Yesterday Alok Sharma MP was announced as the latest Minister for Housing and Planning. Here at Shelter we congratulate him on his appointment to, arguably, one of the best briefs in government.
Tackling the housing crisis must be top of the list for the Housing Minister and his team and is one area with clear cross-party support. For generations now we have had an undersupply of new homes, particularly affordable homes, and it is leaving millions facing soaring private rents at the same time as rising house prices prevent more and more people from getting onto the housing ladder.
This situation cannot continue, and the next Parliament the Government must take the necessary steps to ensure that it doesn’t.
In recent months we have been extremely encouraged by the direction of travel seen in both the Housing White Paper and the commitments in the Conservative and Labour manifestos – particularly those around compulsory purchase orders. In shifting the focus of housing onto delivery the Government has accepted that a change of approach is needed and committed to beginning it.
For us there are 5 key things the Government should be focused on delivering:
1) Unleashing a new generation of affordable housebuilding
For generations we have simply failed to build enough homes, and particularly enough affordable homes. In New Civic Housebuilding Shelter has set out a clear vision for how to address this and how to build not only more homes but also better and more affordable homes.
Our vision, and how it can be delivered, aligns with much of what the Government has already committed to, and in many cases it is about building on those commitments. We want to see a focus on:
• CPO reform.
• Better use of public land.
• Steps taken to address continuing slow build out rates.
2) Strengthening the housing safety net
Housing benefit is one of the best short-term tools to improve affordability and prevent homelessness, but the current four-year freeze on Local Housing Allowance (LHA) has increased the gap between the maximum rent welfare benefits will cover and the cost of market rents.
Shelter research also shows that if the freeze on LHA continues then by 2020 it won’t cover rents for even the cheapest properties in over 80% of local areas.
The Government needs to end the freeze and review LHA levels completely to ensure that they reflect local market rates.
3) Delivering a new generation of ‘living rent’ homes
Low-earning renters are being badly let down by our broken housing market. Currently 1.3 million households on low incomes can’t afford a basic standard of living after they’ve paid their rent. These hard pressed renters are getting by, but only just and the constitute the forgotten middle of our housing market.
It is time to think seriously about how we support this group moving forwards, and that means committing to building 500,000 ‘living rent’ homes. These should have rents based on what local people can actually afford to pay.
4) Providing private renters with more security
Renting in England has changed beyond recognition over the course of the last decade and today the private rented sector is home to millions of working people on low to middle incomes. Where 10 years ago 1 in 10 families with children lived in private rented accommodation that number is now 1 in 4.
Yet our private rented sector isn’t fit for purpose and our renting laws give tenants very little security to plan for the future. The ending of an Assured Shorthold Tenancy is also the leading cause of homelessness.
The Government should legislate for 5 year minimum tenancies as standard, with a rolling break clause of 2 months to allow tenants flexibility and give landlords time to find new tenants.
5) Tackle rough sleeping
More than 4,000 people slept rough in England last autumn, a staggering 90% increase over the previous five years. At Shelter we know homelessness is neither inevitable or excusable. And during the election we joined forces with other homelessness charities to call for manifesto commitments to ending rough sleeping.
In response all parties made such pledges, with the Conservative manifesto committing to end rough sleeping by 2027 and to create a new Homelessness Reduction Taskforce.
There has already been progress in recent months with the passing of the Homelessness Reduction Act. Local councils will now have to meaningfully help anyone faced with losing their home. However, on its own this won’t significantly reduce homelessness. This challenge requires long-term commitment to provide more genuinely affordable homes and addressing housing benefit levels.
Of course our suggestions here are not meant to be read as the whole answer, and there is much else that the Government needs to address to solve the housing crisis. However, taking action on these issues would demonstrate a powerful commitment to ending bad housing and homelessness in England, and Shelter hopes that we will have the opportunity to work closely with the Government moving forwards to deliver these.