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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

'Ministers have no excuses for not getting the social housing green paper right'


The government’s failure to publish the long-awaited social housing green paper before Parliament’s summer break is deeply disappointing says CIH chief executive Terrie Alafat.

We desperately need to provide more genuinely affordable homes to rent – and in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, there are clearly huge issues to address when it comes to the way that tenants are listened to and in making sure that homes of all types across the UK are as safe as everyone has the right to expect.

The prime minister has stated that housing is her number one domestic priority, while ministers promised that the green paper – originally pencilled in for publication in the spring – would be published before Parliament’s summer recess, which starts today. 

We know that Brexit is becoming increasingly all-consuming, in large part because its ramifications for our children and their children could be very significant. But while the long-term impact of Brexit remains unclear, the impact of our housing crisis on future generations is depressingly easy to predict. We know that if the government does not commit to building more of the right homes, in the right places, at the right prices, our housing crisis will continue to worsen and the prospect of our young people getting access to a home they can afford will be bleak.

Doubtless the changes in personnel at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government have not helped either. Since the green paper was first announced back in September, we have a new Secretary of State and we are onto our third minister of housing. But this delay simply makes it look as though the government does not see social housing or the people who live in it as a priority, despite repeated assertions to the contrary.

Here’s what then-Secretary of State Sajid Javid said when he first announced the green paper: “It’s clear that we need a fundamental rethink of social housing in this country.”

We couldn’t agree more. That’s why we launched our Rethinking social housing project last year, to spark a national debate about the role and purpose of social housing. The results, revealed last month at Housing 2018, showed that social housing has a unique and positive role to play and is highly valued. There is strong public support for social housing – Ipsos MORI polling showed that more than six out of 10 people across England support more social housing being built in their area, while 80 per cent agree that social housing is important because it helps people on lower incomes get housing which wouldn’t be affordable in the private rented sector. Almost 80 per cent agree that social housing should be available to people who cannot afford the cost of renting privately, as well as to the most vulnerable, while 68 per cent agree that social housing plays an important role in tackling poverty in Britain.

It was also clear there is a huge disparity between the support for social housing demonstrated in the report and the current level of investment. And there is still a stigma attached to social housing as a product and the people who call it home. Our report concluded that the time has come to reclaim social housing as a central pillar of society alongside education and the NHS, and set out an ambitious new vision for affordable housing. The government has a golden opportunity to kickstart this process with the green paper when it finally appears. We’ll be testing it against the recommendations in Rethinking social housing, which centred on:

  • boosting the supply of genuinely affordable homes to rent
  • reviewing the consumer regulation that is supposed to protect social housing tenants
  • giving tenants the power to shape the direction of future government policy at a national level
  • linking social housing rents to local incomes.

But let’s be clear – there is no excuse for the housing sector to sit on its hands while we wait for the green paper to appear. Rethinking social housing calls on social landlords to:

  • review the way they communicate with tenants and listen to and act on their concerns
  • review their tenant scrutiny processes and the way that tenants are able to compare their performance in management and maintenance
  • set rents that are genuinely affordable to people on lower incomes.

Yes the government needs to make some big changes but landlords must step up and take action in a number of areas without waiting to be told what to do. The sector must own its future.

Let’s go back to what Sajid Javid said when he first announced the green paper, billed as “a wide-ranging, top-to-bottom review of the issues facing the sector. . . the most substantial report of its kind for a generation.”

He said: “It’s not something we’re going to rush. Yes, I do want to see it published as soon as possible. But what matters most is getting it right. There’s simply too much at stake to do otherwise.”

There’s no arguing with that – but more than nine months down the line, ministers have no excuses for not getting this right. Tenants and landlords want to see something of real substance and ambition. The time has come to reclaim social housing as a pillar of the society we want to be, along with free health care and education. And we must push on – creating an ambitious vision of what a plentiful supply of social housing can do to help people thrive in communities that prosper.

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