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15.02.16

Housing Bill could fracture communities

Tony Armstrong, chief executive of Locality, explains why the role public bodies play in facilitating community-led housing should not be overlooked.

564 Tony Armstrong high res edit resize 635816283071811470As the Lords debate the ins and outs of the Housing and Planning Bill, its potential impact, especially on communities, remains very worrying.

Affordable housing is increasingly under threat. That’s not exactly news to any of us – it’s a topic that’s rarely out of the headlines and we all know that home ownership is something most young people, in fact many people, can only dream of – but it strikes us that the Bill does not seem likely to change that for the better as it should. The consequences of this will be that everyone in rented accommodation will feel the very real impact.

The government has shown a commitment to increasing the supply of housing, but its focus on private home ownership and starter homes does not address the core issue – communities need and want access to a balance of housing which includes a strong supply of affordable housing, including social rented housing.

We have been busy briefing members of the upper and lower house on our concerns about the Bill’s potential impact on communities – and in particular around the availability of affordable housing, which will lead to increased fragmentation of neighbourhoods.

Measures within the Bill – like the extension of the Right to Buy, the insistence on ‘pay to stay’ for households earning above £30,000 and the selling off of vacant local authority-owned property – will all reduce the stock of affordable housing.

Our members have told us that their experience of the local authority Right to Buy and increases in local authority rents, is that it leads to:

  • Increased deprivation – as people are forced to pay higher social or private rents
  • An increase in more expensive but lower quality homes – as there is an increase in buy to let
  • People being forced out of their communities due to the cost or lack of availability of housing and an increasing churn of people moving in and out of short-term housing

Locality is at the forefront of supporting communities to take control and shape their own neighbourhoods and has supported more than 1,000 groups to develop neighbourhood plans since the Localism Act came into force in 2012 – the latter through programmes we’ve delivered on behalf of the government. Our experience shows that housing is a key element that communities want to have control over when creating their neighbourhood plans; they tend to want more of it, not less, so their children and parents are able to live in affordable homes in the local area.

Acute housing need and the unaffordability of homes, particularly for younger people, has led to pioneering groups and community-based organisations leading the way in developing community-led housing. Locality is working with and supporting more than 40 of these organisations to address local housing need. But these projects – born out of the dedication and determination of local people – are threatened by the government’s extension of its Right to Buy policy.

We are calling for the protection of community-led housing through the introduction of an exemption in the Bill which would mean that the Right to Buy policy does not impact this kind of development and unwittingly undo the great strides that many communities have made – in part due to the government’s approach to localism.

The operations and objectives of community-led housing providers are fully aligned with localism, and local government’s responsibilities to promote social, economic and environmental wellbeing in their areas. But extending the Right to Buy to their housing would fracture the local identity that characterises and drives them, and threatens the progress these organisations have made in pursuing the localism agenda.

Although a voluntary agreement to implement the Right to Buy has been made by the government and the National Housing Federation, it did not include representatives of community-led housing. Locality has written to the secretary of state to raise our concerns of the unintended consequences and have asked that an exemption be included in the Bill to make clear that community-led housing should not be included with the Right to Buy. 

Community-led housing providers have a uniquely local focus and it will not be possible to directly replace homes lost through Right to Buy at this level, threatening the long-term benefits to the neighbourhood.  Public bodies play a unique role in facilitating community-led housing and this should not be overlooked.

(Top image c. Dominic Lipinski, PA Wire)

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