Baroness Thornhill: The supply of social housing has almost dried up

Posted On: 
3rd July 2018

Ahead of her question today on the affordable housing programme, Baroness Thornhill writes about the social housing supply for PoliticsHome. 

House construction
Credit: 
PA Images

If, when I was Elected Mayor of Watford, you had asked me what kept me awake at night, I would have said the number of families we had in bed and breakfast (it was once a matter of pride that there were none), and whether we had enough temporary accommodation.

These statistics are now the stuff of nightmares!  Many council officers face the daily grind of struggling to allocate fairly an increasingly scarce resource: a home. Or, more specifically, one that a family seeking accommodation could afford to live in and pay the rent.

It tells its own story that the rise in evictions from the private sector is now the top reason for people ending up in council temporary accommodation. Private rents are now out of reach for too many working families. The supply of social housing has almost dried up. This is due in large part to developers’ ‘Get out of jail free’ card – viability assessments – becoming a material planning consideration in recent years. Will the revised National Planning Policy Framework even mention social housing and amend the rules on viability in a way that may help to provide more?

I have asked questions of the Minister about homes for social rent. Increasingly there has been an attempt to elide out the word ‘social’ in discussions about housing! Government papers seeming to favour the misnomer of affordable or intermediate rent used alongside and other products like shared ownership, help to buy, build to rent.

The government’s laudable Homelessness Reduction Act, brought into force in April this year, and the pledge to end rough sleeping by 2025, show commitment to solving the problem.  But without a significant rise in social housing of all types, from supported accommodation for the vulnerable through to family homes for those on low incomes, it’s not worth the vellum it’s written on.

I know from recent government announcements that there is some recognition that we have to try to reverse this trend. I welcome these. But my fear is that the rhetoric will not match the reality.

If, as I suspect, the government ultimately feels is up to councils to provide social housing, it must be explicit about that and stop obfuscating by referring to affordable homes that are unaffordable to many, provide local government with the tools to do so, and stop developers trumping us with the ‘viability card’!

 

Baroness Thornhill is a Liberal Democrat peer in the House of Lords.