Last week, the National Housing Federation announced a proposed ‘voluntary deal’ under which housing associations would extend the Right to Buy to their tenants, and gave its members eight days to vote for or against the deal.
Today, Shelter chief executive Campbell Robb writes an open letter to England’s housing associations, expressing Shelter’s grave concerns about the proposed deal, and setting out three key questions that housing associations should ask themselves as they ponder their response.
An open letter to housing association colleagues
Together, Shelter and housing associations share a common history and a driving concern that this country has a desperate shortage of affordable homes. Through our respective services we see the consequences of this everyday, from those striving to find somewhere decent to call home to those battling against homelessness.
Following the offer of a deal proposed by the National Housing Federation and Greg Clark to bring in the Right to Buy changes, you face an unenviable choice in the few days you have been given. The options, as set out by government, are settling early for a deal to guarantee your independence, versus a threat of far greater interference in your work.
There is also the third option that the government wants to avoid: full parliamentary scrutiny of the policy in the Commons and the Lords, which will take time and may (or may not) result in greater exemptions than the deal.
Given the scale of the housing crisis, neither of us would start from here, and any decision on this should be made with a heavy heart. The housing association sector is rightly proud of its history and independence – one marked by stepping in where government and the market had failed. This agreement could help secure that independence into the future, though one could as easily argue that accepting a threat-backed deal signals independence diminished.
For what it is worth, I cannot endorse this proposal.
I cannot support something that at its heart demands the likely sale of over 100,000 vital council homes on the open market to fund the up-to-£100,000 discounts for a lucky few tenants. But there are no consequence free-options available so I respect those that see the choice differently.
This is a crucial moment for the housing association sector and how it responds will define it for a generation. If this deal is to signal the sector’s renewed independence and commitment to being the leading provider of decent homes for those on moderate means then for me this poses three key tests:
- Will the sector join Shelter and others to vocally oppose the forced sale of council homes on the open market to fund the new Right to Buy discounts? As we know that selling off these low rent homes will only make life tougher for families on low incomes.
- Will the sector commit to not just replacing every home sold, but ensuring that these replacement homes also provide the low rents and security that the market fails to? Moreover, will you commit that replacements should be built in areas of most need, rather than simply in parts of the country where building is cheaper?
- Will the sector use any new allocations powers to help those families and individuals who need the security of a social home most, so we never return to the days of Shelter’s founding when social housing was the near-exclusive preserve of those easier to help?
Answering each of these positively would for me be the mark of a truly independent sector committed to its historic mission. For our part, Shelter will work tirelessly with you to help make this happen, track progress and challenge where needed.
Whether it is accepted or not, this deal could mark a dark day for social housing. My hope is that instead we can turn this into a positive reaffirmation of what makes housing associations great. I hope you will join us in making this happen.