New government, new energy. Could there be a radical housing agenda?

We have a new government with new energy and a five year mandate.

Once The Withdrawal Agreement is concluded at the end of January 2020, it is clear that there will be plenty of bandwith for radical policies on the domestic agenda.

How might social housing fare?

Investment

Although social housing didn’t figure in the election manifesto, there is all still to play for in the run up to the budget in February 2020.

The Chancellor, Sajid Javid knows the ask for the sector.

Framing the argument in terms of its positive impact on the economy, will present the best chance of receiving a favourable hearing.

There will almost certainly be a need to make the renewed case for investment in all tenures, although early indications are that shared ownership will be the tenure to be given priority.

As will investment in modern methods of construction.

Devolution

The government has already confirmed its intention to ‘level up the regions’, and is preparing to change Treasury rules to accommodate this approach.

This is likely to be good news for the North and the Midlands. The challenge for the sector will be to ensure that it is sufficiently connected to regional and local structures to ensure housing has a seat at the table…

New Supply vs Existing stock

Although government is expected to continue to focus on new supply, housing associations now have a number of competing demands for its revenue.

The Grenfell Fire tragedy has reminded all providers that building safety is non- negotiable. And there is the fast emerging urgency to respond to climate change.

Both for new and existing stock, which will require investment in new technology for new homes and retro fitting technologies for existing stock.

And certainly in London and the South East, the ability to generate revenues through open market sales to reduce the requirements for public sector investment is under intense strain.

Social Housing White Paper

If government is true to its pledge there will be a Social Housing White paper, to take forward the long overdue response to the Social Housing Green Paper.

For it to have any credibility it must tackle the issue of social housing stigma.

It should also deliver on a national voice for tenants. However, early signs suggest that there is still more work to be done, to build the case from communities.

Regulation

One outcome of the Social Housing White Paper is likely to be stronger consumer regulation.

There are likely to be two choices, strengthen the powers and remit of the existing regulator, or create a new regulator.

Having been a strong advocate of accountability to residents in housing association governance, my heart will sink if we end up with yet another regulator.

We already have an increasingly complex housing regulatory landscape, with a new Building Safety Regulator, a beefed up Social Housing Ombudsman, and the Regulator of Social Housing increasing its challenge to the sector, on consumer accountability and safety, within its narrow government determined mandate.

Having seen a regulator, the Tenant Services Authority set up specifically to focus on tenants, then seeing its powers whittled back to a ‘back stop’ role by a de-regulatory government, my fear would be further moving of regulatory deckchairs, which has a headline, but helps no-one.

Better to give the Regulator the necessary powers and resources to adequately cover consumer regulation, financial viability and overall governance, with a stronger ability to intervene where it finds systemic failure.

There is much to work on. The sector will need to be on the top of its game, to ensure social housing gets the attention and answers it is seeking. And has the influence it craves.

As published on 24Housing