Ed Miliband spoke about the cross-party nature of the Commission and the recognition of the failure of housing policy for a number of years, failing to address a housing crisis which touches everyone in some way. He noted John Boughton’s comment that a government which tackles the housing crisis will be remembered for many years for changing people’s lives, and welcomed the Commission and its report for its encouragement to reframe the argument about social housing. Key issues are about who social housing is or can be for, how investment is to be made and what else that investment would do, and who should the developers be.
Ed noted that the mood is changing in both main parties, for example in lifting the HRA cap, and felt that the Commission’s recommendations provide a real opportunity to press forward on Labour policy and commitments. What is needed next is a Delivery Plan.
Questions and comments raised issues about:
The future of Right To Buy
Engaging the Treasury
The growing problems for 40-6- year olds in the private rented sector
The economy of land, tax, and housing
How to switch subsidies from home ownership to public housing, and benefits to bricks
How to push Tory boroughs to develop public housing
Whether flexible (temporary) tenancies are appropriate
How to enable the design and construction of public housing since most Councils have lost the staff teams to do this
Whether to take housing expenditure (i.e. investment) out of the Public Sector Borrowing Requirement
Workshops: Shelter Housing Commission – what does mean for Labour housing policies?
Housing should be about homes not assets. We need a progressive tax regime that diverts subsidy from private supply to public rented. One view was that public funding should be focussed on public rent only.
Development of new public homes
A delivery plan for building is needed. This should be accompanied by a return to compelling local authorities to build, with council housing as the solution, not the problem. Risk-averse local authorities are not building, but selling off their properties and land. Should compulsion be top-down, and centralised or more decentralised?
The delivery plan needs to go beyond numbers. There needs to be a shift in the funding of local government, to rebuild capacity, borrowing powers, CPO powers, and design and planning teams. Local authorities should take the lead in delivery of more public housing, but we must not ignore co-operative and community-led options.
Some LAs (Redditch is a good example) are investing in the skills needed for developing off-site (modular) construction. This needs to be accompanied by a balanced approach to a skills strategy, for both traditional and modular construction.
Legislation is also needed to make Housing Associations more accountable, and reform their governance, with a view to making changes in their behaviour, with no investment in those Associations that refuse to change. This may mean breaking up the larger Associations, and the approach may also need to be applied to ALMOs.
Private rented sector
The worst part of the private rented sector should be municipalised. To pay for this, we need to accept a long term pay back on borrowing.
Subsidising home ownership tends to increase prices and developer profit.
Twice as much public subsidy goes into home ownership than social rent
This costs a lot of money and in the long term does not help
Any public home ownership subsidy should be done by equity grant
Stamp duty should be replaced by a tax system based on capital gains. This should be looked at as part tax reform programme which looks at how we tax land value.
More needs to be said about under-occupation and unoccupied houses, and especially about the large amount of empty housing in London. Could we make it illegal for property to be unoccupied without a plan for its useage?
A single regulator was not considered a priority and its desirability was questioned. More commonality of standards and regulations is to be welcomed, but we need to sort out public housing regulation first: standards and tenant involvement.
This is a critical issue, which has got stuck under the Tory Government. Labour needs to say much more about how to resolve the problems.