Monday, 29 August 2011

Housing policy

I've been using today as a catch up on various council matters including ensuring I'm as briefed as possible on various issues.

Some of those are very local and some are not yet public.  However two very useful papers I've been reading are from the Joseph Rowentree Foundation, one a response to Labour's policy review - but of interest regardless of political party, and one focusing on what young people want from housing, which certainly rings a bell with my own and many of my friends experiences.  Hat tip to @ for setting me on to them.

P77 of the first report mentions some key differences between the English private rented sector and  four countries that traditionally have had larger private rented sectors, something that is increasing in England now, and is of particular concern to Reading as a quarter of households in Reading as renting privately:

"In the larger private rented sector countries, measures to support the sector have been in place for several decades.
• There is a broader demand base in other countries – both from low- and high-income households.
• There is no long-term security of tenure in England (although security is relatively short in the USA and Australia).
• Rent increases are subject to legislative limits in France and Germany.
• Individual investors benefit from depreciation allowances in the other four countries.
• Losses on current rental income can be set against other income for tax purposes in the other four countries.
• Capital gains taxation encourages long-term holdings of property in the other countries.
• As a result of continuous (re)investment, the private rented housing stock in the other countries is more attractive and better quality than in England.
• In England, institutional investors do not perceive that they can make a reasonable, risk-adjusted rate of return from private rented property.
• In England there are no significant programmes to encourage the private rented sector to invest in and manage affordable housing – this contrasts with the other four countries."

I don't agree with everything in the report, including the apparent acceptance by one group of authors of the idea that social housing should be targeted at 'vulnerable' groups.  However there is a lot to mull on, and it also highlights the really complex nature of housing problems in this country.  I don't think that the current government will have made a substantial improvement in this by 2015, it's a major problem, so I think that the Labour party needs to come up with a really substantial bit of work to help improve housing for people across the country.  Meanwhile in Reading we'll be looking at a number of things we can do within the existing frameworks and bearing in mind the financial constraints on the council to support people in their homes.

One particular concern for me on this is made on P43 of the first report, makes a point that applies particularly to Housing but also to many other policy areas:
"The potential impacts of the coalition policies...are likely to produce massive changes in new housing supply, not all of which will be good news, especially for disadvantaged people who are less likely to have a voice in the localism agenda".

I'm all for localism, where it means that we get the right local solutions for local people - it's hard to imagine anyone who doesn't agree with that.  What does worry me about the localism bill as it currently stands is that it will help those who shout the loudest.  It also seems to neglect the important role that local authorities have in both ensuring that those disadvantaged are given support and the democratic mandate that they have to speak up for all local people.  I know that councillors of whatever political party see themselves as champions for their community first, and I don't think the localism bill always recognises that.  The proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

In the report on young people I was particularly concerned to see the reactions young people had to local authority housing.  I'd be interested to hear from any young people in Reading about their experiences here - I hope it's better than the national picture but I would like to hear from the horses mouths, so to speak.