remember: you don’t solve a supply crisis by reducing supply.

Ah, but the proposal states that one-for-one replacements will happen…

“Every home sold will trigger a new home built by a housing association on a one for one basis. For every tenant who exercises the Right to Buy housing stock will rise by one.” – Greg Clark MP, reported in Inside Housing

…which would be fine except, as discussed above, this isn’t happening with right-to-buy at the moment! And if it’s not been happening, and is not happening now, why, all of a sudden, do people think it’s going to start happening?

Is this belief based on the NHF essentially saying to the government “if we’re going to do this you have to promise to replace those homes…and you have to mean it this time, okay?”

It’s like a tawdry relationship – how many times do we have to be cheated on before we realise this partnership’s no good for us?

The initial response from the CIH and LGA to the proposal has, frankly, been weak. They both basically said “if this goes ahead, it’s really important that the homes get replaced…” Err, yes. Thanks for stating the obvious. How about opposing it? Saying it’s a bad idea? Doesn’t it get uncomfortable sitting on that fence?

Oh, and let me make one thing clear: while housing stock might rise by one for every right-to-buy sale (assuming a new kind of land-money-planning alchemy has been perfected and homes do get replaced on a 1:1 ratio) social housing stock won’t rise by one. At best, sales and replacements will equal out and the net quantity of social housing remains static. More likely, net social housing will reduce – aside from it being unlikely that one-for-one replacement will happen, it will not necessarily be like-for-like replacement. The proposal hints at a ‘broader range’ of replacement properties, including shared ownership and starter homes; both important to addressing the housing crisis, no doubt, but they’re not social rented homes. And if there’s no requirement to replace social housing stock with social housing stock, soical housing stock is exactly what we’ll lose.

And we’re not just losing social housing stock from housing associations – the proposal will still force local authorities to sell off high-value assets to fund the extension of the policy!

Wait, what?

So, not only would we lose a social rented home from the housing association through right-to-buy, but Councils would be forced to lose one as well?

And now, rather than fight the proposal, the National Housing Federation is making a deal to make the right-to-buy extension happen? That is, they’re making a deal to ensure Council’s lose more homes, and in doing so for social housing to be more effectively stamped out?! All to ensure they maintain their ‘freedom’ as independent bodies (if bowing your head to a threat can be considered freedom…)

Why is no-one saying of the National Housing Federation: ‘hold on, you’re screwing local authorities to do this’? Why don’t housing associations seem to care about that aspect of the proposal? Why is that not making everyone – anyone – angry?

The National Housing Federation are prepared to give the government what they want on a silver voting slip – a key manifesto pledge that just recently housing associations were all decrying as detrimental and vowing to oppose, and the accelerated death of social housing – without scrutiny, without remorse, and without incident…

Matthew 26:15

I don’t work for a housing association – I work for a local authority, and have done so for seven years now – but I’ve always opposed the right-to-buy and its extension to housing associations (Indeed, I’ve written about it here.)

I know its early days and the proposal hasn’t been approved yet, but as someone who works for a local authority I can’t help feel the National Housing Federation is stepping on Councils’ faces in a selfish scramble for…what? Power? Control? They certainly don’t seem to care about how this will impact local authority stock. I look at housing association executive comments on Twitter: they talk about ‘tough decisions’ and needing a ‘self-determining future’, but no-one seems to give a shit that Council-owned homes are the sacrificial lamb for their (perceived) freedom, or that their decisions are determining aspects of Council’s futures for them. At best, you see an admittance along the lines of “yeah, it’s not ideal”…

Yeah. It’s not.

Even if the ballot of housing associations falls through – that is, a majority is not reached to accept the proposal – the damage has already been done; housing associations have shown a willingness to throw local authorities to the lions to ensure their own ‘independence’. By even suggesting this proposal – and being so blasé about the loss of council homes it entails – the National Housing Federation risk damaging any working relationship they have with local authorities.

Homes for Britain, the NHF’s grand march (quite literally at one point) to unite the #ukhousing sector in convincing the Government to make house building a national imperative must now feel hollow and manipulative for those local authorities that marched in support – how could they now feel anything other than betrayed?

Conclusion

Whether the extension of right-to-buy to housing associations is enforced through legislation or housing associations ‘voluntarily’ agree to sign-up to this new proposal, the end result is that right-to-buy on housing associations will become reality. Social housing stock will be lost from housing associations, and I can’t see it being replaced one-for-one, like-for-like.

This is a bad thing.

