Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by Tenant Participation Advisory Service (TPAS) (AFH 47)

  TPAS is a membership organisation of over 300 social landlords and 800 tenant groups that exists to promote tenant empowerment. As such this response is primarily aimed at social housing rather than owner-occupation or the private rented sector.


  In general terms TPAS supports the concept of affordable housing. This allows a basic right to a home for all citizens, irrespective of circumstances. TPAS would welcome a definition of affordability based on ability to pay rather than the Government's current approach of average earnings in an area and value of the property. Indeed the DTLR have acknowledged this implicitly by restricting increases in rent for high value areas, such as London, to such an extent that it will take dozens of years for social housing rents to reach their "real" value.


  TPAS believes there is a wide range of people who want access to social housing. These include three groups that will need or wish to have access to affordable social housing: those who are retired or unlikely to work, low paid employees, and employees with a very flexible work pattern.

  It is worth noting that the composition of tenants has changed substantially over the past 20 years. The proportion of tenants in work has halved from 50 per cent to 25 per cent. Demand for affordable housing is now facing two contrary forces—the aspiration for home ownership and the explosion in flexible working patterns. Social housing remains unable to respond to either successfully, although the Government is to be congratulated on considering tenant equity stakes as a possible way of meeting home ownership aspirations.

  The above means that affordable housing, including social housing, will continue to be a significant part of housing provision irrespective of growth in the economy. It also means that provision will need to continue to be affordable throughout the country.

  Although the link between affordable housing and work has been weakened it is clear that local economies are being adversely affected by the inability of employees to live locally. This has been most obvious in London and for public sector workers such as teachers and nurses. However the thriving house market in London (and some regional capitals such as Bristol and Manchester) means that owner occupation is increasingly less affordable and private renting becomes increasingly expensive. It is only the Government's own restrictions of social housing rent increases that is stopping social housing becoming the exclusive preserve of the non-employed.

  TPAS believes that the trend to expensive housing in certain areas will continue. London and to a lesser extent regional capitals such as Leeds (biggest growing local economy in Europe) will draw in jobs and investment. This means that areas with the biggest ability to sustain jobs will be increasingly unable to provide affordable housing as house prices rise to meet demand and income.

  TPAS's view is that in areas of job growth and high house prices there should be a substantial increase in the provision of social housing. This can provide housing for local workers, especially those with limited incomes or flexible work patterns. It will also deflate overheated housing markets, bringing prices down in the medium term and creating more affordable owner occupation. This would allow a pattern of workers being in social housing for a period of time and then fulfilling their aspiration to home ownership as their circumstances allow.


  Implicit in the Government commitment to decent homes is that social housing does not meet decency standards at present. The Government is right to recognise this and to take steps to improve social housing standards. Investment is an important building block—for too long social housing has been at the back of the queue of political priorities and it shows. However investment is not enough. There needs to be two explicit additions to ensure that the additional funding provides the success that both Government and tenants want.

  Firstly there needs to be a better relationship between landlords as providers of social housing and tenants as recipients of social housing. Although Best Value has aimed to put the customer first there is still deep-seated resistance to a more tenant-inclusive approach. Again the Government is to be congratulated for a very explicit policy for tenants based on Tenant Participation Compacts and for funding this policy. However this very useful initiative has lost momentum and funding, and has never been promoted by the Housing Corporation for Registered Social Landlords.

  Secondly there needs to be a better relationship between landlords/tenants and providers of other public services. TPAS identified the relationship of higher need for public services with poorer provision two years ago in its response to the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal consultation. This has been acknowledged more recently by the Deputy Prime Minster's comments about a postcode lottery. This is particularly important for crime and anti social behaviour. Social housing has become closely identified with both to the extent that tenants with choice leave social housing at a far higher rate than their ability to afford to buy.


  As mentioned earlier there is growing demand for affordable housing in London and regional capitals. This is not being met for a number of reasons:

    —  social housing does not meet quality standards;

    —  there is insufficient social housing;

    —  social housing does not meet the aspirations of flexible workers;

    —  social housing is closely associated with poor services and crime.

  There is a sharp debate between those who view this in simple terms. On one side there are the "let's spend all the money in London meeting demand" and on the other "if we spend all the money in London then social housing elsewhere will simply become unsustainable". Everywhere should have decent, responsive social housing and there are special issues where local and even regional economies are driving need for additional investment in social housing, for sound economic reasons. Although London is the most obvious symbol of this debate the growing strength of regional economies will create similar debates within as well as between regions.

  This suggests that the funding plans may need to distinguish between supporting decent social housing and meeting investment/job driven local demand. It also suggests that more funding is needed, at least in the short term.


  It is tempting to suggest that existing planning powers will provide the level of affordable housing needed. However more drastic solutions are needed in London and may be needed elsewhere in the not too distant future.


  TPAS, perhaps unsurprisingly, believes that social housing has an important part to play in meeting housing need and especially in providing affordable housing. In broad terms it supports the idea of tenant equity stakes, about to be tried shortly, in both meeting homeownership aspirations and also in changing the relationship between landlord and tenant.


  Given the very regional nature of the increase in demand in certain areas it is very appropriate for Regional Planning Guidance to deal explicitly with affordable housing provision. However there are also overlaps with Regional Economic Strategies, drawn up by Regional Development Agencies and Regional Housing Strategies, drawn up by ad-hoc groups of Government Offices, landlords and Housing Corporation regional offices.


  TPAS is cautious about the funding that is provided being sufficient. Due to interpretations on public spending, which are inexplicable to tenants, the Government has effectively presumed that local authority tenants will vote in sufficient numbers for stock transfer to lever-in the private finance necessary for the sums to stack up. This may not happen. For some of the larger local authority landlords it is unlikely that any option will allow them to meet the decency target and additional Government funding will be necessary.


  The creation of mixed communities needs to be given more priority. It will be a slow process as house building inevitably takes a long time to both build up and change communities.


  Given the likely demand is for affordable housing in London or regional centres TPAS would favour brownfield sites to meet that demand. TPAS is concerned about density issues and the idea of "packing them in" is one that is resisted by tenants living in areas of high density.


  Much of this submission has been about the necessity of bringing together affordable/social housing with local economies. This is already having a negative impact on those economies and without providing affordable housing in areas of high demand the likely effect will be to increase travel to work times with consequential knock-on effects for family life.

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