Over the summer the government – and in particular George Osborne – has been gearing up for a fight with housing associations over the right to buy. The government even seemed ready to take HA debt into the public sector and be ready to sell off high value social housing to fund the scheme. There were numerous briefings to the Times about how inefficient housing assocations were. It seemed they were being set up to have their assets confiscated.
Yet for a government that wants to build homes kiasboshing the sector capable of filling the gap between private sector house building and need seemed odd. Instead the state would have to set up and subsidise an entire new third sector. It was crazy.
And so the government has realized in now accepting the alternative plan proposed by David Orr of the Nat Fed.
In his speech yesterday to the Nat Fed Greg Clark set a target of one million new homes over 5 years. He then candidly set out the policy choice.
I’ll be completely candid, there are some who say that to achieve the transformation we need requires a fresh start – that the housing association sector has taken us so far but might not be the right partner for the future.
That the energy and appetite for rapid and creative development is not what it was. That in truth the sector’s heart is in developing properties for rent, and little zeal for developing homes for home ownership.
That a once insurgent movement has become staid – with development too low and executive salaries too high.
That for the transformation in housing we seek we should look elsewhere. To councils through the devolution agenda, to private developers, to our own agencies in government and to new entities.
But there is another view: that this is a sector that has scored big successes over many years. That can be agile and adaptable to the changing opportunities and requirements of our nation. A sector that has always been respectful of the mandate of that successive governments have had.
That deep in the DNA of this sector is an instinct to empower and give opportunities to people, going beyond the strict business of building and renting out homes. And that the devolution agenda, putting local communities in the driving seat is an unmissable opportunity for associations who know their communities inside out often better than most other people in those communities.
A view that this is a sector which is a standing army of expertise, motivation and experience, capable of building hundreds of thousands of new homes that our country so desperately needs.
So two contrasting views: Be content with the achievements of the past – or look to build and to own a new future.
And the choice between them will determine the very future of the housing association movement.
My unambiguos opinion is that this sector’s future lies with the second option.
The Orr plan now makes HA right to buy ‘voluntary’ with the same kind of restrictions (such as in rural areas) as council house RTB. There will be a ‘1 for 1’ replacement policy (yeah right) with gap funding so they get built sooner (acknowledging 1 for 1 wasnt working).
The government has backed away from a fight which would onl;y have seen less homes built, but you also get the sense that an historic opportunity to rebuild a third sector capable of building 1 million new homes over 5 years has been missed. The target has been announced but the policy only applies to replacement homes, there is no policy announcements on how we will bridge the current gap between private sector buildings and the 250.000 annum need.