Council Housing: time to Invest (now, more than ever), submission of evidence to the All Party Parliamentary Group for Council Housing
In 2010, the Parliamentary Council Housing Group of MPs and Defend Council Housing (DCH) published “Council Housing: Time to Invest, fair funding, investment and building council housing”. It was the result of an Inquiry that took evidence from tenants, councillors and others, and combined this in a thoroughly researched analysis of existing government policy, concluding that direct investment in council housing, accountably managed and maintained, was essential to produce and maintain the genuinely affordable and secure homes we have and need.
But the 2012 ‘self-financing’ regime which promised new financial resources for Council housing, has not delivered. Councils have attempted to find alternative sources of much-needed investment, looking to Special Purpose Vehicles, Joint Ventures and Local Housing Companies. These have not brought solutions to the scale of the UK’s housing crisis, which continues to deepen.
A lot has changed since 2010, and the pressures on council housing have only increased. Grenfell is a deadly symptom of what has gone wrong with UK housing policy. And the false economy of current policy is illustrated by the billions of pounds councils are having to spend on temporary accommodation. We are therefore glad to help in updating research to assess the current situation and the different investment strategies offered as an alternative to direct investment.
MPs will be calling for evidence, and discussing these issues, with tenants, campaigners, trade unions and councillors around the country. This paper is intended as a starting point for that discussion, outlining relevant past and current policies and assessing what we know about their effectiveness and possible consequences.
Contributors: Prof Danny Dorling, Oxford; Dr Richard Goulding, Univ of Sheffield; Dr Neil Gray, Glasgow; Dr Stuart Hodkinson, Univ of Leeds, Dr Joe Penny, Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment, UCL; Dr Glyn Robbins, London; Prof Stewart Smyth, University College Cork; Prof Paul Watt, LSE. – July 6th 2023.
Why Council Housing?
Countries that fail to provide a decent council/public housing service begin to fail in much wider ways. Extensive international studies have documented how this has occurred over time [A World of Homeowners: American Power and the Politics of Housing Aid By Nancy Kwak University of Chicago Press, 11 November 2015].
Decent council housing provision reduces pressure on the private market. Private sector rents are lower. Housing and flats become more affordable to buy. Some argue that the private sector will not be incentivised enough to build enough new homes, but that is hardly well reflected by what has actually occurred in the UK.
There are important effects of having a decent council housing system. In education children are able to stay at the same school for longer, they do not have to move schools when their parents are evicted because the private rent rises. In countries with better housing, teachers and other workers can live nearer work, and have lower housing and travel costs. This saves them and the state money.
Health services in countries with a better public housing system have lower staff costs and a far more efficient health service. People become ill less often through not being forced to live in unfit homes in the private and housing association sectors. And poverty is reduced, as is the greed of the wealthy who have less of an incentive to horde their wealth by buying too many homes.
In the UK, as far as housing is concerned, 2023 is different from 2022, despite all this being a long time coming. In 2023 we already worry much more about mortgage rates, empty (hoarded) rooms, and the collapse of parts of the owner-occupied sector as well as rising private rents and falling housing prices.
You don’t get a decent, stable overall housing sector without decent council housing. Housing Associations are no substitute: we have tested that as a theory and found it wanting.
Finally, decent council housing is not only housing for the poor. It is housing for people who prefer not to have the responsibility of all the upkeep of a home. The UK is decades away from having a housing sector as well developed as that of many other countries in Europe; but we could at least see where we should be heading. If you want to know what is possible, ask how and in what conditions the majority of university students in Finland are housed. You might be surprised by what you find. Once you begin to sort out housing – that need not be the end of your ambitions…
For the full report and an on-line link to its launch click here.