Local solutions to the housing crisis

As we approach the 2018 Autumn Budget and the 2019 Spending Review, the LGA is embarking on a campaign to build the case for long-term sustained investment in local government.

Housing will form a crucial part of this campaign, as every one of us needs a stable and secure home: it is fundamental to leading healthy, fulfilled and productive lives.

But for too many people, housing is unavailable, unaffordable, or inappropriate for their needs. Currently, councils are providing temporary accommodation for more than 200,000 homeless people, over half of whom are children.

The housing crisis permeates all areas of local and national policy-making. It damages our communities, holding back growth and the creation of jobs. It also has an enormous impact on the public purse – the effect of poor housing on health is similar to that of smoking or alcohol and costs the NHS £1.4 billion a year.

Councils need to be at the heart of the housing crisis solution. They must be freed and empowered to play their full role in ensuring the provision of housing that supports health, jobs, and community. They need powers to build homes, tackle homelessness, and plan good places (see box, below, right, for our housing campaign aims).

“a stable and secure home: it is fundamental to leading healthy, fulfilled and productive lives.

In the LGA’s view, increasing the supply of social housing is one of the most important steps the Government could take to solve the housing crisis. This would add new supply quickly, support home ownership, reduce homelessness, and generate huge public service savings.

Given the scale of these benefits, the ambition shown in the Government’s recent Social Housing Green Paper, ‘A new deal for social housing’, is disappointing.

In terms of supply, it seeks views on how to encourage housing associations to build more, and confirms some welcome flexibilities for councils. For example, councils will no longer be forced to sell high-value council homes to fund discounts on homes sold under Right to Buy. What’s more, councils will be able to choose whether to offer fixed-term tenancies.

We’ve been arguing for these changes for a long time, but they don’t go far enough. We need a renaissance in council building, led by a removal of borrowing restrictions and the ability for councils  to keep the money raised from selling  their homes.

Elsewhere in the Green Paper, the Government confirmed that it will be implementing the recommendations from Dame Judith Hackitt’s independent review of building regulations and fire safety, which were geared towards improving safety following the Grenfell Tower fire.

The LGA is already working closely with government on this programme of work. We’re also calling for a ban on the use of combustible materials on buildings, and  for any new burdens on councils to be  fully funded.

We also support potential plans to allow local MPs or councillors to consider a complaint about housing before it’s escalated up to the Housing Ombudsman – local politicians are well-placed to support tenants through the complaints process.

But we’re less supportive of a consultation on whether the social housing regulator should publish a league table for social landlords. New, national performance regimes introduce a risk of one-size-fits-all standards being set without an understanding of local tenants and  their homes.

The current system, where council landlords are accountable to both the regulator and local politicians, strikes a good balance between national standards and local democracy.

Green Paper proposals to give tenants more choice over the management and governance of their homes, and to help tackle stigma, are good ideas. The LGA is already looking at good practice in tenant involvement, and it’s positive that there is an emphasis on tackling stigma.

Councils are proud of their housing stock, the tenure, and their tenants, and they have had to rebut negative stories about what it  means to be involved in council housing  for many years.

Overall, though, the Green Paper does not go nearly far enough. Ultimately, we need a huge expansion in the social housing stock for people from all walks of life, creating thriving mixed communities.

Government can help councils to lead the way by providing the freedoms and flexibilities that will allow them to invest in homes in the longer term. Unfortunately, the Green Paper falls short of doing this.

For more information on the LGA’s work on housing, please visit www.local.gov.uk/housing. The LGA is holding a conference on ‘The need for speed: increasing build out rates for new homes’ in London on 11 October, see www.local.gov.uk/events

Our housing campaign aims

The LGA wants:

  • A leading role for councils in shaping the investment that has become available through the Affordable Housing Programme, so that new housing and infrastructure meets the needs of their local communities.
  • Access to borrowing, including the removal of the borrowing cap on housing revenue accounts, so that councils can borrow to build the homes their communities urgently need.
  • Retention of all receipts from homes sold through Right to Buy, so that councils can fund replacement homes.
  • Any unexpected costs for councils arising from urgent fire safety work, following the Grenfell tragedy, to be met centrally.
  • Rules scrapped that allow offices to be converted to flats without planning permission.
  • Local communities empowered to have a say over development in their areas.
  • A system that stops land values spiralling out of control, so that councils can deliver the affordable housing and infrastructure that our communities desperately need.
  • Help to attract the next generation of planners and place-makers.
  • Welfare reforms adapted to reduce the risk of homelessness for key groups, including lifting the local housing allowance freeze, which is currently keeping renting out of reach for low-income families.
  • Ministers to commit to covering any shortfalls in funding for councils’ new duties under the Homelessness Reduction Act.
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