In housing limbo

We’re still waiting to see what approach the parties will take to housing in their manifestos for the upcoming General Election and how much priority it will be given.

One thing for sure is that it has created plenty of uncertainty.

What, for example, will happen to right to buy or welfare reform? Will things change again after the new Government is elected, or will it be more of the same.

The big issue is in relation to supported/sheltered housing. We were all expecting the Government to publish a Green Paper this spring setting out future plans for supported housing. This was going to give us more detail about plans to cap benefits for supported housing tenants at Local Housing Allowance (LHA) levels and provide councils with cash to top up the difference.

But Teresa May’s decision to call an election effectively means everything has dragged to a halt and we are all now in limbo.

If benefits are capped after the new Government, is elected, then I foresee problems.

Everyone knows there is a real shortage of affordable housing for older people, with the preference being for two-bedroom properties – the type my Association, along with many others specialise in – but pegging benefits to the LHA rate mitigates against building these types of homes.

It’s a real dichotomy because older people are not always looking for new one-bedroom homes. For many reasons, such as health issues and family responsibilities, they need the extra bedroom.

Hopefully, the Conservative Party (if elected), mindful that they tend to attract older votes, will bear this in mind when considering their approach after the election, but if they get a big majority, as has been suggested, they may just think they can do anything given the mandate they may have after the 8th June. And, as the housing benefit cap will come into effect from April 2019, they will only be two years into a five-year term at that time, so they won’t have any worries about a potential backlash.

People aged 35 and under will also be hit by the changes in benefit and evidence from the National Housing Federation suggests this will increase homelessness among this group. But, it’s this group that tends not to vote in elections, so the die may already be cast here.

Hopefully, the parties will all make housing a ‘top’ priority during the campaign, as the NHF has called for.

Everyone accepts there is a crisis in the housing sector and that we need to build more homes for a range of people.

But, there’s point in building new homes if people can’t afford to live in them!