A Social Guarantee for Housing
This blog is a summary of our latest paper, A Social Guarantee for Housing.
Labour promises to build 1.5 million new homes over five years and create the biggest increase in affordable homes in a generation. Deputy Leader Angela Rayner says a Labour government will "get tough" with developers who tried to "wriggle out" of their social obligations, end no fault evictions, and free up funds for councils and housing associations to build more homes for rent.
Much of this chimes with new proposals for a Social Guarantee for housing. We argue that building new homes is not the answer to the housing crisis, but only part of a strategy to transform a dysfunctional system based on speculation, accumulation and extraction, into one that delivers life’s essentials for all within environmental limits.
It’s no secret that we are living through an ever-worsening housing crisis with soaring rents, extortionate house prices and disappearing access to social housing. This is making life impossible for millions in the UK. Our proposals tackle key issues around access, sustainability and democratic control. We recommend that priority should go to:
redistributing empty and underused homes and investing in a major retrofitting programme for existing housing stock;
building new homes only where unavoidable, making sure they meet carbon targets;
regulating private renting to make it more secure and safeguard standards;
empowering local authorities to acquire more homes, to expand and improve social housing.
Making housing more accessible
The first step to ensuring that everyone has access to a home that meets their needs is to stop housing being used as an investment vehicle; to treat it as a public good, not as a commodity or asset. We propose stabilising house prices to bring them in line with wages. This calls for a reform of monetary policy to reduce the amount of credit that is being pumped into the housing system and driving up prices. It also calls for tax reforms to capture the massive unearned gains caused by house price inflation.
At the same time, we propose improving conditions for renters by tightening regulation and ending no-fault evictions as well as favourable mortgage terms for landlords, so that renting becomes more secure and desirable. Crucially, this must be underpinned by investing in and expanding access to social housing, by giving local authorities, social landlords and community-led housing organisations first-buyer rights, so that they can take control of poor-quality housing and transform it into social housing.
Taken together, these measures would change the function of the housing system. They would end the rapid increase in prices seen over the last few decades, make it harder for landlords to exploit tenants, encourage owners of multiple properties to sell and enable more homes be acquired for conversion into affordable, quality social homes.
Making housing environmentally sustainable
Decarbonising the housing sector is absolutely essential for meeting national climate goals. Contrary to the prevailing narrative, the UK has a surplus of homes compared with households. Building new homes is very carbon intensive and should be a last resort. Hoarding property must end and existing housing should be redistributed to give more people access to homes. Retrofitting existing housing stock is also crucial.
Taxes that enable land and property hoarding should be scrapped. A long-term, national strategy should guarantee necessary finance over the short, medium and long term for retrofitting all tenures of housing. This should be complemented with a nationwide training programme to upskill and expand the workforce and a national information campaign to show why retrofitting matters.
Where it is necessary to build new homes, they should be as close to carbon neutral as possible. The Future Homes Standard should include Whole Life Carbon emissions and the planning system should be reformed to enable the use of more sustainable building materials.
Increasing democratic control
How far housing meets people’s needs depends on more than the quality each dwelling. It matters whether people feel secure and in control of their circumstances – how they experience local streets, shops, green spaces, transport links, nearby schools, nurseries, healthcare practices and so forth. We propose devolving power and engaging residents in decisions about their homes and neighbourhoods.
The planning system should be given a clearly defined purpose of creating neighbourhoods that meet people’s needs within ecological limits. This calls for joined-up national and regional strategic plans developed by appropriately resourced planning departments.
Public Development Corporations should be established to buy and prepare land before commissioning building firms (locally based where possible) to deliver homes and infrastructure. This should be complemented by a robust system of social licencing which contractually obliges builders and developers to meet to strong social and environmental standards. At the same time, alternative housing models such as housing cooperatives and common land trusts should be supported.
A systemic approach
Our proposals are based on the principles that shape the Social Guarantee and draw on a wide range of research and analysis by other organisations. They support a systemic view that takes account of how housing relates to the full range of everyday necessities that enable people to flourish, now and in future. The first goal is to transform the housing system from a vehicle for speculative investment into a means of meeting needs universally, sufficiently and sustainably. We welcome feedback and look forward to continuing the conversation.