Archives for posts with tag: Social housing

Its message: the greatest need is for affordable rented housing in urban areas. Any solution to Britain’s housing crisis must include a bigger contribution from the public sector. Rather than coercive measures, the focus should be on enabling local authorities and housing associations that wish to build social housing.

Shame is poured on George Osborne’s ‘massive’ reduction of Housing Associations’ capability to invest in new housing with a 1% rent reduction per annum for 5 years: “Social housing rents are already at a large discount to private landlord rents, so this ill-advised move in one go, reduced the capital raising capability of Housing Associations”.

The FT thinks that local authorities should be allowed to:

  • set planning fees,
  • to levy taxes on idle land when developers fail to use planning permissions
  • and, crucially, to borrow in order to fund their own social housing developments.

There is a great deal that can still be done by making better use of brownfield sites and releasing public land for development. An annual tax should be levied on undeveloped land that has residential planning permission but has not been developed whether publicly-owned, or land owned privately, by companies, NGOs or agencies.

Mixed developments are being built, income from sales invested in social housing

At the end of March, Birmingham’s council newsletter reported on the completion of 251 ‘quality’ homes in Erdington. There is a mixture of social housing and houses for sale, for a range of family sizes – from one to five bedroom properties.  The income gained from houses sold from this latest development will be reinvested into the council’s housing stock of social housing. News of other social and affordable new housing in the city may be read here. Today we are reminded that a four year programme has been set up to enlist smaller housebuilders to use smaller plots of land.

Birmingham City Council won Social Housing Provider of the Year’ at the Insider Residential Property Awards in 2016. This highlighted the work of the Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust (BMHT, currently the largest provider of affordable homes per annum in the Midlands with projects in Nechells, Sutton Coldfield and Ladywood. In 2015, BMHT also won the Public Sector Award at the Urban Design Awards for its Newtown redevelopment (See architect Joe Holyoak’s article – one photo above.).

BMHT celebrated the completion of its 2,000 home milestone in March – a culmination of 1,125 homes built for rent and almost 900 built for sale since the council launched the BMHT programme.  The council plans to build around 1,800 further new homes for rent and market sale between now and 2020 in order to close the city’s housing gap.

 

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Long after the high quality housing programme initiated by Mayor Ken Livingstone – monuments to socialism at its best (see specifications in Chapter 2 here) – we read that homelessness is soaring in the capital as “immaculate houses in central London lie empty, used as assets in buy-to-leave schemes and three quarters of luxury new builds were snapped up by foreign investors last year”.

Birmingham’s Labour-led City Council won ‘Social Housing Provider of the Year’ at the Insider Residential Property Awards 2016 for the work done by the Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust (BMHT) programme, citing recent projects in Nechells, Sutton Coldfield and Ladywood. The city was also a finalist in the 2016 APSE (Association for Public Service Excellence) housing sector award. Last year BMHT won the Public Sector Award at the Urban Design Awards for its Newtown redevelopment.

bmht-2-small-heath

Small Heath, 2015

Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust (BMHT), set up in January 2009 to lead the development of the Council’s new build housing programme, is currently the largest provider of affordable homes per annum in the Midlands.

BMHT completed its 2,000 home in March – 1,125 homes for rent and almost 900 for sale. More than 200 homes for rent are currently under construction on 17 sites and the council is to build around 1,800 further new homes for rent and market sale between now and 2020.

It was good to hear commonsense from the Shadow Secretary of State for Housing and Planning John Healey on Radio 4 recently

john_healey_cihHe deplored the spending of £2.3bn a year on housing benefit going to private landlords renting out sub-standard homes: “The last Labour government brought in the decent homes standard for council and housing association homes, the next Labour government will make it a national mission to end unsafe and sub-standard private rented housing.” When he visited new council-built homes in Birmingham, Councillor John Clancy told him: “Building housing here and now is our first priority. The Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust is building houses in the hundreds and I’m absolutely determined that the city as a whole must now move towards building thousands”. In a recent Birmingham Newsroom post, John Clancy said:

“We now need the Housing Minister to emphasise that local government’s role should include the provision of new social housing as well as providing homes for private rental, and that the Government is serious about affordable home ownership”.

Endnotes:

In June the Mail reported that the city council has set up a £4.6 million fund to buy empty homes and make them fit for use.

According to a council report, more than 5,000 private homes in Birmingham have been empty for more than six months and of those 1,900 have been empty for three years. In many cases they have overgrown gardens, with litter, graffiti and broken windows blighting their neighbourhoods.

Further afield came news of an Irish initiative:

About 12% of Co Louth’s residential stock is vacant and during 2016 the council placed CPOs on 26 houses in Dundalk and purchased the units for between €30,000 and €40,000 each, spending a further €60,000 on each unit to bring them back into use.

In January an FT editorial recommended a bigger contribution from the public sector. To this end local authorities should be enabled to:

  • set planning fees,
  • levy taxes on idle land
  • borrow in order to fund social housing developments,
  • make better use of brownfield sites
  • and release public land for development.

