2016 Year in Review

Brexit, Trump, sheltered housing concerns and more. We asked the sector what their thoughts were on a turbulent 12 months.

2016-date

2016 has been full of announcements and think tank reports, more recommendations than anyone knows what to do with and uncertainty a constant dark cloud.

But the sector has managed to battle through another year, and we have asked some in the sector to give their thoughts on what may be the most bizarre year yet.

Chan Kataria, chief executive, emg group:

The year started from a position where housing associations were out of favour with a government totally lacking in commitment to affordable rented housing.  The year ended with a favourable Autumn Statement with £1.4bn additional investment to build affordable homes and the much needed tenure flexibility.

In the meantime, we had the Brexit vote and election of an American President who has backward views on immigrants, women, gay people and the environment. We also had a change in the Conservative leadership which, on balance, presents more opportunities than threats. It was certainly a year when truth was stranger than fiction.

In the sector, we had a whole range of special anniversaries, including our own 70th at emh group.  These milestones provide an opportunity to review and reshape our offer going forward. With a firm focus on efficiencies we have continued to adapt and grow just as our predecessors did 70 years ago.

Elizabeth Spring, tenant:

After a year including the Housing and Planning Act, Savills on the panel of a parliamentary event on the Future of Social Housing with no social housing tenants at the table, and Sadiq Khan’s 50% affordable housing pledge shrinking to 35%, I am asked to write my highlights.

Where are the social housing providers inviting tenants to join them to challenge what is happening? There must be some, somewhere? I’d love to meet you.

The Benefit Cap to £20,000 is presented in terms of providers having to evict people or refuse them tenancies. Are there any other possible responses, framed in terms of getting people housed?

Fixed-term tenancies not only potentially kill strong, multi-generational communities, they characterise tenants as beneficiaries who may be granted a temporary home for as long as they are ‘needy and vulnerable’.

The Autumn Statement showed the government to be willing to hear the sector. Please, will the sector now hear its tenants and include us round more tables next year?

David Orr, chief executive, National Housing Federation:

The past twelve months will live long in the memory. We’ve welcomed a new UK prime minister, elected a new London mayor and witnessed unprecedented uncertainty and constitutional change with a vote to leave the EU.

But 2016 has also been a good year for housing associations. We have shifted from the back foot to the front, owning our future to tackle this housing crisis once and for all.

We have worked tirelessly to push housing up the political agenda, calling for more investment and greater freedom for housing associations to build even more affordable homes.

The Autumn Statement demonstrated deep shift in the government’s relationship with the sector – housing associations are now seen as key delivery partners.

More funding and a commitment to real flexibility is a great start, but it is only the beginning. 2017 will be our time to step in to deliver even more of the homes this country needs.

Terrie Alafat CBE, chief executive, Chartered Institute of Housing:

Welfare changes, Brexit, a change of prime minister, a new housing minister – it has been another challenging year for housing organisations and it is clear we need to get used to working in an uncertain world.

But despite all of this a number of things happened this year, particularly in the last few months, which means there is reason to be positive about the future.

The government has signalled a clear change of direction on housing and backed up a commitment to tackle our housing crisis with additional investment, flexibility of funding and other measures which could be very positive for the sector. We’ve also seen crucial progress on homelessness this year with the progression of the Homelessness Reduction Bill.

What we’d like to see in the New Year is a strategic look at housing policy to make better connections between welfare policies and the delivery of affordable housing. We also would like to see proper funding of supported housing and a framework which enables us to address the needs of our ageing population and more generally everyone in the country who needs decent, affordable housing the most.

Bob Mayho, Principal Policy Officer, Chartered Institute of Environmental Health:

It’s not been a great year for housing but at least the Government has realised the problems of the private rented sector, many caused by their policies. PRS has doubled in the last 15 years, its demographic has shifted towards young families and poor conditions are continue.

Councils are routinely forced to use PRS to house homeless families because there is less social rented or affordable accommodation.

But it has the worst conditions of all tenures with the English Housing Survey saying around 35% of properties fail to meet the decent homes standard. Plus councils haven’t had adequate resources to properly enforce legislation, seek out poor conditions and prosecute rogue landlords.

