Having settled into new roles following a turbulent summer, Theresa May’s government has started to reveal its new approach to housing. While there hasn’t been a revolutionary overhaul in policy, there has been a welcome shift in sentiment, which indicates the government is embracing a flexible approach to the solution to the UK’s housing crisis.
The first noticeable change we saw was the new tone in Housing Minister, Gavin Barwell’s speech to the RESI conference in South Wales. In his first major speech since his appointment, Barwell hinted at a shift in the Starter Homes policy, saying he wanted to focus on all tenures – not just homeownership.
At the National Housing Conference in Birmingham, Mr Barwell went further saying: “Some of you have said to me that you’d welcome the flexibility to bid for a wider mix of affordable housing. We’re happy to look at that – we remain committed to helping people onto the housing ladder, but not at the expense of reducing the number of homes our programme delivers.” Inside Housing also revealed the government is considering broadening its Starter Homes policy to include rent-to-buy homes. Cleary, Mr Barwell has been listening to the concerns of affordable home providers and the representations made by Rentplus; as a result the government is showing much greater understanding of the need for mixed tenure developments.
Further endorsement came at the Conservative Party conference. Theresa May, in her first conference speech as Prime Minister recognised the need for more affordable housing, arguing that, “High housing costs – and the growing gap between those on the property ladder and those who are not – lie at the heart of falling social mobility, falling savings and low productivity.” This chimes with the case we’ve been making. Through the inclusion of Rentplus affordable rent-to-buy homes in new developments, low paid households can afford to live in their local area investing their hard-earned income in the local economy supporting the regeneration of town centres and vibrant communities . Now it seems we are all moving in the same direction.
In order to tackle the country’s housing challenge, the government reiterated its previous commitment to building 1 million new homes by 2020. With research showing that David Cameron built the fewest homes of any Prime Minister since 1923, they’ve sensibly admitted that they haven’t done enough. We welcome Philip Hammond and Sajid Javid’s £5 billion stimulus for housebuilders as a way of stepping up construction, collectively, their new initiatives are expected to deliver 40,000 homes by the end of this parliament. However, more innovation is needed if we are to deliver 1 million homes; we cannot continue doing what we have always done!
Housing models which bring institutional investment through new entrants to affordable housing should also be an important part of the new housing market the government is seeking to build. The existing affordable housing sector cannot meet the demand alone. Partnerships between the private and public sectors work well and we believe that bridging the gap between affordable housing and private funding is a very real part of the solution to the UK’s housing crisis.
We now eagerly await the Autumn Statement and the government’s new housing white paper, due to be published later this year containing “further significant measures” to facilitate the delivery of the target 1 million new homes by 2020.
Richard Connolly, CEO of Rentplus