There’s rarely a dull moment in the social housing sector and on National Housing Day it’s fair to say that the last few years in have been particularly eventful!
It started with changes to housing benefit – as part of the Welfare Reform Act – in April 2013, which reduced the amount of benefit paid to people who were deemed to have too much living space in their rented property.
The ‘bedroom tax’, as it came to be known, has had a major impact, with a study published by The Guardian earlier this year concluding that despite the then Coalition Government’s assertion that the policy would have no negative impact on health and wellbeing, it has actually ‘increased poverty and had broad-ranging adverse effects on health, wellbeing and social relationships.’
Then, in the run-up to this year’s General Election, housing was put firmly on the agenda by the National Housing Federation’s Homes for Britain campaign, which called on all political parties to end the housing crisis within a generation.
Soon after being elected, the Conservative government appeared to have heeded to the call for more homes by announcing that it wanted to see a million more homes built by the end of 2020, And with housing associations accounting for 40% of all new homes built in 2014, it looked like our sector would be at the forefront.
But around the same time it was revealed that the Right to Buy would be extended to 1.3 million housing association tenants, which effectively meant that organisations like the one I head could find themselves with less homes in their ownership.
And then in July the triple whammy was complete when the Chancellor announced that social housing providers will have to cut social housing rents by 1 per cent each year for the next four years from April 2016, in a move the government says will help reduce the country’s housing benefit bill.
As housing associations are now having to find savings they hadn’t budgeted for, it has been estimated that 14,000 less affordable homes will be built each year as a result of this rent cut.
Thanks to strong negotiating by the NHF, the Government has since confirmed that any associations who sell homes under Right to Buy will be fully compensated for this ‘loss’ of a home, so the money can be re-invested in new homes – although even this week there has been rumblings that full compensation has not been set in stone, with the Housing and Planning Bill merely saying housing associations will receive grant, with “any terms and conditions [ministers] consider appropriate”.
I am sure this will continue to run and run but speaking personally of Railway Housing Association, I can say we’ve been around a long time (96 years and still going strong) and we have always managed to respond positively in the past, and will continue to do so now.
In 1919, we were established to provide homes for former railwayman (and their families) in need. Whilst, in 2015, the number of former railwayman are now outnumbered in our homes by people with no connection to the railways, the principle – to help those in need – remains the same.
Even only small (but beautiful!) we are continuing to build new homes and we recently received permission to undertake our largest development in recent history – a 73-home scheme in Darlington. I will talk about this in more detail in my next blog.
So, whilst these are undoubtedly testing times, I am confident that as long as we don’t lose sight of why we are here, we will come through it even stronger, as will the rest of the sector.
And no-one could certainly argue that our job is dull!