Almost 100 years ago, the Housing, Town Planning, &c. Act 1919 placed a duty on local authorities to “consider the needs of their area with respect to the provision of houses for the working classes”.
The end of World War I had created a huge demand for ‘homes fit for heroes’ in towns across Britain. And the ambitious Housing Act – which became known as the Addison Act, after its author, Dr Christopher Addison, the Minister of Health – promised government subsidies to help finance the building of 500,000 houses within three years.
By 1921, the post-war crisis had passed and the programme was axed, leading to around only 213,000 houses being built under the Addison Act.
“In the 100 years since the Addison Act, councils have built more than five million properties, helping millions of families find a secure place they can call home
Nevertheless, the Act marked the start of a period of large-scale council house building, which continued during the inter-war and post-war years, supported by other Acts of Parliament.
In the 100 years since the Addison Act, councils have built more than five million properties, helping millions of families find a secure place they can call home.
The number of council homes built has gone up and down over the past century. Numbers peaked in the 1950s, with an average 147,000 homes a year, and dipped to their lowest in the 2000s, when councils were building an average of just 224 a year. Last year, councils built 2,640 houses.
The introduction of ‘Right to Buy’ in 1980 led to councils selling houses for significantly less than their value, making it unaffordable to replace them all.
In the past six years alone, more than 60,000 homes have been sold off under Right to Buy at, on average, half the market rate, leaving councils with enough funding to build or buy just 14,000 new homes to replace them.
This leaves a shortfall of 46,000 homes that could have provided secure, affordable housing for the most vulnerable in society.
The LGA continues to call for reforms of Right to Buy – particularly for local authorities to be able to keep 100 per cent of all council house sales receipts and to have the ability to set Right to Buy discounts locally to reflect community needs.
However, in October 2018, after years of LGA campaigning, the Government did announce it would scrap the housing revenue account borrowing cap – allowing stock-owning councils to borrow against their housing assets to build more homes.
In an LGA survey published earlier this year, 94 per cent of housing stock-owning councils said they would use the new powers to accelerate or increase their house building programmes to build homes desperately needed in their communities.
But 92 per cent of councils were clear that more government support is needed if councils are to truly resume their historic role as major house builders and reverse the decline in social housing.
Few disagree about the need for more housing, of all types and tenures. Because of the lack of social and affordable homes being built, more and more individuals and families find themselves pushed into an often more expensive and less secure private rented sector. As a result, the housing benefit bill paid to private landlords has more than doubled since the early 2000s.
Councils are now having to house more than 200,000 homeless people in temporary accommodation, with thousands of rough sleepers living on the streets and 1.2 million households on social housing waiting lists.
The appetite for councils to build is there, but how do we get it done? What is the future for council housing?
The official centenary of the Addison Act is on 31 July, when the LGA will be hosting a social media campaign to showcase residents’ thoughts on council housing, and generate some debate around the future of council housing and how it should be delivered.
We are asking councils to get involved and exhibit their Addison Act materials. Councils can join in the conversation by using #CouncilHousing100 on Twitter.
We have also been hearing from academics, housing sector experts and politicians about their thoughts on how they see council housing in the future – see right for some of their responses, and please visit www.local.gov.uk/councilhousing100 to hear more views about the future of housing.
The last time the country built more than 250,000 homes in a year, in the 1970s, councils built around 40 per cent of them. A genuine renaissance in council house building is the only way to boost housing supply, help families struggling to meet housing costs, provide good quality homes to rent, reduce homelessness and tackle the housing waiting lists many councils have.
The future of council housing
“Council housing is one of the biggest and most important services that councils deliver. Decent, safe, secure homes are the perfect foundation for children at the start of their lives and that affects the cost of every other service that we deliver.
“If a house isn’t safe, secure and decent, education would be more expensive, [dealing with] crime and disorder would be more expensive and social care would be more expensive, so it goes to the heart of everything councils do. The more of it we can get delivered, the better.”
Lord Gary Porter, LGA Chairman
“The most important thing is that these new homes should be social rented at levels that people can genuinely afford – not the so-called affordable rents pushed by recent governments, not help to buy, and not shared ownership, which are all expensive options catering to the better off. This also has the benefit of cutting the soaring housing benefit bill.
“More council housing, reaching more of the 1.2 million on waiting lists, will also create the mixed communities that are the goal of current social policy, rather than confining social homes to the most needy or most vulnerable. We can go forward by looking back to the high-value deals and best practice of the past.”
John Boughton, author of ‘Municipal dreams: the rise and fall of council housing’
“I believe we should be as proud of social housing as we are of our NHS and our education system. I also think it should be for anybody who wants to live there, but we need a lot more of it for that to happen. We need a long-term ambition for social housing that offers affordable choice and opportunity.
“We know we need 90,000 new homes at social rents, the lowest rents each year. Government currently has a £51 billion budget for housing and only 21 per cent is earmarked for affordable housing. We think affordable housing should have a much fairer slice of the cake.”
Melanie Rees, Head of Policy and External Affairs, Chartered Institute for Housing