Today marks #HousingDay, a social media campaign celebrating the positive impact of social housing on people’s lives across the UK.
Now in its fifth year, it remains difficult to paint a cheerful picture about social housing, coming round at a challenging time for the sector.
Now under way is the public inquiry into the deaths at Grenfell Tower, a disaster that brought up a lot of the longstanding problems – and misconceptions – associated with social housing.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan is among those who have suggested a slew of sixties and seventies high-rise towers might need to come down in the wake of Grenfell.
Regardless of the looming fate of the post-war council-built wave of blocks, regardless of how many are made safer and how many survive, the need for more social housing to meet the nation’s housing needs remains as strong now as is was prior to the terrible fire.
So what is the government doing to create new, genuinely affordable homes for people on low incomes?
The evidence suggests the government’s priorities are wildly skewed. The latest review carried out by the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) has found only 21% of the Westminster’s spending on housing goes on affordable housing for rent.
The government needs to take an urgent look at rebalancing the housing budget
Researchers found the lion’s share – 79% – of the annual housing budget helps juice the housing market through subsidised private sale schemes like Help to Buy, along with shared ownership and near-market rent developments.
“It’s not just about building more homes – it’s about building more affordable homes for people on lower incomes,” said Terrie Alafat, chief executive of CIH.
“The government needs to take an urgent look at rebalancing the housing budget and investing more in genuinely affordable homes for rent.”
Department for Communities and Local Government figures show the number of homes designated “affordable” funded by the government fell 50% from 56,000 in 2010/11 to just 28,000 last year.
Only a little over 1,000 of the affordable homes last year were offered at a social rent – those set according to local authority caps.
At the end of last week, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid unveiled new measures geared toward giving more planning permissions for private development.
The government has proposed imposing tougher criteria on councils, forcing them to use household growth projections to deliver plans for future housing need in their area.
It could also mean raising the overall housing construction target from 200,000 a year to 266,000 homes in England.
Unit numbers are important. But so are the numbers in people’s bank accounts. The government must consider more seriously the costs of housing and how many individuals and families will continue to struggle to afford what the market has to offer.
If #HousingDay is ever to be more than a tribute to a fading past, ministers will have to begin looking at social homes as a fundamental part of Britain’s housing puzzle, rather than a lodging of last resort.
Photo: the Park Hill estate in Sheffield, by Julián Varas, licensed under Creative Commons