It ended: “Shame then that Osborne reduced massively Housing Associations capability to invest in new housing with a 1% rent reduction pa for 5 years”.

 

 

 

Many who are aware of the impending cuts to housing benefit (aka ‘reform the funding of supported housing’) and fearing these will lead to even more evictions are contributing to the government consultation, which closes on 13th February 2017.

Two off-beat non-political strategies have recently been reported:

A proposal by Peter Cave, a Londoner, in the FT:

flats-empty-k-ed-wharf-sheepcote-street

“Look down, late at night or early in the morning, as you wander within major towns and cities — and not just in the south-east — and you will see numerous people sleeping on the streets. They have hit unlucky. Look up at the large blocks of apartments; many are unoccupied, owned by those who have hit lucky in wealth and who treat property as investments.

“Here is a straight and frank solution. Initiate legislation, as an emergency, to allow the homeless to live in those empty apartments.

“The wealthy property owners and their friends in government would magically suddenly find the funds to build some good social housing for the homeless — and, indeed, for those suffering life in grim and expensive private rentals”.

Ajay Munot of Aurangabad acts

The Deccan Herald has reported that instead of holding a hugely lavish traditional wedding for his daughter, Mr Ajay Munot of Aurangabad decided to spend the money on helping the poorly-housed in his region.

ajay-munot-houses-600x369

He constructed 90 terraced houses on two acres of land and selected residents using three criteria: they needed to be poor, live in a slum and not suffer from an addiction.

Meanwhile in Britain, evictions continue to rise.

 

 

 

 

It is good to read – via a Brummie link to an article on a Social Housing and Local Government news website that co-ordinated by Birmingham City Council, a taskforce of over 260 are to maintain more than 31,000 properties in Birmingham. 

wates bournville vans

In the Bournville conservation area residents are used to seeing the award-winning Trust’s housing maintenance vans, with an established workforce – Bournville Property Care Services – who take a real pride in their work. It would be good to see such a service in all the city’s neighbourhoods.

Family-owned Wates Living Space Maintenance was appointed in December to undertake repairs and maintenance services for Birmingham council tenants over the next four years alongside Keepmoat and Willmott Dixon. From April onwards they will have repairs, maintenance, gas servicing and home improvements provided by only one contractor, leading to an improved service and savings which will be ploughed back in to housing services.

wates vans

A specialist fleet of 193 vans has been commissioned, in all, carrying over 11,000 trade tools, to carry out over 90,000 repairs each year.

The aim is to bring back to full use approximately 2,300 vacant properties across the city. Wates Living Space Maintenance has also pledged to give a host of training and employment opportunities for local people and to utilise a local supply chain for the repairs and maintenance service, bringing an economic boost to Birmingham SMEs.

Further details are given on Wates’ website: http://www.wates.co.uk/news/190-vans-take-birmingham-s-streets-upgrade-homes-2322

 

As many teachers, social workers, GPs, disabled and disadvantaged people are driven to desperation by their tortuous ‘reforms’, government now proposes to ‘reform’ the charitable sector.

persimmon solihullRuefully citizens watch and attempt to protest as the Conservative government spends their taxpayers’ money – so often unwisely and against the public interest. They have seen local councils robbed of their housing stock – and political devotion to the corporate sector favouring the landlord interest and delighting other potential party funders – builders of ugly, expensive and ‘poky’ housing (left, in Solihull).

Having failed to induce charities to take over social care at rock bottom prices (Big Society agenda to increase the sector’s role in public service provision) government has reduced their funding and is now attempting to break up the housing trusts set up by philanthropists.

Government proposals will eventually benefit the landlord and corporate building sector by destroying the cherished legacies of philanthropic groups and individuals the Guinness Partnership, the Fry Housing trust, Aster, B3Living, Midland Heart, Orbit, Poplar HARCA, Riverside, Sovereign, SpectrumTrafford Housing Trust, the Haig Housing Trust and the Bournville Village Trust (below).

bournville social housing

In a Post report, Peter Roach, chief executive of Bournville Village Trust, described the plan as “unfair and shameful”. He said: “We understand people’s home ownership aspirations, but the concept of giving huge amounts of taxpayers’ money to provide discounts for people already enjoying the comfort of good quality affordable homes whilst at the same time watching waiting lists soar is unfair and shameful.”

Game set and match?

The government states that every house purchased will be replaced “on a one-for-one basis” with more affordable homes but the Department for Communities and Local Government admits that though 1.88m council homes in England have been sold since right to buy was introduced – 37% of the total stock of council homes – local authorities have built just 345,000 homes over the same period. It fails to add that this has been due to central government restrictions on the use of money derived from local housing sales. If government means to keep its word this time, profit-driven building corporations will demand subsidies – taxpayers’ money to induce them to build the social housing needed and promised by government.

The social gap widens: whilst these proposals will cheer rather than disturb government grandees with second and third homes inherited, acquired or bestowed [latest taxpayer funded stately home in the Cotswolds ironically for unelected minister for social equality], 3.4 million people are now on the national waiting list for social housing in England.

