Thursday, 2 February 2012

The "housing crisis" that isn't...


I'm pretty sure it will be all over the airwaves and will generate acres of printed commentary in such places as the Guardian - the National Housing Federation (NHF), lobbyists for the social housing sector, are scaring us about the "worst housing crisis in a generation" (whatever that may mean). Here's the stuff about Bradford:

Figures released yesterday by the National Housing Federation showed 20,800 people in the district are languishing on the waiting list. 

Frightening figures there - how will we ever provide for this enormous demand?

It's not a simple as this because Bradford doesn't have a housing waiting list, we have what's called a "choice-based lettings system". And that system has over 20,000 people registered with it. But not all of them are actually looking for houses right now:

...the figures represent the number of people registered with the choice-based letting system operated by Incommunities* – not the number of people actively bidding. This figure was around 6,100 in June last year, according to Incommunities’ figures.

So there are actually only 6000 people looking for a council house in Bradford right now - still quite a lot but nowhere near the scale of "housing crisis". The churn rate in social housing means that Bradford has at least 2000 social properties coming onto the rental market each year and, as the article points out, we anticipate 400 or so new social lets each year for the next few years. Given that not all the people in that 6000 are in what we'd call "housing need" (they are in a house adequate to their needs but would like a different, bigger, better located one) the idea that Bradford cannot provide right now for those looking for social lets is probably nonsense.

This doesn't stop the NHF lobbying away for more government cash to be hosed in the direction of its members so they can build houses. Since the mid-1980s this has been the development model in the social rented sector - housing associations get loads of grant with which they lever extra borrowing and then jump up and down on planners to require developers to provide "affordable housing". And, quite rightly, the current government has set about shifting the model from funding by government grant to funding through rents.

Wise observers will note that this doesn't end government support - higher rents mean higher housing benefits payments - but it means that the social housing sector has to start to be more business-like in its development strategies. Sadly, the NHF is using these changes to make out that there is a massive housing crisis that can only be solved by huge increases in cash grants for housing associations and local councils.

Not only is there not a housing crisis, there isn't the prospect of a housing crisis - at least in Bradford.


*Incommunities is the housing trust to which the Council transferred its housing stock about ten years ago


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