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Think-tank calls for 'biggest housing transfer to poor since Right to Buy'

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Think-tank calls for 'biggest housing transfer to poor since Right to Buy'

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Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Housing

Think-tank calls for biggest housing transfer to poor since Right to Buy Think-tank calls for biggest housing transfer to poor since Right to Buy

Plans for a £90 billion asset transfer to poor families - the biggest since Margaret Thatcher’s sell-off of council houses in the 1980s – are outlined today in a new report from a leading think-tank.

ResPublica urges Ministers to embrace a sweeping transfer of ownership from the public sector to community groups and co-operatives.

The report written by Matt Leach, Deputy Director of ResPublica, and Mark Lupton, a housing policy expert, was commissioned by the Matrix Housing Partnership and will be formally launched by Housing Minister Grant Shapps later today.

The report, At the Crossroads: Progressive Future for Housing Associations, sets out a raft of policy ideas which would overhaul the ownership, management and operation of the country’s 1,200 housing associations, which own over two million homes.

“At a time when significant parts of our public services are likely to be spun out into new mutual structures, we need to consider whether approaches based around community ownership and mutualism offer a way forward for many housing associations, “ the report says.

“The creation of an active shareholder base, focused on the efficiency and social impact of the housing association has the potential, if properly structured, to drive innovation within the sector.”

Phillip Blond, ResPublica director, said: “Margaret Thatcher was right when she identified a lack of assets as a major barrier to people getting involved in the economy. Her ‘right to buy’ policy was hugely successful in capitalising a new group of people, but it did not go far enough and as a consequence left a huge gulf between the ‘haves and have nots’.

“Today we have an unprecedented opportunity to simultaneously recapitalise poor communities and spread ownership.

“More importantly, by unleashing the expertise of housing associations we have an opportunity to build a real bottom-up prosperity that builds resilient and independent communities, capable of providing individuals with sustainable exits from poverty and entrances into wealth and wellbeing.”

Alongside the unprecedented transfer of ownership the report also calls on the Government to stop interfering in the sector with Whitehall inspired targets and to write of the historic housing debt.

Key recommendations from the report include:

  • A massive increase in the community role of housing associations, including taking on wider public services where appropriate
  • Rationalisation of ownership of affordable housing stock to support the localism agenda
  • Housing Associations to move towards new models of community ownership
  • Cutting regulation on community owned assets
  • Housing Associations to act on behalf of communities to deliver the Community Right to Buy, Right to Challenge and Right to Build
  • Housing Associations could offer small scale support to local business through equity investment and proactive procurement policies
  • Encouraging the development of community based funds
  • Housing Associations should provide greater support to self-help, sweat equity and self-build housing solutions
  • Housing Association should devolve management of stock and encourage development of TMOs
  • New scrutiny mechanisms to provide clearer community input into strategic decision making by associations 
  • Housing Associations should explore the concept of declaring a "social dividend" to provide demonstrable evidence of their social investment and the returns this generates for local communities.

The report adds: “There is a pressing need for housing associations to develop new forms of accountability, both to give legitimacy to strategic business decisions that will increasingly have a profound impact on the future shape of their offers to the communities they work within, but also - critically - to re-establish social housing as a shared community responsibility and asset.

“What is needed are new models that retain and uphold housing associations’ value-based approach and allow the board and executive to manage, but which also provide clear accountability to communities for what they do, and create a genuine stake for communities in the organisations that work with and on behalf of them.”

The report recognises that due to changes in Government funding, house building will become increasingly difficult. This it argues is due to a decline in available credit caused by the credit crunch and diminishing returns on investment. So it argues that housing associations should be allowed to refocus on supporting and developing their local communities.

“Housing associations have huge potential to work with or act on behalf of local communities, and in particular those with limited alternative sources of capacity and capital, to help support them in taking on local services or assets.

"This might potentially be the case where for instance residents had identified a potential scheme under the Localism Bill’s proposed Community Right to Buy, or are seeking to localise delivery of services under the proposed Right to Challenge.”

Report author Matt Leach commented:  “This report reflects Government thinking around localism, but we are convinced that instead of tinkering with the sector, the Coalition has a once in a lifetime opportunity to revolutionise housing in the UK and embark on the biggest recapitalisation of the poor in our nation’s history.

“Handing back this £90 billion sector that provides homes to five million people, through mass mutualisation will create a whole new class of owners, allowing them much greater control of their lives and the ability to make real choices about their communities. 

“But in exchange for adopting this radical proposal, the Government must write off the historic housing "debt" and ditch the controls on how associations manage their assets on behalf of communities.”

For media inquiries, please contact Alistair Thompson of Media Intelligence Partners Ltd on 07970 162225 or 0203 008 8145 or Nick Wood on 07889 617003 or 0203 008 8146.

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