A new report by the Local Government Association (LGA) states that a post-pandemic building boom of 100,000 affordable homes a year is needed to provide housing fit for social care, health and other key workers who have fought coronavirus on the frontline and the families of those who lost their lives. This will help to spearhead the national recovery from the virus and the economy, help meet the government’s 300,000 new homes a year target, and 6,000 new homes for rough sleepers taken off the streets during the pandemic.
Not only will this boost the supply of affordable housing, says the LGA, it will also “enable the country to get building again following a downturn in construction as a result of many house builders closing their sites.”
In the report, Delivery of Council Housing – Developing a Stimulus Package Post-Pandemic, the LGA sets out a range of key issues and recommendations to Government, including:
- The government should expand council housing delivery by bringing forward and increasing the £12bn extension of the Affordable Homes Programme announced in the Budget earlier this year, with an increased focus on homes for social rent.
- Right to Buy should be reformed, with councils able to retain 100% of receipts from the sale of homes under the scheme, the deadline to spend the money from sales should be extended to at least five years, and councils need the power to set the size of discounts locally.
- To increase the capacity of the building industry, which will have suffered following coronavirus, a skills and jobs strategy is needed to meet the needs of accelerating a social housing building programme.
Research for the LGA and partners has found that investment in a new generation of social housing could return £320bn to the nation over 50 years. It also found that every £1 invested in a new social home generates £2.84 in the wider economy, with every new social home generating a saving of £780 a year in housing benefit.
Stephen H. Dunphy and Bill Kossen suggest that "The construction industry has a multiplier of 2.06, meaning in good times each primary construction job creates slightly more than two other jobs in the service economy, such as grocery clerks or baristas. But in tough times, the multiplier works in reverse, meaning for every construction job lost, two other jobs in the economy go with it."
David Renard, LGA housing spokesman, said: “As the nation comes through the biggest crisis we have faced since the Second World War, we owe it to the health, care and other essential public service workers, who have risked their lives to keep the country running to provide them with affordable, high-quality homes fit for heroes.
“The government should let councils take charge of the housing recovery, by giving them the powers and tools to build more of the affordable homes the country desperately needs.
“A programme of 100,000 social homes a year would not only meet a third of the government’s house-building target, but it would generate a range of social and economic benefits.
“Now is the time for a genuine renaissance in council house-building that reduces homelessness, gets people off the streets for good, supports people’s well-being and is climate-friendly.”
But, social and affordable homes are not the only homes needed.
Strategic Housing Role
Local housing authorities have a strategic housing role. These strategic housing duties require local authorities to assess and address the housing needs of all residents across all housing tenures in their areas. This is an often overlooked key facet of the housing authority's responsibilities.
Housing need and provision to meet that need should link strategically with other Council functions, both at district and county level, including: regeneration, skills and jobs, residential and social care, accommodation for care leavers and public health. There is no doubt that the quality of living accommodation affects the health and wellbeing of the population, including mental health. However, few Health and Wellbeing Boards mention the role that housing can play in maintaining or improving the health and wellbeing of the population.
The following five elements are said to comprise the strategic housing/local authorities:
- Assessing and planning for the current and future housing needs for the local population across all tenures
- Making the best use of the existing housing stock
- Planning and facilitating new supply
- Planning and commissioning housing services which link homes and housing support services
- Working in partnership to secure effective housing and neighbourhood management on an ongoing basis.
The strategic housing role links well to the concept of community leadership and of local authorities shaping their places so that they make the most of public sector land and the economic opportunities that present themselves for regeneration, as well as meeting the increasing housing demand.
Local authorities have very wide powers to acquire, sell, appropriate and develop land for housing and this could be any type of housing to meet housing need. Local authorities can seize these opportunities themselves, only requiring a corporate vehicle where there are plans for private rented accommodation, or to ring fence risks.
There are many opportunities for local authorities to partner with housing associations in order to provide land (for which there are general disposal consents allowing certain disposals at less than best consideration) and in order to develop homes for sale as well as affordable and social rented properties. A good example of this is the Limited Liability Partnership between Hyde Housing and Brighton offering living wage homes for rent. For further details please contact Matthew Waters.
Local authorities should also be ensuring a supply of land particularly through the planning framework, to build housing of all tenures, including affordable housing. For example, Leeds identified the need for 66,000 new homes, and Birmingham 88,000 homes to be developed over the next 15 years. Leeds City Council is being particularly proactive in identifying sites and considering the local development frameworks/plans to enable such sites to be brought forward for development and the supply in Birmingham will get a boost from the Commonwealth Games.
Local authorities can also partner with the private sector on major regeneration schemes such as the Morgan Sindall and Slough North West Quadrant scheme (for further details please contact Chris Harper) or develop with, or through, their own housing companies particularly to deliver privately let housing, for which explicit powers exist.
Right to Buy – Buyback
Many local authorities are buying back homes previously sold under the Right to Buy as a way of replenishing their stock, or buying general property stock on the open market. Examples include Barnet, Tower Hamlets and Greenwich. For further details please contact Lyndon Campbell.
Enforced Sales – bringing vacant property back into use
Where there are homes that require the council to step in because they are derelict or a need to expend money maintaining a property due to failure of a property owner to do so, such as managing pest control, then essentially the local authority can exercise regulatory powers to demand the costs from the property owner. In the event the costs are not paid, the council may charge the property as a local land charge and subsequently register a legal charge on the property. This then gives the local authority the opportunity to exercise a power of sale and dispose of a property.
From the point of view of a local authority, using an enforced sales procedure has a number of advantages including:
- Social Impact – getting a home occupied again impacts the local area - empty homes can be an eyesore and have impacts socially (with anti-social behaviour)
- Council Tax – many empty homes are also blighted by the fact the council has been unable to recover council tax payments. Once the property is sold a local authority may be able to recover unpaid council tax and going forwards it will generate council tax when it becomes occupied.
- Recovery of Costs – the council can recover all its costs from the sales proceeds including costs for maintaining the property and costs of sale – including legal fees.
- New Homes Bonus – local authorities may be able to claim grant from central government where a long term empty property is brought back into use.
Alternatively a CPO may be appropriate if there is no expenditure on maintenance, just an unsightly property because nobody is living in the dwelling and it is deteriorating or a source of vermin. For further details please contact Lyndon Campbell.
There is no doubt that many local authorities could be doing more to stimulate housing and regeneration in their areas that would potentially meet housing need (take people out of temporary accommodation, improve their health and wellbeing and house the homeless), provide training and jobs in the construction industry and create more economically viable communities. Local authorities have very wide powers to acquire and develop land either themselves or in partnership with others.
Whilst local authorities have both the powers and the tools to regenerate their areas, along with access to significant public sector land assets, there needs to be a concentrated effort on delivering housing need across the full spectrum of tenures to deliver the places we need in the future and better outcomes for local people post pandemic.
The Government is in the process of developing growth plans for the future, but local authorities can often be more fleet of foot (which has been demonstrated in the response to the pandemic). What is in short supply is money, and that is available cheaply at present from a number of sources – not only the PWLB, but the Municipal Bonds Agency and the private placement market as evidenced recently by Brent and Redbridge councils for the delivery of homes and regeneration. For further details please contact David Moore.