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Election Day: Dear Prime Minister

Well, today is the day - election day, the day we've all been eagerly anticipating. Well I certainly have.


Over the last few years after working alongside the government my curiosity in why they do what they do and how decisions are made has grown. It’s easy from the outside to sit and call the government out but regardless of which party wins, the next government will face a mass of vast and seemingly endless priorities with, let’s face it, very little money. Who wants that job!


No matter which party secures victory, the overarching priority must be the well-being of our people and our planet. The next government will need to implement policies that directly improve our daily lives, including healthcare, education, social services, and job opportunities. Ensuring that every individual feels heard and valued is essential.


Tackling the Housing Crisis


Above all the issues, I believe, the greatest difference any government can make to our society as a whole is to truly tackle the housing crisis.  It will take a radical new approach that of course will upset a few but the rewards will be significant.


Jessie Wilde (Housing Festival) said “One of the difficult challenges we face in responding to the Housing Crisis and the growing emergency is how to solve it, but more specifically, whose responsibility is it to solve it. It’s a responsibility that falls between the gaps in public, private, and third sector, and there is a divorce between those that must pick up the consequences and those who hold the potential solutions. It is this divorce, this disconnect, which leaves us with a question of whose responsibility it is.”


We have growing numbers of people across the county on housing waiting lists and requiring emergency temporary accommodation. The responsibility for these households (and indeed the financial cost) sits with local authorities. The LAs can claim back from national government a small amount (the equivalent of the 2011 Local Housing Allowance, LHA, amount) but very little accommodation is this cheap. Lots of accommodation, particularly private rented accommodation does not accept households on housing benefits and so authorities are left with little choice but to use expensive private rented accommodation, B&Bs, or hotels which are both a drain on local authority finance, and often completely unsuitable for the households living in them.


It is not the responsibility of the private rental sector to house the homeless. Companies and individuals in this sector rarely set out to leave people in housing need, or to cause homelessness. However, rising rents, drive to increase profits, and shareholder mandates to see increased returns drive a wedge between those who can afford to rent and those who can’t. In turn, this sees local authorities having to foot the bill for the difference. This is not a solution. This is not getting better.

Private companies are not the bad guys. Local authorities are not to blame. National government does not have an unending pot of money that can be used to ‘solve’ the problem.


The problem and the solutions are divorced from one another.


We need to build fast, sustainably and look for ways to overcome the barriers to delivering homes.


There is a different business model that can be used.


Offsite manufacturers businesses thrive when homes are built and deployed. Their businesses are successful in the delivery of houses, and often the greater the scale, the more efficiencies and the lower the cost to the buyer. Their business models are not predicated on land value, planning uplift, or drip feeding the market to keep prices high. Their model is dependent on the delivery of homes, at scale and pace, and a future pipeline.


MMC is not a silver bullet – it doesn’t have all the answers and will not, and should not, replace our country’s top house builders. But what if we decided to support and incubate this underdog supply chain, even invested in it? What if local authorities used their own land to deliver homes, at pace, by acknowledging that the savings they can make by supporting the delivery of new homes far outstrips the cost of delivering them?


Jessie goes on to say, “This requires a different mindset when calculating viability, it requires a mindset that is willing to see the greater benefit over and above the risk of doing something ‘new’. It requires collaboration across private, public, and third sector, and it requires a collective leadership – with each player being willing to pick up the responsibility for the challenge together”.


Last month, the Housing Festival launched Social Rent Housing at Pace: an MMC Playbook. Drawing on the collective wisdom of over 60 organisations, this playbook identifies an end goal and outlines a strategy to take advantage of the assets in play to achieve it.


The playbook outlines as ‘ecosystem solution’ with three essential components:

  1. Building homes in a new way through factory manufactured housing,

  2. Unlocking ‘unlikely’ land such as small, brownfield sites in public ownership; and

  3. Recalibrating the economics by rethinking value and unlocking alternative sources of capital.


It captures both what has been successful before and new actions worth trialling. It articulates a unifying narrative and the preparation required to enable a group of individuals (or organisations) to deliver effectively together. In this instance, to build the quality social rent homes we need at scale and pace.


Surely everyone has the right to a home. Stable housing is essential for personal stability and societal contribution. When everyone has a safe and secure place to call home, we can build a more inclusive and equitable society where all individuals have the opportunity thrive.


Who ever may be our new Prime Minister, our new Housing Secretary and our new housing minister, we all ask for some consistent bold leadership across the housing landscape. With thoughtful and effective policies, that can lay the foundation for stronger, more sustainable and resilient communities that allow all residents a safe a secure environment full of opportunities.  


We ask you get in touch, ask the questions from those driving for change and read the Social Housing Playbook!

 


Gaynor Tennant – Founder,  Offsite Alliance

Jessie Wilde -Deputy Project Director, Housing Festival

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1 Comment


Great post!


Every government says they will build more homes and then fails. I’m curious about these “grey areas” where the responsibility falls through the cracks. Has anyone done any sort of modelling of the sector and decision making within it? I can imagine it as a lot of arrows leading to the bottleneck of the planning system!

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