However, the recent Housing and Planning Act 2016 provides optimism for those working to change poor conditions in the sector.  The Act further applies the “polluter pays” principle, bringing in measures enabling councils to take proactive approaches to enforcing the Housing Health and Safety Rating System, including fixed penalty notices (carrying fines of up to £30,000), broader scope for use of Rent Repayment Orders, banning orders and a database of “rogue” landlords. These definitely are all steps in the right direction.

Hugh Russell, Policy Officer, Community Housing Cymru:

The context Welsh housing associations work in continues to be fundamentally altered by welfare reform and the Autumn Statement confirmed that this won’t change anytime soon.

Despite this, Brexit’s vagaries and reclassification as public bodies, our members continue to take great strides to ensuring the availability of affordable housing for all who need it.

Key to this progress is the pact between Welsh Government, CHC and the Welsh Local Government Association, signed at our Annual Conference, which commits us to deliver towards the 20,000 affordable homes target set by Welsh Government.

The pact evidences the effectiveness of the Homes for Wales campaign, which saw us working with a diverse range of partners to push the housing crisis up the political agenda.

We don’t underestimate the challenge that the sector has been set, but with support from Welsh Government and our partnership with the WLGA, we enter the New Year in an optimistic mood.

Kate Davies, Chief Executive, Notting Hill Housing: 

As the year ends we have evidence that Londoners in their 30s are leaving in droves. The cost of housing relative to salaries (14.2 times the average salary) has created a generation that build up their careers and relationships in this city but are now priced out of it. Many who remain are sharing homes with strangers, or rooms with family. Today’s “coach surfing” “Cathys” are as homeless as the original.

This year we launched Notting Hill Community Housing.  This is our new charity that provides rented housing at a discount for low income Londoners. It is not grant funded, or regulated, but it is incredibly popular.

We think Gavin Barwell is sensible and responsive to the issues in London, and we are enthused by the commitment of Sadiq Khan to addressing housing through financial support for associations. In bleak times we feel things are looking up.

Tom Murtha, Ex-CEO turned blogger and campaigner: 

There were too few housing highlights during 2016. The U turn on Pay to Stay and partial retreat on Right to Buy were fleeting sparks in a dark night.

The Autumn Statement showed the government and housing associations will be building mainly for a different group at higher rents in future and the net loss of social rent homes will continue.

The situation will only get worse as further benefit cuts begin to bite, universal credit is rolled out and the full impact of the overall benefit cap and the LHA cap take hold.

Yet many in housing continue to  talk about a golden independent future building homes of almost any type to meet the government’s priorities. Providing more for the relatively well off and not those descendants of Cathy and Reg who are still struggling to find a decent home at a price they can afford 50 years on.

Sian Berry, Green Party Assembly Member: 

Problems faced by private renters have dominated the news this year as amazing campaigners have kept up the pressure to improve tenants’ rights.

My Big Renters Survey and report this summer showed just how powerless private renters feel against exploitative practices by rogue landlords – nine of out ten told me they had experienced four or more serious problems. I’ve also looked at the growing issues around property guardianship, which seems to be turning into the zero hour’s contract of housing.

We now have the Mayor’s new plans for funding, and I’m not happy. We were promised a London Living Rent would help people struggling to pay their rents, but this has turned out to be a complex scheme that’s almost identical to the Tories’ ‘Rent to Buy’ scheme, with a load of conditions on tenancies that seem aimed only at people who are already on track to buy a home and better off than average.

The Autumn Statement saw a big win with the announcement letting agent fees would be abolished, but the Mayor broke another of his key election promises when he told me he has given up pushing for more powers from Government and – crucially – any form of control on rent rises to protect renters from things getting even worse. I hope we’ll see more effort from him on this in 2017.

Glyn Robbins, Campaigner: 

It was the worst of times, it was the best of times! My housing year was dominated by the Housing and Planning Act, the single biggest threat to our sector I’ve seen during my 25 years in the field.  But the campaign against the Act has been inspiring and successful – a reminder people will fight to defend the things that matter.

