Presentation to Penzance Citizens Panel by Allister Young, CEO Coastline Housing

There is a national housing crisis

The phrase ‘housing crisis’ has lost its power to shock. Some say it can’t be a crisis, because a crisis doesn’t last for this long.  But it remains a crisis and it should be viewed as a national scandal.

While volumes of house building have been improving in recent years, they remain well behind the Government’s target of 300,000 a year[i] (which itself is lower than the 340,000 the National Housing Federation (NHF) and Crisis estimate is needed to tackle the ‘housing crisis’).  This lack of new supply is arguably due to the ending of any significant volume of local authority building in the 1980s, and the impact is exacerbated by the Right To Buy, meaning that the volume of affordable homes has actually reduced over the last 40 years[ii].

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The NHF published research[i] in September this year showing that 8.4 million (one in seven) people in England live in a home that is not affordable, is insecure or unsuitable.  This includes 3.6 million people living in overcrowded properties, 3.2 million living in unsuitable or poor quality housing, 2.5 million ‘hidden’ households and 2.5 million people unable to afford their rent or mortgage.

Adding further pressure to the shortage in supply of affordable housing, there are increasing signs that the five week wait for Universal Credit, coupled with other aspects of ‘welfare reform’ have had a significant impact on people.  A recent report by Citizens’ Advice[ii] showed that 49% of people were struggling to cover essential costs (including rent), and 40% were losing sleep directly due to stress caused by the benefit freeze.  Coastline’s most recent customer survey showed that 10% of our customers had gone without food in the last six months due to financial constraints.The number of people sleeping rough has increased every year since 2010, and this in itself is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the overall homeless picture[iii], with more than 150,000 people homeless in one form or another (and in total 400,000 either homeless or at risk of being homeless).

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And the housing crisis is, literally, a matter of life and death.  In 2018, 726 people who were homeless died sleeping rough, and nationally 17,000 people died because they lived in a home that was too cold.  The impact on health is shown in the chart below[i] with the gap in life expectancy for males between the most and least deprived areas in England being around ten years (the yellow lines).

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But perhaps more shockingly, it shows that the gap in healthy life expectancy between the most and least deprived areas is much wider than this at around 18 years (the red lines).  The healthy life expectancy for those that live in the 10% most deprived neighbourhoods is only a little over 50 years.

There is a housing crisis in Cornwall

There is a shortage of good quality affordable homes in Cornwall, across all tenures.
Focusing on social housing to start with, only 10% of people in Cornwall live in a housing association or local authority affordable home, compared to 17% nationally (this shortfall is something Cornwall shares with many other rural areas of the country).

Despite some improvements since 2015, the most recent Indices of Multiple Deprivation analysis from the Office for National Statistics shows that Cornwall overall ranks 91st out of 317 local authority areas for ‘barriers to housing and services’ (where 1 is the worst and 317 the best).  The only elements where Cornwall scores more poorly are on income and employment.

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This link between health, poverty and housing is a significant issue in Cornwall, with Cornwall having an older population than the national average, lower wages (only 85% of the national average), and also having a relatively poorer average condition of its housing stock (Cornwall Council estimates that between 35% and 50% of private rented homes do not meet the Decent Homes Standard).    This results in many people in Cornwall being impacted by fuel poverty – 13% compared to the national average of 10%.  As set out above, this is a matter of life and death.

Some positivity

Local Plan target of 52,500 by 2030, and putting Cornwall well above average as an area in terms of the number of completions of new homes per existing 1,000 dwellings[i].
The delivery of new affordable homes is strong – having grant funding available from Cornwall Council as well as from Homes England, allied with housing associations that are ambitious to build new homes, has meant that Cornwall has been among the top performing local authority areas in the country for the last few years.

>Cornwall Council is currently working on a new housing strategy with a stated aspiration to ‘end the housing crisis in Cornwall’.  This is a significant step forward from a historical position where the Council had a more narrowly focused and less ambitious vision.There is space to build homes in Cornwall. Less than 5% of Cornwall is built on[ii]. Building the 52,500 homes in the Local Plan will increase the percentage of space built on by 0.5%.

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There is positive partnership work in many crucial areas, including:

  • Reducing homelessness, with the ‘Nos Da Kernow’ project credited with significantly reducing the number of people who are sleeping rough in Cornwall, and the start of a ‘Housing First’ pilot project aimed at helping people who are the most entrenched rough sleepers.
  • A ‘health and housing’ working group has been established to foster closer working between the NHS, Public Health and housing providers.

