As they head into the general election, all the parties recognise that there is a severe housing shortage, which is having a devastating effect on people’s ability to afford a decent home to call their own. For thirty years governments of all stripes have worsened the shortage by failing to build anything like the numbers of affordable homes we need. But you can’t solve an affordable homes shortage by selling off affordable homes – and unfortunately that is exactly what today’s proposal from the Conservatives would do.
This proposal is a double assault on genuinely affordable housing: one in three council homes will be forcibly sold off in order to fund giving away the other half of the social stock owned by housing associations.
Loss of genuinely affordable homes
Selling off the most valuable council housing stock will create affordable housing deserts in the parts of the country where it is needed most.
Waiting lists for council housing and rising homelessness are just two indicators of the desperate need for genuinely affordable homes – homes which are already in dangerously short supply. Working families stuck in the expensive, insecure private rented sector and waiting desperately for a decent, secure place will now know that they will never get to the end of the queue, because all of the social homes in their area will be sold to the highest bidder as soon as they become available. The chance of an affordable home in the area they have lived, worked and raised their families will be gone for ever. And the prospects for the growing numbers facing the nightmare of homelessness will be even worse.
Condemning millions to a life of private renting
Though it may benefit a small number of people, giving huge discounts to allow housing association tenants to buy is also the wrong target. Social tenants are already have a secure, affordable home – something eleven million private renters can only dream of. What’s worse is that homes sold under the Right to Buy have a nasty habit of reappearing in the private rented sector – replacing low rents with high ones. The message to those struggling to pay sky high private rents – let alone save for a deposit – is that the ladder will be pulled away from them before they can take the first step. Public assets which have been built and paid for with taxpayers’ money will be sold off, leaving them stuck in the private sector for life. And because Conservatives will also freeze working age benefits, the 1.4 million renters struggling to pay the rent every month will be hit twice. The implications for renting families are clear.
Worsening the housing shortage
The real answer, of course, is to build more genuinely affordable homes in the places people need them. But the promise to replace any homes lost to this latest extension of the Right to Buy will not ring true, when the government’s own figures show that the similar promise made three years ago has not been kept. Barely one in ten of the council homes sold under the revived Right to Buy have been replaced – despite assurances of ‘one for one’ replacement. And what few homes may be built as a result will, by definition, be in the places that need them less. It is precisely where housing costs are high that genuinely affordable housing is most needed: replacing these homes with new ones many miles away is no replacement at all.