The government has published its long-awaited Green Paper on the future of social housing. We had been promised by the then Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, a ‘wide-ranging, top-to-bottom review of the issues facing the sector, the green paper will be the most substantial report of its kind for a generation.’ I was quoted in the media as saying that the Green Paper was “a wasted opportunity” and that it “does nothing to address housing supply, or affordability, or the conditions that led to the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Rather than it being ‘the most substantial report of its kind for a generation’, it is the most disappointing report in my thirty years in housing.” The Green Paper made no commitment to build even a single new home.
The key points from the Green Paper, which is now the subject of consultation, are:
- New ‘league tables’ of housing providers based on key performance indicators, surrounding services such as repairs and neighbourhood management. This could be linked to housing grant.
- Consideration to scrapping of the current ‘serious detriment’ test, to allow ‘Ofsted-style’ tougher consumer regulation (AW: whatever happened to ‘tenants’?)
- New home ownership options such as allowing tenants to buy as little as 1% of their property each year through shared ownership. This would only apply to new shared ownership purchases.
- Ditching of plans to force social landlords to offer fixed term tenancies rather than lifetime tenancies in social housing
- Ditching of plans to force councils to sell off their most valuable social housing when it becomes vacant
- The potential introduction a new stock transfer programme from councils to ‘community-led’ housing associations
- The return of guaranteed debt funding to help the development of affordable homes, and longer term ‘strategic partnerships’ for developing housing associations.
In a post on the website of the Royal Society of Arts, Atif Shafique wrote: “Regrettably, the green paper does very little to reverse the decades-long denigration of social housing and its tenants. Cynics may even argue that it reads as a document that offers the absolute minimum possible to save face in response to an event as serious as Grenfell. Policymakers have shown a serious lack of introspection, setting a virtually impossible task: raising the status of social housing while continuing policies that have brought it to the brink of collapse.”
He added: “One of the paper’s flagship ideas – helping tenants into ownership of their home – will have the long-term effect of reducing the social housing stock even further. Curiously, then, a green paper on social housing ultimately becomes just another one about private home ownership.”