It will also mean that local authorities, already reeling from debt redistribution and 1% social rent cuts, will lose be forced to sell off even more desperately needed social housing stock to fund the extension.

This is a bad thing.

By choosing to strike a deal that knowingly forces Councils to sell their ‘high-value’ stock, the National Housing Federation has turned its back on local authorities…but not before sticking a knife in their back.

This is a bad thing.

We could have worked together and opposed right-to-buy with a united front, found new, innovative ways to address our housing crisis in spite of the terrible housing policies proposed by the current government, and pooled resources and experience to build the homes so desperately needed without losing our social purpose. Instead, housing associations plan to survive at the knowing and willing expense of local authority stock, a choice which even if considered and never realised still demonstrates the willingness to decide as such, and thus risks driving an irreparable wedge deep through the middle of the #ukhousing sector.

Our bedfellows didn’t become stranger – they became strangers.

Et tu, Nat Fed? Don’t spend your thirty pieces of silver all at once.

References

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16 comments

  1. If there is a silver lining, it is that at least the money from selling council houses is being given to social landlords. If the Government had been thwarted somehow on the extension of RTB, do you not think that they would have still sold the high value council stock and used the money for something else? They could have given it to the private sector for so called “starter homes”.

    1. Thanks for reading the blog and leaving a comment, Bill!

      I’d rather not have to look for silver linings. I’d rather the sector united against RTB (at least, until a proven methodology for replacement homes actually happens, or the discount is SEVERELY reduced, if not removed entirely.) Looking for silver linings is the kind of defeatist, ‘make the most of it’ attitude that has led the NHF to make the deal it’s making now…and, as I say in the blog, this is a bad thing!

      However, I do understand your point. You’re correct – at least the money would be going to social landlords, but with no guarantee to replace with social homes (as discussed, a ‘broader view’ if possibilities is being implied) I worry that social housing won’t be replaced with a true equivalent. And none of that excuses the NHF from stepping on the heads of local authorities to maintain their ‘independence.’

      It’s up to HA boards to steer their organisations, now; we’ll find out how much they actually care about social purpose soon enough.

      And yes, I suppose the government could just force the sale of high-value council stock regardless – that would certainly fit the current ideology, i.e. get rid of social housing. I’d hope that such a spiteful move would be met with suitably outraged and stiff opposition – at least now they can argue public assets are being sold to generate more public assets (to an extent) – but hope is the beginning of the road to disappointment…

      Thanks again for stopping by, Bill! Much appreciated!

  2. There will not be like for like or one for one. With the NHF stabbing councils in the back. It just goes to show you who they really care about and its not even us the tenants. There’s not enough tenants on these boards. We would have stood up to the government. Better to fight and hold your heads up, then to hold up a white flag with your heads down. Someone should send the NHF a white feather and one to each housing association CEO.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, radical50!

      You raise a good point about tenant representation on housing association boards. We have to assume any housing associations signing up to this deal will do so AFTER consulting their board (and if not…WOW, we have some serious governance issues in the sector!), and tenant board members would provide excellent balance to discussions.

      I wonder how many HAs have such diverse and representative boards, though…and would their CEOs listen if they did?

  3. While your aspiration for broad coalition against RTB extension is commendable, it fails to appreciate the political calculus of the current situation.

    Despite Corbyn, I can’t see many Labour politicians arguing against RTB and joining this coalition. Without that, you’ve got to contend with a government that has a democratic mandate and a manifesto commitment. Might take a year or even two, but the passing of primary legislation is inevitable.

    NHF stabbing Council’s in the back? I guess we just found out that some will do anything to remain relevant!

  4. Thanks for leaving a comment, Ade. Always interested to listen to other people!

    I’m the first to admit I’m not a very political person, so can absolutely accept the criticism that I don’t appreciate the political calculus. Other people are much better at understanding / explaining how various factions are integral while other’s views are different(ial)…

    (Hang on – I think that’s MATHEMATICAL calculus…! 😉 )

    I appreciate the RTB extension was in the Conservative’s manifesto, but then so was implementing a British Bill of Rights and that’s since been dropped (I think; at least we haven’t heard any more about it recently…), so there’s hope that with combined, continuous, and passionate rebuttal, RTB would be dropped as well.

    And if it took legislation a year or two to push things through, that’s an extra year or two to shore up defences and win more support against it. Rushing the proposal vote through in barely a week is clearly a sign that the Government don’t want that protracted (legal) battle…and that’s why we should be willing to engage in it.

    And yes, the NHF has shown its true colours. All that talk during Homes for Britain of a united housing sector…I guess that hot-air is what filled their promotional balloon!

