Since 2010, housing associations have been constrained by funding cuts and rent caps, while councils’ planning and housing budgets have fallen by around half.
Many housing associations have relied on cross-subsidy models – increasing the number of homes they deliver to the private market to fund the building of more affordable homes. Plenty of councils have taken a similar approach; there are more than 150 council-owned housing companies across England, delivering investment into affordable housing and wider local authority services.
We should be proud of how we’ve adapted to meet affordable housing need, but these models were never going to be a sustainable replacement for what subsidised housing ultimately requires: subsidy.
So 2018 brought some welcome change. Who would have thought a few years ago that social rent would return to government planning policy and the council borrowing cap would be lifted?
“We are united by shared missions – to build more affordable homes and invest in the long term for communities
Councils still face significant restrictions and, while the long-term funding announced by government last year is welcome, it’s a drop in the ocean compared with what’s needed for a step change in delivery. However, taken together, these changes give us a chance to do much more.
It’s become clichéd to say everyone needs to play their part in tackling the housing crisis, but it’s true. Councils and housing associations face shared challenges: the need for bigger grant (and a greater grant rate per home); construction skills shortages; and a dysfunctional land market. But, ultimately, we’ll always be united by shared missions – to build more affordable homes and invest in the long term for communities.
To make the most of recent policy changes, G15 housing associations want to work with councils, rather than competing against them. We’re therefore pledging to help local authorities build homes, enter not-for-profit partnerships, share our development expertise, and take new action against homelessness.
Slowly but surely, it seems the shackles are coming off. Now we need to work together to make the most of this opportunity.