The Conservative government’s announced before the general election that it would extend the Right To Buy (RTB) discount to housing association tenants. The only worse thing the Tories could have done would be to just give all the social and affordable housing away for nothing.
Currently, council tenants can buy their homes at discounts of up to £103,900 in London (or £77,900 outside the capital). The Tories’ plan would see more than 1 million housing association tenants get the same discount as council tenants. It’s obviously great news for the tenants, most of whom will probably have despaired of ever owning their own home. But it’s not so great for London’s ever-dwindling supply of social and affordable housing.
The plan has come in for tremendous criticism, not least from London mayoral hopefuls Diane Abbott and Tessa Jowell. Abbott called the plan ‘criminal’, saying:
“They’re attempting to bribe the electorate with assets that did not belong to them.”
Which, incidentally, is an echo of the accusation levelled at Margaret Thatcher when she introduced RTB in 1980.
Jowell said in the New Statesman:
“It is a policy which is blind to what is happening in London. Indeed, it is a policy which appears almost designed to make London’s homes crisis even worse.
The government’s plan is to force housing associations to sell off homes at a massive discount, and to pay for it by making councils sell all their most valuable property. That would be a disaster for London. It would drain our city of affordable housing and make it even harder than it already is for Londoners to find somewhere to live. It would tear our city apart.”
CityMetric’s Jonn Elledge pointed out that HAs are pretty much the only people building affordable housing – because what London clearly needs is more luxury flats yet somehow they continue to be built – and the government’s plan to pay for new housing is flawed. Just in case you wondered, it means selling off council homes in expensive areas. It’s more than flawed, it’s madness. Elledge has repeated the mantra ‘build more bloody houses’ so often that Londonist has created a T-shirt with the phrase on especially for him. Sadly, the Tories aren’t listening to him.
Londonist’s Rachel Holdsworth has also explained why extending RTB will be disastrous for London, leading to affordable and social housing being built in less nice areas. I’ve also written about the loss of the capital’s mixed communities caused by selling off social housing in wealthier areas.
Abbott also criticised councils for allowing developers to either build fewer affordable properties in a new development, or build it somewhere else completely. And Jowell has been campaigning against the extension of RTB since before the elections.
The National Housing Federation’s Joe Sarling estimates in CityMetric that the Tories’ new RTB policy will cost the country £11.6bn. But with a potential £32bn from the sale of RBS in the pipeline and £750m from selling off half of their stake in Royal Mail, it looks like the government feel they’ve got money to burn.