A ‘Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Strategic Housing Group’ is being established, to report to the Leadership Board, with a remit to “provide strategic coordination, alignment and shared commitment in the provision of new homes of the right type and quality in the right places, in raising the quality and performance of existing homes, and in the provision of housing services, to meet the needs of residents and communities in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.”

“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work…”

Daniel Burnham, American architect and urban planner, 1910

 
1 Treat housing as national infrastructure, and put other infrastructure in upfront
If housing was treated as infrastructure by the government, with ‘patient capital’ from local authorities and housing associations at the heart of a long term approach, we would be much more likely to build the type of homes we need, to the right quality, in the right places.  And if we stopped relying on ‘s106’ contributions from developers to pay for associated infrastructure (roads, schools, surgeries) after housing is built, and instead put it in first (the government could easily borrow to do this, then collect the contributions from developers or general taxation after), then communities would be more likely to support the building of new homes.
 
2 Invest in homes for social rent rather than affordable rent
Government policy since 2010 has been focused on ‘affordable rent’ rather than ‘social rent’.  In essence, a lower capital grant is provided up front (around 50% lower than for social rent), and then a higher rent is charged to make building the home financially viable (a rent of 80% of market rent, compared to a more typical 50% to 60% for social rent).  Good quality affordable homes are built, and there is an up-front saving for the government.  But the people that live in the homes have reduced ‘disposable’ income due to the higher rents, and the government picks up a higher ongoing Housing Benefit bill for those that receive subsidy, so overall it is more expensive in the long term.
 
3 Increase investment in affordable housing (preferably for social rent)
Analysis by Shelter[i] shows that a 20-year programme of building social rent homes would pay back in full over 39 years, and would cost just 1% of GDP.  It makes economic sense because it helps reduce the revenue welfare cost to the state and stimulates the construction sector, generating jobs and tax income.  It could also be used to drive natural capital gain (helping tackle the climate emergency and bio-diversity issues), reduce stigmatisation as social housing would become less marginalised, and reduce pressure on the National Health Service through improving the overall average quality of homes people live in.
 
4 Change how rents are set by housing associations and local authorities
Currently, the rents that are charged by housing associations and local authorities are set by complex regulatory and legal formulae.  Once set, they only move with inflation.  Coupled with the lack of availability of affordable housing, this rigidity in rents creates a dichotomy between those able to secure affordable housing, and those in the private rent sector.  This is likely to contribute to stigmatisation and to hamper social mobility.  If, through Universal Credit, we are moving to an era where ‘live’ data is available on earnings, why not have rents set in line with someone’s earnings (with a cap at the full market rent)? That way people would be paying a rent they can afford, there would be no clear separation between affordable and market rent properties/neighbourhoods, and there would be additional income generated to build more homes.
 
5 End the five week wait for first payment in Universal Credit
While Universal Credit has laudable aims and some benefits, it is regressive in its income distribution[ii], which is exacerbated by the need to wait five weeks for the first payment.  This delay, often when someone might be moving into a new home and need to find a deposit and rent up front, places people into a very vulnerable position where they may have to make choices about eating or paying the rent, or potentially relying on loan sharks.  (For more information see the Trussell Trust campaign[iii].)
 
And finally, a wish rather than a policy proposal.  I wish that we could move to a future where new homes were seen as something positive to be celebrated, rather than a necessary evil to be fought against and then grudgingly tolerated.

[i] Shelter: ‘A vision for social housing’

[ii] Institute for Fiscal Studies: ‘Universal Credit and its impact on household incomes: the long and the short of it’

[iii] Trussell Trust: ‘Five weeks too long’

[i] MHCLG: ‘House building, new build dwellings, England, June quarter 2019’

[ii] BBC: ‘How much of your area is built on?’

[i] Office for National Statistics: ‘Health Expectancies at birth by Middle Layer Super Output Areas, England, Inequality in Health and Life Expectancies within Upper Tier Local Authorities: 2009 to 2013’

[i] NHF: ‘1 in 7 people directly hit by the housing crisis’

[ii] Citizens Advice: ‘Nearly half of benefit claimants hit by the benefits freeze can’t afford essential bills’

[iii] Crisis: ‘The Homelessness Monitor: England 2019’
[i] Crisis: ‘The Homelessness Monitor: England 2019’

[ii] Shelter: ‘A vision for social housing’

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