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!
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…
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?
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.
- CIH comment on potential right to buy deal, CIH, Online: http://www.cih.org/news-article/display/vpathDCR/templatedata/cih/news-article/data/CIH_comment_on_potential_right_to_buy_deal, Available: September 2015
- Colonel Run-away, YouTube, Online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUZ50cAk_Lk, Available: September 2015
- Greg Clark speech to NHF conference, Inside Housing, Online: http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/policy/politics/central-government/greg-clark-speech-to-nhf-conference-full-transcript/7011930.article?adfesuccess=1, Available: September 2015
- Housing association chiefs and Tories propose right-to-buy deal, The Guardian, Online: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/sep/24/housing-associations-agree-right-to-buy-deal-with-government?CMP=twt_gu, Available: September 2015
- LGA response on extension of right to buy announcement, Local Government Association, Online: http://www.local.gov.uk/web/guest/media-releases/-/journal_content/56/10180/7500368/NEWS, Available: September 2015
- Matthew 26:15, Bible Gateway, Online: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+26:15, Available: September 2015