  5. I am watching this with horror from Scotland, where the RTB is being abolished, and the council house building programme has been restarted. I have no words for what is being done in England – but at least can say I strongly agree with the article. Alienating local authorities is a really stupid move on the part of the NHF.

    As an aside, having a long memory (or more accurately having done an MSc on the subject), Mr Orr has previous form at Newlon in regard of sucking up to Tory Governments (Tenants Choice).

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Derick. I’m glad you can understand my anger!

      Abolishing the RTB isn’t the first time Scotland has demonstrated a superior (in my opinion) response to housing policy than England; the mitigation of the bedroom tax via an offset fund is also to be applauded.

      I’ll have to do some research re: David Orr and Tenants Choice. Sounds interesting!

  6. As a HA employee, the really frustrating thing for me is the fact that even if this goes ahead and 1-for-1 replacement DID happen (the cow would also jump over the moon, of course), 1-for-1 replacement can never be like for like, even if the replacements are of the same tenure.

    The purchases are invariably made in the more ‘desirable’ areas, which are always the fullest estates, with no space for further development, leading to further residualisation of our stock and ghetto-isation of what remains of the classic council housing estate. Prospective social tenants are forced into moving out of the areas they have grown up, away from family and social networks, aspirations drop and ASB/deprivation increases… do I really need to go on?

    So all the extra development happens in the township peripheries, often with poorer access to amenities, infrastructure etc, again leaving social tenants out on the edges. SH is meant to help people. Often vulnerable people. I can’t see any way in which this policy does that, without even starting on the damage to development programmes that the rent cuts are going to do.

  7. I feel your frustration, Gemma!

    Excellent point about the knock-on effect on neighbourhoods due to the geography of sales – this will be exacerbated in London where a lot of high-value local authority will be (forced to be) sold to fund the right-to-buy extension…it all creates a gentrification effect (of London at least) which is difficult to deny.

    It all shows that this deal isn’t just about physical stock/assets or finance, but will have a significant impact of the lives of (potential) tenants; another reason they should be consulted as part of this deal, and another reason to be angry…because they aren’t being / haven’t been consulted.

  8. It seems the wonderful “portable voucher” element escapes attention above. To remind that in theory this means a single person – call him Mr Smith – in a high rise 1 bed London property with the maximum £104k discount could be refused the right (and how can a right be refused??!!) to buy his home and giving a voucher for this £104k to use elsewhere.

    So Mr Smith decides hang on a mo, I want to use my £104k RTB discount to buy OUTRIGHT a 4 bed with a front and back garden in Wigan or Hull or Sunderland!!

    The system would apparently allow this!!

    As a confirmed Northerner I would take every opportunity to flee London and even consider living in Sunderland…er… – ok banter but this is a thoroughly perverse proposal as the above scenario outlines.

    How can you have a RIGHT to buy that does not even include the right to buy YOUR HOME?!

    A final comment on the forced sale of LA properties to fund this pig’s earhole of a dog’s breakfast idea. The proposal is that 15,000 “high value” LA properties per year and high value assumes an average of £300,000 average value per LA property!!

    Oh yes we all know that such high value (best LA properties) come onto the void market as rare as Government ministers speak the truth!!! They simply do not become void in the first place. Then a £300k average value which times by 15,000 in number gives the £4.5 billion pot in the Government’s thinking (sorry inept choice of word!!!) means it is only the forced sale of LA properties in London, which unusually have a high number of council landlords in its 32 LAs.

    Yet here in NW which comprises 39 LA areas there are only 3 LAs who are council landlords and I can’t see the likes of Lancaster and West Lancashire provide enough forced sale “funding” to even meet the likely RTBe demand in one of the 8 wards of Liverpool let alone the entire NW region!

    Te as we have seen in this weeks 2nd reading debate of the (NO SOCIAL) Housing and (TOTAL ABSENCE OF ANY) Planning Bill all the London MPs on both sides of the HoC were adamant that what forced sales of LA properties from London stays in London…and Greg (YES WE USED TO TRUST YOU ON PAST PERFORMANCE BUT YOU KNOWINGLY WITHHELD INFORMATION FROM NHF IN THE ONS RECLASSIFICATION) Clark saying (off the hoof) that 25% of all new builds form RTBe must be in London!!

    It cannot work in any way shape or form yet (Glorious Leader) Orr is pushing at ever more disingenuous straw to say it can go ahead in this voluntary capacity!!

    OK that’s about 2% of this off farrago my chest…

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