An op­por­tu­nity to tackle homes cri­sis

Yorkshire Post - - OPINION -

THE ONLY way we are go­ing to tackle the wor­ry­ing in­crease in home­less­ness and the wider hous­ing cri­sis is by build­ing more homes, par­tic­u­larly more truly af­ford­able homes. That was a key point in my re­cent speech in Par­lia­ment dur­ing the de­bate on tem­po­rary ac­com­mo­da­tion.

There are cur­rently 78,000 peo­ple in tem­po­rary ac­com­mo­da­tion, in­clud­ing hos­tels and bed and B&Bs. That’s an in­crease of 63 per cent on the 2010 fig­ure al­though, mer­ci­fully, much lower than its peak of 100,000 in 2003. We need more af­ford­able homes (up to 80 per cent of mar­ket value) and more so­cial homes (50 per cent of mar­ket value) and we need to move peo­ple out of tem­po­rary ac­com­mo­da­tion into de­cent per­ma­nent hous­ing.

An ad­di­tional three mil­lion peo­ple live in rel­a­tive poverty af­ter hous­ing costs are taken into ac­count and home own­er­ship among young peo­ple has been steadily drop­ping; in 1996, 54 per cent of house­holds led by a 16-34 year old were owner-oc­cu­piers. This had re­duced to 34 per cent by 2016.

The Gov­ern­ment is al­ready do­ing a great deal by al­lo­cat­ing £550m to tackle home­less­ness, supporting the Home­less Re­duc­tion Act, which was in­tro­duced by my ex­cel­lent col­league Bob Black­man MP, aim­ing to halve home­less­ness by 2022 and to erad­i­cate it by 2027. I also wel­come its ac­tions on Sup­ported Hous­ing (a cat­e­gory which in­cludes home­less hos­tels and refuges for women flee­ing do­mes­tic vi­o­lence) and was pleased that it lis­tened to the rec­om­men­da­tions of the re­port by the Joint Com­mu­ni­ties and Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment and Work and Pen­sions Com­mit­tee, on which I served. An­nual new build dwelling starts to­talled 164,960 in the year to June 2017, an 85 per cent in­crease on the 2009 low point, but sig­nif­i­cantly be­low the widely ac­cepted an­nual na­tional need of 250,000.

So, there is much more to be done. Gov­ern­ment pro­pos­als and poli­cies for a stan­dard as­sess­ment of lo­cal hous­ing need, com­pul­sory lo­cal plans, more sites and help with fi­nance for small and medium-sized builders, more free­dom for coun­cils and hous­ing as­so­ci­a­tions to build, more money for as­so­ci­ated in­fra­struc­ture and an ex­tra £2bn for so­cial hous­ing, bring­ing the to­tal tax­payer con­tri­bu­tion to af­ford­able homes to £9bn by 2020, are all very wel­come.

Land, of course, is the big­gest prob­lem. Green belt could be graded ac­cord­ing to qual­ity and lo­ca­tion to al­low the de­vel­op­ment well-de­signed and planned set­tle­ments and ur­ban ex­ten­sions. Gov­ern­ment poli­cies are de­liv­er­ing about 50,000 af­ford­able homes ev­ery year – a cred­itable per­for­mance but we need to do much more – and his can­not all be the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the tax­payer.

Many homes are de­liv­ered by re­quir­ing new de­vel­op­ments to pro­vide a suit­able per­cent­age of af­ford­able homes on each site. How­ever, many de­vel­op­ers are able to game the sys­tem by us­ing ‘vi­a­bil­ity as­sess­ments’ to ar­gue that they can­not af­ford to pro­vide them on a spe­cific site.

Ac­cord­ing to re­search by Shel­ter, 79 per cent of the af­ford­able homes that should have been pro­vided have been avoided by us­ing these as­sess­ments. We should con­sider a new pol­icy for con­tri­bu­tions from de­vel­op­ers to pay for af­ford­able homes and so­cial homes to rent. I favour a sim­ple sys­tem of tar­iffs, a cash amount per bed­room or per square foot, which can vary by lo­cal au­thor­ity to take into ac­count lo­cal prices and need.

We might also con­sider al­low­ing in­vestors to put res­i­den­tial homes into a self-in­vested per­sonal pen­sion (SIPP), pro­vided they are pre­pared to let these out long-term at a so­cial rent.

The prop­er­ties would be con­trac­tu­ally man­aged by lo­cal au­thor­i­ties or hous­ing as­so­ci­a­tions and would of­fer much­needed, good-qual­ity, ul­tra-af­ford­able ac­com­mo­da­tion, a good long-term in­vest­ment re­turn and al­low the bet­teroff to help the less well-off all at the same time. What’s not to like?

Most land­lords are very re­spon­si­ble in de­liv­er­ing of de­cent-qual­ity ac­com­mo­da­tion in the pri­vate rented sec­tor, but some do not and I be­lieve we should con­sider in­tro­duc­ing a clear, well-en­forced na­tional prop­erty rental stan­dard. The draft Tenant Fees Bill, cur­rently be­fore Par­lia­ment, may pro­vide this op­por­tu­nity and could also en­cour­age longer ten­an­cies on a vol­un­tary ba­sis with at­trac­tive in­cen­tives, such as an ex­emp­tion from the new rules that limit tax re­lief on mort­gage in­ter­est

Suc­cess is not mea­sured in the size or num­ber of our ideas, but in the im­ple­men­ta­tion of ef­fec­tive so­lu­tions.

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