Every Little Helps as home ownership dream disappears…
Government Ministers almost always default to big, simple announcements to signal a solution to a problem or a change of direction. Complexity is the arch enemy of persuasion to be avoided at all costs. 

Yet such is the scale of the challenge facing Government in addressing our dysfunctional housing market, it today set out a strategy based on an 'every little helps' approach – and in doing so admitted that the ‘ownership for all’ approach was finally over. At least for now. With home ownership levels dropping towards 50% and the average time for lower income households to save a deposit up from 3 years in 1998 to up to 20 years today, it's a case of reality bites. 

But there are other significant factors at play here too. The frosty relationship between the sector and Government which began to thaw with the voluntary right to buy deal, continues to warm with housing associations now delivering around 40,000 homes a year. But make no mistake, we are still very much on ‘probation’. It’s all to play for. And still to lose. At the same time, growing frustration with the big housebuilders’ self-limiting supply model is seeing their influence wane. We also have a Housing Minister from London where Housing associations built almost 50% of new homes last year. And where renting is a reality for almost all - even if they aspire to own. 

We have everything from encouraging older people to downsize to a perhaps surprising commitment to stronger stewardship of the private rented sector, aligned to backing for the still to mature Build to Rent sector; councils will be obliged to up their game on local housing plans, targets and delivery; there is backing for modern methods of construction; and crucially, funding for much-needed affordable rented homes. As predicted, Government ducked the politically difficult issue of Green Belt so there is cold comfort for hard-pressed rural communities where a low wage economy collides with high house prices.

So while it might appear light on attention-grabbing headlines, the Housing White paper does signify a significant policy shift and a serious attempt to address the deep-seated, underlying issues within the housing market . This is a change we must now recognize, respond to and embrace. In November Robert Grundy of Savills talked about the potential emergence of a new 'ethical real estate' sector based on housing associations offering an alternative to the 'build, sell, cash-in' developer model. That might be a little way off maturity, but our strong balance sheets, asset base and product mix do make us well placed to align with a more plural policy agenda, balancing risk, return and reward while still delivering our social purpose. 

That however, is probably for tomorrow. For now, this strategy can be seen as a serious attempt to tackle an intractable problem. It might not be exactly what we hoped for; it feels more evolutionary and incremental than inspirational. But make no mistake, Government feels it has listened. And now it expects us to deliver. 

Boris author

Article by:

Group Chief Executive of Rooftop Housing Group