Social housing green paper is “small step” towards tackling housing crisis

It may empower tenants but housing and homelessness experts warn that the paper does little to build the affordable homes needed

It has been a year in the making – but the government’s long-awaited social housing green paper has been branded as a “missed opportunity”.

Promised by Sajid Javid in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire last year, the consultation had been expected before parliament’s summer recess before being delayed until today’s announcement by Communities Secretary James Brokenshire.

Coming just a day after the rough sleeping strategy pledged to examine the root causes of homelessness, the green paper aims to tackle the stigma of social housing and to empower tenants, allowing landlords to be ranked in league tables and a reformed complaints policy.

There are also plans to allow tenants to purchase equity in their home at the rate of one per cent per year while local authorities were given further breathing room on how they spend money sold under the Right to Buy scheme.

The government also launched a consultation, running until November, for further views on how to shape the future of social housing in England. Social housing is devolved in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“Our green paper offers a landmark opportunity for major reform to improve fairness, quality and safety to residents living in social housing across the country,” said Brokenshire.

“Regardless of whether you own your home or rent in the social sector, residents deserve security, dignity and the opportunities to build a better life.

“With four million households living in social housing and this projected to rise annually, it’s crucial that we tackle the issues facing both residents and landlords in social housing.

But one thing that the green paper does not pledge is further funding to build the affordable homes that experts unanimously agree that the sector needs.

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The government has pledged to build 300,000 homes every year by the mid-2020s, but there was little about how those plans would become reality, according to Shelter chief executive Polly Neate.

“Today’s green paper is full of warm words, but doesn’t commit a single extra penny towards building the social homes needed by the 1.2 million people on the waiting list,” she said.

The Local Government Association’s housing spokesperson Cllr Judith Blake agreed that the announcement fails to address the decline of available affordable housing that has led to the housing crisis.

“This green paper is a step towards delivering more social homes but it is only a small step, compared with the huge and immediate need for more genuinely affordable homes,” said Cllr Blake.

“The government must go beyond the limited measures announced so far, scrap the housing borrowing cap, and enable all councils, across the country, to borrow to build once more. This would trigger the renaissance in council house-building which will help people to access genuinely affordable housing.”

Campbell Robb, chief executive of the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation, warned that the green paper is a missed opportunity to tackle the housing crisis and left millions around England out of poverty. “Families up and down the country are being trapped in poverty because of high housing costs,” he said. “The social housing green paper was an opportunity to right this wrong and deliver a plan that would build a new generation of social housing, that would loosen the grip of poverty on families and help people to build a secure future.

“Against a back drop of rising foodbank use, families on low incomes will continue to face impossible choices about whether to pay the rent or put food on the table. We urge the government to invest in 80,000 genuinely affordable homes a year at the next Spending Review to put things right.”

Images: Alex Liivet/Flickr