Some Home Truths about the Housing Crisis in Brighton and Hove

Here are some headline figures regarding the housing crisis in Brighton and Hove as published in Home Truths (National Housing Federation, 2018):

  • The average home in the city costs around £394,512, which is 14 times the typical salary of £28,226.
  • Workers on an average salary in Brighton and Hove would need a 219% pay rise to afford a mortgage
  • Average monthly rents at £1,292 swallows up around 55 per cent of private renters’ income
  • 27 per cent of Housing Benefit recipients are in work
  • There are 601 long term empty homes in the city and there are 1,499 second homes.

No comment is needed.

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House price increases are a disaster for first time buyers and those struggling with rents in the private sector

(An article in the Brighton Argus on 10th April 2018 reported positively about house price increases in Brighton and Hove.  I see the opposite.  Here is the text of a letter I sent to the Argus, published on 11th April 2018).

The language used regarding house prices is odd. In your article ‘Our housing boom’ ( 10 April 2018) the estate agent, Savills, said that “there is potential for yet more growth“ in house prices.

I would have said that  “there is the serious risk of yet more growth in prices“. The average sale price for a two bedroom flat or three bedroom house on the outskirts of the city is now touching £400,000, a little short of property prices in London.

Your headline suggests that increasing prices is a good thing.  It might be good for those who see housing as an investment opportunity but it is a disaster for first time buyers and for those struggling with rents. Housing should not be seen as an investment opportunity but rather the place where people live.

The ever increasing price of properties in Brighton and Hove means that more and more people will struggle to get on the housing ladder, rents in the private sector will increase, and homelessness will be exacerbated.

I’m guilty of failing to solve the housing crisis, for not bringing about world peace, and for not finding out who framed Roger Rabbit

(On Tuesday 20th March there was a letter in the Brighton Argus criticising me for various government policies and other matters over which I have no control.  This is my response, published on 21st March 2018, although the sentence below in italics relating to world peace and Roger Rabbit was, sadly, not included in the published letter)

Your correspondent, Spencer Carvil (Look at the reasons we are facing housing crisis; 20th March 2018) makes some points which I do not fully understand.

He implies that it is the fault of councils that council houses have been sold. This was, in fact, a decision of the Thatcher government that gave tenants the right to buy and not, as he suggests, because they were badly built and it was costing too much to maintain.  Those council houses sold have not been replaced because successive governments have restricted the borrowing powers of councils.

He is correct to say that the growing student population in the city has exacerbated the housing crisis, but so too have the better off, selling up in London and moving to the coast.

Mr Carvil implies that the licensing of houses in multiple occupation has facilitated the growth in student housing. If anything, the opposite is true. Licensing restricts the number of family homes that can be turned into student housing.

He then names me, asking what I have done to address these issues, and concludes that it is “not a lot”.

In this he is correct.  I hold no public office and, therefore, have no power over the right to buy, government fiscal policy or the licensing of HMO properties.  While I am about it, I would admit to failing spectacularly in bringing about world peace and I am yet to discover who framed Roger Rabbit.

I will continue to ensure that Brighton Housing Trust does its bit to tackle homelessness by providing accommodation for over 700 people each day, advice services that prevented 817 households from becoming homeless last year, and a range of other services to those in most need in Brighton and Hove.

Useless announcements in Westminster and Whitehall that will do nothing to address the housing crisis

“Never in the history of housing policy, has so much been announced by so many, whose achievements are so few”, as Winston Churchill never said.

The first announcement was the new job title for Sajid Javid, the Cabinet member responsible for housing, who went from being the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.  Could it be that the purpose was to celebrate  that Mr Javid is responsible for the worst housing crisis in living memory.

On a similar note, Mr Javid’s department, the Department for Communities and Local Government, which has always been responsible for housing, is now to be called the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government.  Please, please someone, tell me that this is more than mere window dressing, that the policies responsible for the 60% increase in homeless households since 2010/11 will change.

Receiving less publicity, and not noticed by anyone other than housing anoraks like me, was the change in the name of the Homes and Communities Agency, the government quango responsible for social housing development and regulation.  It is now to be called Homes England.

At its launch this week, Sajid Javid said: “This government is determined to build the homes our country needs and help more people get on the housing ladder. Homes England will be at the heart of leading this effort.”

Actually, that was the key purposes of the Homes and Communities Agency.  But at least we are being presented with the appearance that something is being done.  Perhaps he is hoping that we will not notice that nothing is changing at all.

Lastly, the social housing regulation function of the Homes and Communities Agency is forthwith to be known by the cunning title ‘the Regulator of Social Housing’.  Where do they get this talent?

At least Fiona MacGregor, the Executive Director of Regulation, has the honesty to set out the huge anticipated impact of these changes when she wrote in a letter to housing associations this week: “This change is to the regulator’s operating name only and does not alter our regulatory framework, approach or powers and we will continue to promote a viable, efficient and well-governed social housing sector able to deliver homes that meet a range of needs.”

