While under the Tory-led Government house-building is falling off a cliff, social housing is being undermined and in the private rented sector costs are increasing as quality is declining, Labour councils are ensuring that across all types of housing tenure new models to increase supply and ensure quality are being developed.
- Islington London Borough – pension fund investment
- Manchester City Council – housing investment model
- Stoke-on-Trent City Council – housing regeneration
- Southwark London Borough Council – Independent Housing Commission
- Stevenage Borough Council – environmentally friendly social housing
- Blackpool Council – selective licensing for private landlords
- Newham London Borough Council – Improving quality in the private rented sector
- Oxford City Council – HMO licensing
The London Borough of Islington is investing £20 million from its employees' pension fund to build new homes throughout the country but in particular London and the South East, with the explicit intention of addressing the affordable housing crisis. The fund aims to invest in new homes for private rent, and the move to invest in this way has the potential to directly stimulate growth.
Manchester City Council is developing a new Housing Investment model, with two main investment partners: the Greater Manchester Pension Fund which will invest to fund construction costs and the council which will provide the land to build the homes on. This initial pilot across five sites in the city is projected to deliver 244 new homes for sale or high quality market rent. The model has the potential to be extended across other residential development sites and could form a pipeline of development over the next five to 10 years, addressing Manchester's 76 per cent reduction in housebuilding since 2007/8.
In Stoke, the termination of the Labour Government's Housing Market Renewal investment programme left the city with 5,000 empty homes in areas in need of regeneration and problems related to anti-social behaviour around vacant properties. The council has agreed a radical proposal in which people can apply to buy an empty home for only £1 and receive a low interest £30,000 loan to upgrade the property. This is a reciprocal deal in which residents would have to live in the property for at least five years, and is a way of encouraging both home ownership and fostering a greater stake in a community amongst residents.
The London Borough of Southwark set up an independent Housing Commission to address the problems caused by the pressure for investment in existing council properties and unprecedented demand for council housing. The purpose of the Commission was to set out options and inform a long term strategy for the future of council housing in the borough, while also providing guidance for other authorities across the country facing similar housing issues. The final report set out three long-term investment scenarios, under the new Housing Revenue Account (HRA) headroom, with different balances of borrowing, stock retention and potential generation of surpluses which could be reinvested. It concluded that the council will need to change the way it invests in and manages its housing, recognising that shortage is not the only issue: the poor condition of current stock is a continuing challenge. The report also focused on ways to get better tenant involvement and reciprocity, and create more employment opportunities for residents, among many other recommendations.
Stevenage Borough Council is developing family homes for social rent which are environmentally sustainable. Part of their broader commitment to being a Co-operative Council, the council provided land and some funding for two new developments of housing that are built with materials from sustainable sources, houses are airtight, have photovoltaic roof tiles and benefit from rainwater harvesting meaning a reduction in water usage. The tenants from the housing waiting list in the borough will have little, if any, energy costs and the scheme is being monitored for two years by Anglia Ruskin University so that lessons can be learned and the model replicated within and beyond Stevenage for new housebuilding.
Blackpool Council is tackling the problem of rogue landlords in the town by developing a selective licensing scheme on the grounds of anti-social behaviour, which was clearly evidenced in council data as being linked to high concentrations of private rented sector accommodation in a particular part of town. The scheme ensures absentee landlords have local management structures in place, and is backed by robust enforcement for those landlords who fail to license, including using Police and Criminal Evidence (PACE) provisions and POCA to ensure landlords comply with standards. This approach is combined with schemes to assist landlords and promote good practice through an accreditation scheme, a council-run lettings service and energy efficiency grants to landlords.
The London Borough of Newham has established a successful Neighbourhood Improvement Zone based on selective licensing and is expanding the scheme to the rest of the borough. The council is also becoming a key player in the local private rented market, having purchased significant housing equity using a bank loan, and will in turn invest additional equity in future housing policies. This is enabling the council to drive up standards locally, provide a high-quality offer to tenants and offer longer tenancies to give people more stability.
Oxford has one of the highest volumes of HMOs as a percentage of local housing stock in the country. The City Council took advantage of a new power granted at the end of the Labour Government to pursue additional licensing schemes and introduced their own. Oxford now is the only local authority in the UK to require every HMO throughout its area to be licensed, and this involves an active process of intervention with a fee structure that benefits better landlords. Tenants now have the peace of mind that their property has been inspected by a trained professional and known bad landlords have been weeded out, at the same time as responsible landlords are not undercut by a reckless minority. The council meanwhile has used its powers to reduce the social and environmental costs caused by badly-managed, poorly maintained properties through an entirely self-funded scheme at no extra cost to the taxpayer.