Decision day for affordable housing

It’s decision day for Britain’s 1400 housing associations. They have until 5pm today to vote on the National Housing Federation’s (NHF) proposal that housing associations give tenants the right to buy their homes at a discount of up to £100,000, before they are made to do so by the government.

The voluntary proposal, developed by NHF in consultation with government, contains a deal that has variously been described as pragmatic and disastrous. Unlike the government’s proposed legislation, it offers the potential to exempt some homes from right to buy in areas where there is a lack of affordable homes, such as rural areas, and to retain self-determination by pushing away the prospect of reclassification, which could see housing associations become public assets. NHF chief executive David Orr says a yes vote would also help the sector to rebuild a relationship with the government, which clearly holds it in low esteem. But if housing associations reject the proposal, the Housing Bill stands ready to impose right to buy on them. It’s a tough choice.

The issue has raised questions about social landlords’ business model and has implications for local authorities, which inject land or other support into affordable housing schemes in order to meet local need in perpetuity rather than to grow home ownership.

Some housing associations have already made their voting intentions clear, with the G15 group of London’s largest housing associations coming out in favour and Hastoe Housing Association, Wythenshawe and Red Kite among those being reported as likely to vote no. A poll by sector magazine Inside Housing earlier this week showed 37 landlords likely to vote yes, but a significant number had yet to decide.

The nature of Britain’s housing delivery and tenure is evolving. Those in need of a home have already had to accept that. The ‘just about able to pay’ now know that their likelihood of accessing the social rented homes provided by housing associations are slim, and that they must now rely on the private rental sector. Whatever the outcome of today’s vote, housing associations face a very different future.

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