The legislation remains a danger until it’s repealed, but the dropping of Pay to Stay and stalling of other aspects of the Act shows the potential to build an alliance that can lead to a better housing future for all.

I was reminded of what we’re fighting for in June when we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the council estate where I work: a genuine mixed community based on decent, secure, affordable homes and mutual support and respect, where people can build a life free from the tyranny of the housing market.

Alan Ward, Chairman, Residential Landlords Association: 

2016 was a year in which many private landlords had the stuffing knocked out of them.

Despite the contribution the sector has made to the country’s housing needs – an average of 200,000 new dwellings a year added since 1986 – from next year changes to mortgage interest relief, coupled with the former Chancellor’s decision to impose a levy on stamp duty for the purchase of any home to rent out will stifle investment. And it will add upwards pressure on market rents.

With 1.8 million new homes to rent needed by 2025 and one RLA survey showing 25% of landlords either have, or are in the processing of selling property because of recent tax changes, a perfect storm is sadly brewing for tenants.

The Housing Minister has called for more homes of all tenures. We welcome this, but the rhetoric must be matched by a more positive atmosphere for private landlords.

Sinead Butters, Chair, PlaceShapers: 

It’s been a full 12 months since I was appointed PlaceShaper Chair and what a 12 months it has been.

On 19th October 2015, Aspire Housing announced a two phase redundancy programme, and by 31st March nearly 100 people had left the business, and we were working on a new corporate strategy.

Fuelled by a sense that we had a lot to prove, we made difficult decisions in order to make savings and secure our future. Like many others we wanted to ensure we had a long, strong and viable future ahead.  And we did.

And as we look back at that difficult time, many other external factors have also changed.  Things one would not have even dreamt of.  We voted to leave Europe, saw a new government and Prime Minister, Trump elected as US leader and the world seemed to have gone mad.

All this time, we were working hard to influence government and others that they needed us. Whilst  grappling with the impact of the “spare room subsidy”, universal credit, the LHA, impact on under 35s, the future of Supported Housing, the rent cut, Voluntary Right to Buy, Starter Homes, Pay to stay…and more… We knew we had to step up and build build build!

Challenging, fast paced, terrifying and exciting, that was the year that was.

Jake Berriman Chair of the Rural Housing Alliance and Chief Executive of Shropshire Housing Group:

Coming from a rural housing perspective somewhere between the West Midlands and the edge of Wales it sometimes feels like we are on the periphery of things looking in.

Being a member of the Rural Housing Alliance, however, brings us together with like minded associations drawn from all corners of England.  This allows us a wider vantage point from which to discuss what matters most to us –  how best to serve rural communities through building and managing quality affordable homes.

Frustratingly, however, our task is too often compromised and complicated by the housing agenda being set within and not getting past the London bubble.

But, this has also been a tough year in which a lot of time and energy has been expended in promoting our own ambition to deliver for rural areas and challenging, where necessary, elements of the Housing and Planning Act; such as rural Starter Homes, and working to ensure that the voluntary deal singed up to on sales works for rural communities as well as tenants and Alliance members.

Jane Talbot, housing barrister: 

2016 has, yet again, been quite a year for housing both politically and in the Courts.  We have the on-going Housing and Planning Bill which is providing controversial with the Pay to Stay provisions being scrapped.

However, I want to concentrate on one judicial decision which is likely to have far reaching consequences for housing providers and that is Cardiff CC v Lee (Flowers) which held that landlords who have obtained a suspended possession order must seek permission to issue a warrant.

This will add another layer of administration, cost in terms of staff time taken to prepare the applications, cost of the without notice application and potentially increased arrears while the applications are in the Court system waiting to be processed.

Additionally, there is the uncertainty of application for warrants that were made before the Judgment and whether CPR 3.10 can “cure the defect” and if so, in what circumstances.

Landlords may rightly be wary of tenants evicted where the proper procedure was not followed seeking advice and issuing a claim retrospectively when the property has already been re-let.  Interesting cases are sure to follow this decision.

 

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