Co-ops respond to government white paper on housing crisis

The housing co-operative sector has reacted to a government white paper on how to fix the UK’s housing market. Launched this month, the proposals follow on from a new...

The housing co-operative sector has reacted to a government white paper on how to fix the UK’s housing market.

Launched this month, the proposals follow on from a new community housing fund to support community-led housing projects. The £60m fund – mentioned again in the white paper – will help local groups deliver affordable housing aimed at first-time buyers and address high levels of second home ownership.

Gareth Swarbrick, chief executive of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, welcomed the proposal.

“The housing white paper recognised that housing markets are broken in areas across the country,” he said.

“As a mutual housing society, we’re proud to be working across Rochdale to deliver good quality new homes in our communities, and we’re looking at how we can build even more. We’re committed to building the right new homes in the right places and we are pleased at the shift to providing a wider range of affordable housing options including affordable homes to rent.

Related: How to solve the UK’s housing crisis? A co-operative approach

“We particularly welcome the increased emphasis on the benefits of neighbourhood regeneration. We’re looking forward to continuing our work with the government and Rochdale Council to deliver Rochdale town centre regeneration.”

CCH head of policy Nic Bliss
CCH head of policy Nic Bliss

But Nic Bliss, head of policy at the Confederation of Co-operative Housing (CCH), said white paper focused largely on the planning system – which, he says, is not “the root cause of the problems”.

He added: “Perhaps what is most significant is the scale to which the UK government is acknowledging how much the housing market is in total failure.”

He said there was a need for a consensus among political parties on tackling the housing crisis – which, according the white paper, has left more than 2.2 million working households with below-average incomes spending a third or more of their disposable income on housing.

“There is a need for between 250,000 and 300,000 new homes every year,” said Mr Bliss, “and the UK has not built this number of homes in one year since the 1970s.”

He added that the welfare reform was creating problems for social housing tenants to pay their rents while merely scratching at the surface of the housing benefit bill.

“The time has now come for people and communities to take back control of housing. Everyone else has messed up royally,” he said.

He pointed to estimates by estate agent Savills that those over the age of 65 now hold £1.42tn, or 43%, of all equity held by owner occupiers. And the National Housing Federation estimates that 1.5 million UK homeowners aged 85 and over own more of the nation’s housing wealth than everybody under 35.

“The simple fact is that if you put the vast majority of housing wealth into the hands of the few, that is obviously going to have massive negative impact on an increasingly growing majority,” warned Mr Bliss.

He said the “blame” lies with a complacent housing establishment for “not doing enough” over the last 40 years and failing to acknowledge the scale of the problem.

However, the community housing fund “is starting to get everyone talking about co-operative and community-led housing,” he added.

“The Welsh government has been running such a programme since 2012. The CCH has launched a new guide on developing new co-operative and community-led homes and is currently run ragged fielding enquiries.

“This will start to have an impact – but we need a lot more to instil a culture where communities feel that they have the responsibility and means to tackle the housing crisis.

“We need the best and brightest minds in the co-operative movement to work with the CCH how best to ensure that people and communities can take back control of housing.”

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