Our housing hopes for 2019
From action on homelessness to reforming private renting, the CIH policy team set out their housing hopes for the year ahead.
Further progress on reforming private renting: Over the last couple of years the government has been making all the right noises when it comes to reforming the private rented sector. It's promised regulation of letting agents and a ban on fees and has also consulted on both requiring landlords to offer three-year tenancies as standard and on introducing a new specialist ‘housing court’ to deal with legal disputes between landlords and tenants. These are absolutely the right priorities and they would make a huge difference for renters. What we need in 2019 is for ministers to follow through and actually get these much-needed changes implemented.
Follow the evidence: My housing wish for 2019 would be that the government makes better use of the evidence in formulating housing policy. Academics and the various policy and practice organisations in the area produce a huge amount of quality research on housing, particularly homelessness; it would be great to see research from CIH, the Centre for Homelessness Impact, Joseph Rowntree Foundation and others influencing government thinking.
Tackling homelessness: I really hope 2019 is the year of putting words into action when it comes to making the necessary changes to bring an end to homelessness. But this can only happen if Government acknowledge how their policies have contributed to the problem. Only this acceptance can trigger the power of policy to solve it!
Supported housing and housing, health and care: One of the successes of 2018 was the government's decision to retain funding for supported housing within the welfare system, following pressure from CIH and many other organisations in the sector. But while the final outcome was good, the uncertainty led to many new schemes being delayed or shelved, so 2019 needs to see a lot more development of supported and specialist housing, providing homes that help more people with learning and physical disabilities, older people, and others to be able to live safely and well and make the most of their lives. We also need to see more integration of housing with health and social care in 2019. CIH has illustrated the way good housing and support helps people live well and address the pressures on health and care (getting people out of hospital and supporting independent living) but we still need to embed housing more firmly with health and care partners – through stronger health and wellbeing boards for example or health and housing partnerships. Shifting local services from crisis and acute intervention to prevention and a focus on wellbeing has to be underpinned by decent, accessible and adaptable homes.
Fire safety: Almost 18 months on from the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower, 2019 must be the year when we start to see fundamental changes to the way we design, build and manage higher risk residential buildings. Before Christmans we saw the government's plan to implement the recommendations from the Hackitt Review, which is a positive step forward but the government must drive change now.
Delivering more homes: The tail-end of 2018 saw a series of announcements that should shame us all. This included Office for National Statistics figures showing us that an estimated 597 homeless people died in England and Wales in 2017, Ministry of Housing, Communites and Local Government statistics revealing that over 120,000 children were living in temporary accommodation in June 2018 and analysis by The Guardian and Shelter which highlighted that English councils spent £997m on temporary accommodation for families in 2017/18, up a staggering 71 per cent compared to 2012/13.
How can this be? The reasons people become homeless are varied and often complex but, for me, the nub of it all is the chronic shortage of genuinely affordable homes to rent or buy. Only 4629 new homes for the lowest ‘social’ rents were built in 2017/18 and, since right to buy discounts were increased in April 2012, 72,929 homes have been sold at huge discounts, with only 20,746 started or acquired to replace them. We’re just not keeping pace.
So what needs to happen? The government must rebalance the £53 billion budget for housing so that affordable housing receives a fairer share than the 21 per cent it gets now and with a much stronger focus on homes at the lowest ‘social’ rents. This makes economic sense – helping to reduce the housing benefit bill and the financial, and human, costs of homelessness. The government must also suspend the right to buy – if it doesn’t, we’ll continue to lose forever the homes we need the most. Finally, ministers have to recognise and address the mismatch between its welfare and housing policies. If people can’t get the financial help they need to rent a decent place to call home, the government’s laudable work to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping will be seriously undermined.