Theresa May becomes first PM to address NHF conference, but will the honour come at too high a cost for those in housing need?
THE Prime Minister will dangle a £2 billion carrot before housing chiefs when she speaks at the NHF Housing Summit today; in return for help to get more people on the housing ladder.
When she takes to the stage, Theresa May will become the first Prime Minister to address a National Housing Federation (NHF) conference, although in a departure from previous years, the event is taking the form of a ‘summit’ and is being held in London, rather than Birmingham.
“You said that if you were going to take a serious role in not just managing but building the homes this country needs, you had to have the stability provided by long-term funding deals,” the Prime Minister will say. “Well, eight housing associations have already been given such deals, worth almost £600 million and paving the way for almost 15,000 new affordable homes.
“And today, I can announce that new longer-term partnerships will be opened up to the most ambitious housing associations through a ground-breaking £2 billion initiative. Under the scheme, associations will be able to apply for funding stretching as far ahead as 2028/29 – the first time any government has offered housing associations such long-term certainty.
“Doing so will give you the stability you need to get tens of thousands of affordable and social homes built where they are needed most, and make it easier for you to leverage the private finance you need to build many more.”
Unsurprisingly, this has gone down well with the Prime Minister’s hosts. As David Orr, the NHF’s outgoing chief executive said: “The announcement of £2 billion of new money for social housing is extremely welcome – but the really big news here is the Prime Minister’s long-term commitment to funding new affordable homes.
“This represents a total step change. For years, the way that money was allocated meant housing associations couldn’t be sure of long-term funding to build much-needed affordable housing.
“Now, by changing the way in which they allocate funding, ministers have given long-term confidence and confirmed that we are trusted partners in solving the housing crisis, building new homes and communities.
“Ultimately, this will have a huge impact on building the affordable homes that thousands of people across the country desperately need.”
There’s a catch, of course; in return for this largesse, housing associations will be expected to ramp up their development activities, taking the lead to deliver the kinds of schemes we might expect of commercial developers. As the PM puts it, “to achieve things that neither private developers nor local authorities are capable of doing”.
“Today, I’m asking housing associations to use the tools we have given you. Not just to build more homes, though of course more homes are needed. But to take the lead in transforming the very way in which we think about and deliver housing in this country,” she will say.
“Rather than simply acquiring a proportion of the properties commercial developers build, I want to see housing associations taking on and leading major developments themselves. Because creating the kind of large-scale, high-quality developments this country needs requires a special kind of leadership – leadership you are uniquely well-placed to provide.”
She will add: “Given the right tools and the right support, you can act as the strategic, long-term investors in the kind of high-quality places this country needs. To put it simply, you get homes built. And I want to work with you to transform the way we do so.”
The Prime Minister is also expected to acknowledge the stigma that “still clings to social housing”.
“Some residents feel marginalised and overlooked, and are ashamed to share the fact that their home belongs to a housing association or local authority,” she will say.
“And on the outside, many people in society – including too many politicians – continue to look down on social housing and, by extension, the people who call it their home.”
She will add: “We should never see social housing as something that need simply be ‘good enough’, nor think that the people who live in it should be grateful for their safety net and expect no better.
“Whether it is owned and managed by local authorities, TMOs or housing associations, I want to see social housing that is so good people are proud to call it their home… Our friends and neighbours who live in social housing are not second-rate citizens.”
Warm words, but there will be many who question the sincerity of such political theatre – not of the PM on a personal level – but of a Government that has implemented or continued with policies that have contributed to the very issues around which she will speak.
Among the certainties she is expected to offer the sector relate to long-term confidence around rents, but also that she will not extend the Local Housing Allowance cap to social housing. Welcome, no doubt, but it’s cold comfort for those renting privately for want of either a home to buy or a social home to rent.
This cut to the housing benefits intended to support renters in the private sector is causing havoc for those on low incomes. As recent research for the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) found, the cap combined with a freeze on LHA rates means it no longer covers the rents on even the cheapest properties, across whole swathes of the UK, putting them at risk of homelessness.
It’s this kind of gap between speechmaking and the policies on the ground that will no doubt leave some among May’s audience feeling rather less certainty than the PM might intend.