Lots of people in Westminster and Whitehall have been very busy this week, earning their salaries by making sure that, at the end of the day, nothing is changing other than a few letterheads, business cards and signs outside government departments and quangos.  God forbid that they do anything meaningful to tackle the housing crisis.

Private house builder chief executive gets £110 million bonus thanks to government housing policy

If there was any reason (and there are many others) why the government should look again at council house building, it is the extreme bonus paid to the chief executive of private housebuilder, Persimmon.

Jeff Fairburn has received £50m worth of shares as part of a record-breaking bonus scheme.  In total he will get bonuses totalling £110 million.

He says he deserves his £110m because he has “worked very hard” to reinvigorate the housing market. (Some suggest that the rich need bonus incentives to work hard, while the poor need benefit cuts as an incentive to work hard).

According to Inside Housing magazine, “more than half the homes sold by York-based Persimmon last year went to help-to-buy recipients, meaning government money helped finance the sales. Persimmon’s share price has nearly tripled since help to buy was launched in April 2013.”

The Guardian newspaper has calculated that a donation of £4.6m (just 4% of Fairburn’s bonus) could provide a home for all of the 58 homeless families in York where Persimmon is based.

According to the National Audit Office (September 2017), there has been a 60% increase in households in temporary and permanent accommodation since 2010/11. That is 77,000 households including 120,000 children.

But they are the poor and they don’t really matter because Jeff Fairburn is doing ok and the Persimmon share has tripled thanks to the government’s housing policies.

And people ask why I am getting more cynical in my old age ……

Introducing our latest here today, gone tomorrow Housing Minister, Dominic Raab

In June we got our 15th housing minister since 1997 when the MP for Reading West, Alok Sharma, was appointed to replace Gavin Barwell who had lost his seat at the general election.

Today Alok Sharma moved to a new position as minister for something other than housing. Appointed to succeed him is Dominic Raab, the member of parliament for Esher and Walton. According to Wikipedia, “the constituency is in the north of Surrey, bordering Greater London, in the affluent London commuter belt. It is partly rural, with heathland and reservoirs, as well as towns such as Esher and Walton-on-Thames, and lower density Cobham, Claygate and Molesey and the villages of Oxshott, Thames Ditton and Hinchley Wood.”

The good news is that Mr Raab comes with a reputation for being very competent. The bad news from a housing perspective is that he is tipped to go places in government and is likely to be moved long before he will be able to bring his enormous ability to bear on the housing crisis.

It doesn’t have to be so. He could tell the Prime Minister that he will not accept any promotion or move this side of the 2022 general election so that he can make a difference. He could also lead by example by saying he will support housing development, ideally for social housing, in the “lower density Cobham, Claygate and Molesey”.

I won’t hold my breath. I am not sure whether I will bother reading the inevitable profile and interview with the new minister that will appear in Inside Housing magazine because he will be gone before I have reached the end of the third paragraph.

So what do we know about Mr Raab. According to the website ‘They Work for You’, Mr Raab:

  • voted for reducing housing benefit for social tenants deemed to have excess bedrooms (which Labour describe as the “bedroom tax”)
  • consistently voted against raising welfare benefits at least in line with prices
  • consistently voted against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability
  • consistently voted for a reduction in spending on welfare benefits
  • almost always voted against increasing the tax rate applied to income over £150,000
  • almost always voted against a banker’s bonus tax
  • consistently voted against an annual tax on the value of expensive homes (popularly known as a mansion tax)
  • almost always voted for reducing capital gains tax

Why should any of that suggest that he won’t move heaven and earth to help the poorest of the poor, to ensure that council homes with social rents are built, and to ensure that “the operationally messy, socially unfair and unforgiving” universal credit (as described by former PM, John Major) does not continue to wreck the private rented sector and lead tenants into unprecedented levels of rent arears and debt?

Answers on a postcard and sent to anyone but me.

(This Post was originally entitled ‘How can those interested in social housing and the wellbeing of tenants have any confidence in the new housing ministers, Dominic Raab?’ but I preferred the title used above)

House price inflation is a disaster for the people of Brighton and Hove

There was an article in the Property News section of the Brighton Argus on  4thJanuary that looked at house price increases. Under the heading “House price winners”, Brighton was reported as having come third in the list of the U.K.’s biggest house price winners over the last year, with an 11.4% rise.

I take a different view. The overheated housing market has meant that homes in the city are increasingly unaffordable for ordinary people. Rather than saying Brighton came third from top, I would suggest that for most people Brighton came third from bottom.

I guess it is a question of perspective between those people who see housing as investment opportunities and those of us who see housing as where people live.

House price inflation is a disaster for the people of Brighton and Hove.