Grant Shapps, the housing minister, announced on Thursday that social housing providers will build 170,000 new affordable homes over the next four years, 20,000 more than expected and a lot more than some doomsayers warned would be possible.
Unsurprisingly, the communities department hailed this as a great triumph, but there remain serious questions about whether there will be enough subsidised homes for everyone who needs one.
So what should we celebrate, and what is there to worry about in Thursday’s announcement?
1) The numbers. The government has slashed its budget for social housing, but enabled providers to charge more in rent, effectively passing costs on to the tenants. But David Orr, the chief executive of the National Housing Federation, warned back in February this model wouldn’t work, and the 150,000 houses targeted by the government simply wouldn’t be built. But not only will the target be hit, it will be exceeded by 20,000.
2) The regional spread. Mr Orr was particularly concerned these houses wouldn’t be built in “low-value areas” outside the south east. But DCLG’s numbers show a fairly even spread across the country, with the majority coming from outside London and the south east, and 9 per cent being built in rural areas. Here is the full breakdown:
|HCA Operating Area (OA)||Affordable Rent homes||Affordable home ownership homes||Total affordable homes||OA %|
|East and South East||10,874||3,558||14,432||18.04%|
|North East Yorkshire and The Humber||7,286||849||8,135||10.17%|
|South and South West||9,697||3,024||12,721||15.90%|
3) The size of homes. Providers worried initially that many of the homes built would be single-occupant flats, which make more money for providers and have proliferated recently across London. But larger homes make up nearly a third of the total allocation.
4) Supported housing. Accommodation for the most vulnerable, whether they are disabled, have addiction problems or are refugees, make up 9 per cent of the total. Some had warned previously there would be no supported housing built under the new model.
1) The length of the waiting list. Some 170,000 new homes will be built from now until 2015. But the queue to get an affordable home is 5m people long.
2) Some black spots. The south west will get over 12,000 affordable homes, but this is less than some in the region were hoping for. And the vast area of the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber will get only just over 8,000 homes. Insiders say the area around Hull and Grimsbuy will be particularly bad after two of the biggest housing associations in the region had their bids turned down.
3) What counts as social housing? Some of these houses would have been built anyway without government grants, say housing providers. But if they are included in a scheme which is recieving government funding, they have been counted as government-subsidised homes. It is this fact that prompted one housing association chief executive to tell me: “Grant Shapps has counted as social housuing anything that moves.”