HOUSING groups and politicians have building blocks in place to stretch funding for new affordable homes, writes Kate Dewar.
With only a few weeks to go before the starter’s pistol is fired in the run-up to the general election on 7 May, political parties are making the final adjustments to their manifestos. But what policy horse is the best bet to back in the race for votes? The usual front runners include health, education, the environment, justice, the economy and defence. All are worthy contenders but with limited public sector spending budgets, favouring one generally means another loses out. Political energy is wasted in pitting one vital service against the other.
It doesn’t always need to be like this. Take housing – yes, it’s devolved but apart from the reliance on the Treasury grant, housing policy is relevant to the election through the tax and social security system and the mortgage market. According to a recent BBC poll, housing affordability is a key concern of the electorate especially among 18 to 24-year-olds. Housing is different because it is not self-contained. The short and long-term benefits of building new affordable homes extend far beyond the visible bricks and mortar through creating jobs, reducing the strain on health and care services, reducing carbon emissions, and supporting education and social enterprise.
Indeed Scotland’s housing minister said at the CIH Scotland conference this month that housing is at the heart of the government’s pursuit of a fairer society and we can look forward to the publication of the Scottish government’s Housing Delivery Plan in the spring.
The benefits of housing have long been recognised but while parties are unanimous in agreeing that we have a housing crisis across the UK and need more homes, the reasons why we have that crisis, and how many homes we need, how much they will cost to build and where the funding is to come from usually de-rails or exposes attractive targets and good intentions.
Because when it comes to housing policy, as Jessie J sang, “It’s not about the money” or at least, not just about the money. It’s using the available money in a smarter way. Social Housing organisations, such as Weslo Housing Management, involved in the delivery and management of homes for social and affordable housing over the past 20 years, appreciated early on that if they waited for funding to materialise fewer new homes would or could be built.
Successful providers of new-build social housing, including Weslo, recognise their responsibility to take the initiative and look for innovative schemes to stretch the available public and private funding. Two decades on, Weslo has done this in a variety of ways, for instance, by entering into joint ventures with public and private sector partners to acquire more than 300 new homes; making opportunistic bulk purchases on favourable cash terms; utilising available grant and surpluses to buy more than 300 homes under the Mortgage to Rent and Empty Homes initiatives; acquiring new stock at auction in geographical areas under Weslo’s management and joining resources through formal or informal partnerships with other registered social landlords to pool expertise, services and skills.
There are many other tried and tested initiatives and structures across the country and politicians have a continuing role to play in this by encouraging, supporting and enabling housing providers to be innovative and think out of the box. And the good news is, that doesn’t cost a penny.
• Kate Dewar is a non-executive director of Weslo Housing Management and a practising solicitor