We do know that the future is bleak, with 60 per cent funding cuts for the sector meaning less public money available to fewer organisations. We can also prophesy that the pool of organisations qualifying to receive grant in the future will be streamlined and that the money will still come with constraints and caveats as it is channelled down the route of selective initiatives.
But exactly who can get their hands on the money, and how much, will remain a mystery until the new year when the government and the Homes and Communities Agency get the chance to sort out allocation strategies.
We have still not seen the detail of the heralded rent and tenure reforms or the promise to give councils the freedom to manage their budgets. But there is a serious threat that rather than helping the sector, these moves will see residents suffering rent rises and cash being diverted into ‘front line services’, rather than being channelled into improving and expanding council housing stock.
Mr Osborne’s vision of making social housing more ‘responsive, flexible and fair’ will simply not build more houses. It is all very well to say the savings made through the comprehensive spending review will help to fund the development of more than 150,000 new homes over the next four years; but with housing stock levels across the housing sector, including the private rented sector, currently suffering from a shortage of available supply, the delivery of the proposed scheme is too impractical and doesn’t tackle the problem quickly enough.
So do we just sit and wait for the situation to become clearer? No, the more savvy housing associations are quietly going about their business, doing the smart things, such as:
- Reappraising the stock they have - there are some great ‘free’ sites out there hidden beneath under-occupied, substandard housing.
- Securing good land deals on low risk sites with high future development potential.
- Carrying out work on behalf of councils and proving that the development process can be run economically and efficiently by developing associations.
- Doing their homework and building business cases for schemes so that they can blow away the competition when it comes to getting their hands on investment.
- Being creative and innovative in setting up joint ventures and plans with commercial partners and funders.
Yes, the affordable housing sector is still awaiting the specific consequences of the spending review - but organisations that use this as an excuse for inaction are likely to be left in the wake of those that are making positive efforts to make things happen for themselves.
Mark Newberry, partner, Robinson Low Francis