Read further: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/apr/14/right-to-buy-housing-associations-your-questions-answered

 

A Financial Times article opens: “David Cameron, prime minister, this month put forward what could be one of the worst policy ideas ever: extending “Right to Buy” to allow housing association tenants to purchase their homes for less than they are worth. It would make the housing supply crisis worse, by removing housing associations capacity to build more homes. It would push up rents, by creating a buy-to-let bonanza.

“Unfair and shameful . . .”

bournville social housing

Peter Roach, chief executive of Bournville Village Trust – a housing treasure trove – described the plan as “unfair and shameful . . .”. He said: “We understand people’s home ownership aspirations, but the concept of giving huge amounts of taxpayers’ money to provide discounts for people already enjoying the comfort of good quality affordable homes whilst at the same time watching waiting lists soar is unfair and shameful.”

Points made in the FT by Peabody Trust’s CE include:

  • One in three of the homes bought under Right to Buy, has been privately rented often to recipients of housing benefit.
  • A continuation of this would mean higher rents, with the taxpayer funding housing benefit payments.
  • This would be a compulsory transfer of social and charitable assets, at a discount, to people who have already benefited from sub-market rents and security of tenure.
  • A social asset would be lost.
  • Only one in 10 social homes sold under this scheme has so far been replaced.

MEP Keith Taylor has issued a new report on the UK housing crisis which demonstrates that the current system, with its unaffordable prices and rents and a depleted stock of social housing, is directly linked to Margaret Thatcher’s Right to Buy policy, and the failures of successive governments to ensure that those in greatest need are provided for.

Its summarised recommendations:

  • Rent control and tenant protection.
  • Investment in social housing as the best way of ensuring an availability of genuinely affordable housing.
  • New taxation frameworks to ensure those who have benefited from the property boom are contributing a fair share and disincentivise speculation and land banking.
  • New powers for local authorities to deal with empty properties, and the decriminalisation of squatting.
  • Structures to support and promote housing co-operatives.
  • Improved standards for construction and maintenance of all homes, to improve quality of life for residents and tackle domestic emissions.

Mr Taylor concludes that, though the current housing system is failing people, this doesn’t have to be the case. His report demonstrates that housing has become unsustainably expensive, and that fresh political will and innovative mechanisms are needed to make housing work for people again.

Keith Taylor sits on the Environment Committee and the Transport and Tourism Committee within the European Parliament. He also sits on the delegation for relations with the Palestinian Legislative Council.

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nick_mathiasonIn his monograph on housing issues, business correspondent Nick Mathiason* records that – in England alone – there are 1.4 million households on council waiting lists – a 34% rise since 1997.

Almost 85,000 children are living in temporary accommodation. Few local social housing units are being built – with honourable exceptions in a few local areas, including social housing in Chelmsley Wood being built by the North Solihull Partnership and affordable homes by Bournville Village Trust in Shenley Green.

In Solihull Council’s 2012 site assessment, Lowbrook Farm and Tidbury Green Farm land was excluded from the green belt to meet the long term needs of developers for aspirational housing – not for the needs of those on the housing register. Other sites – some flood-prone – were scheduled for release in a few years’ time. A year later, possibly due to the strong local opposition, the Council’s Local Plan, which was approved by the Government’s Planning Inspector and formally adopted by Solihull Council in early December 2013, included the return of Lowbrook Farm and Tidbury Green Farm land to green belt status.

During early January 2014 a legal challenge, submitted to the High Court, by Gallagher Estates (Lowbrook Farm) and LionCourt Homes (Tidbury Green), succeeded in overturning the Council’s Local Plan.

In May 2014 the High Court found the local plan was flawed and ordered the two large sites in Tidbury Green to be removed from Green Belt. The Council challenged the decision and on 17th December the Court of Appeal dismissed the Council’s case.

greenfield site 4

The greenfield flood-prone site above, has already been covered with ugly, expensive housing described as ‘poky’ by a viewer.

Continued: 2. What hope is there for Birmingham’s Development Plan?

 

*Nick Mathiason, who frequently writes articles exposing links between the governing hierarchy and wealthy donors, is business correspondent at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and also works with the Task Force on Financial Integrity and Economic Development. He was previously Business Correspondent at the Guardian and Observer newspapers for 10 years.

joan goodwin housing liaison boardAs people on the country’s housing registers wait in vain to be decently housed, Joan Goodwin, Housing Liaison Board Chairman (right), clarifies the blocks on effective action. Speaking on Adrian Goldberg’s WM Radio programme today, she explained that when representatives of the country’s councils get together they all call for government permission to borrow in order to build social housing – but do not get it. She added that in addition to meeting housing needs there would be a nation-wide boost to the economy by building social housing.

Meanwhile developers in the region and elsewhere, who only want to build more profitable ‘aspirational’ homes, are riding roughshod over local residents’ wishes, building on greenfield or even floodprone sites and threatening councils with legal action if not given planning permission.

In addition to stimulating the economy, if the Green Deal is applied to new-build social housing as well as to the refurbishment of existing social property – as advocated by WM MEP Philip Bennion and the convenor of the Green New Deal Group – the country’s ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets will be more achievable.