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Those were the days

From the Thatcher years to John Prescott’s communities plan, ALMOs to ASBOs, and homes for votes to decent homes. Since it was first published in 1984, Inside Housing has covered all the issues that have gripped the housing world, taking in five redesigns and seven editors along the way. Katie Puckett charts an incredible 25 years.

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1984

Inside Housing’s first issue, published on 30 March 1984 by the Institute of Housing, was reminiscent of a parish newsletter - a slim pamphlet with a no-nonsense black-and-white layout. ‘This is the first edition of a new weekly publication for the men and women who work in housing,’ it begins. ‘We hope you like it.’

Inside, there are gripes about the sluggishness of the planning system, complaints that not enough public money is being invested in housing and concerns about the widening gap between rich and poor.

Tackling racism is one of the most pressing concerns for housing departments. Newham Council takes the bold and unprecedented step of seeking to evict a white family accused of racist bullying, after having to move six Asian families forced to live under virtual siege. In November, it wins. ‘The ruling marks a victory for the growing number of race advisors and others who are saying that councils should be able to move the perpetrators of racial harassment rather than the victims,’ Inside Housing concludes.

1985

The year begins with the housing sector up in arms - environment secretary Patrick Jenkin is to cut its annual investment budget by ‘£1,200 million’ (the housing world is not yet accustomed to talking in billions). New projects are cancelled - council building is expected to fall below 20,000 in 1985, the lowest level since it began in 1919. One Conservative local council housing chair greets the news: ‘I know it’s my government who is in power, but what they’ve done is absolutely diabolical.’

A housing crisis is brewing: first- time buyers must spend a quarter of their income on mortgage payments and repossessions have doubled in two years.

The Labour Party has some grand plans of its own, proposing in a manifesto that the magazine feels is ‘refreshingly clear and concise for a Labour policy document’, to phase out the private rented sector ‘over the next 15 years or so’.

Amid such drama, Inside Housing has gathered 10,000 readers. Celebrating its anniversary in March, it says the launch was ‘amid considerable scepticism from the housing world over the viability of a weekly housing magazine’.

1986

Homelessness has reached a record high at nearly 100,000 families. The Greater London Council is abolished, the average price of a London house hits £64,000, and one person in every 100 with a mortgage is more than six months in arrears.

Prime minister Margaret Thatcher celebrates the millionth sale under the right to buy scheme in Aberdeen, brushing off questions from Shelter protesters about Scotland’s 24,000 homeless people: ‘Don’t take anything away from what we are achieving. The government does the best it can for everyone.’

A scheme offering 110 per cent mortgages is attacked as ‘irresponsible’ by Halifax Building Society.

Nicholas Ridley enters as the fifth secretary of state for the environment since 1979, and a former director of Warden Housing Association takes over housing benefit - junior minister John Major.

Hull Council meanwhile gambles on a Labour election win within 18 months, spending £1 million to set up a new department, and taking on 40 architects to draw up detailed five-year spending plans.

1987

House prices continue to rise and homeless people march on Downing Street. Camden Council shuts its homelessness service down for a month, to clear a backlog of 1,000 cases.

‘We have no choice because we cannot tackle the roots of homelessness when we do not have the money to build more homes,’ says councillor Steve Bevington.

John Patten at the Department of the Environment says the government would be prepared to open deep tube shelters for homeless people in London.

A green scheme is launched in Scotland with insulation, triple glazing and efficient gas boilers. ‘The design engineers looked at more outlandish forms of energy - solar panels and wind generators - but found that the cost was too high in comparison with energy savings,’ says Inside Housing.

1988

The era of big glasses and bigger housing queues continues. Tenants protest at council housing sell-offs, as environment secretary Nicholas Ridley considers tackling rising numbers of homeless people by relaxing councils’ duty to house them.

Tower Hamlets loses a court battle to refuse Bangladeshi families housing - they were intentionally homeless, it says, as they left housing in their home country. Undaunted, it declares 10 more families homeless two weeks later.

Landlord Nicholas van Hoogstraten admits to spitting on ‘scumbag’ tenants to make them move out: ‘I’m probably violent and I’m probably ruthless.’

1989

For the first time, the extent of skulduggery and gerrymandering in Westminster Council is revealed. A right to buy sales drive aims to install potential Tory voters in key wards, while homeless people are exported to other boroughs.

Inside Housing’s first City page is concerned that with interest rates rising to 14 per cent, housing associations will struggle with debt repayments. Housing associations dismiss interest-rate swaps as ‘risky’.

1990

Christine Laird becomes housing director at Camden - the headline ‘Woman wins top job’ prompts complaints, but 33-year-old Ms Laird doesn’t mind. She’s less impressed by the attitude of the men in the office: ‘I hate being addressed as “love”,’ she complains. ‘But it does not happen so often now because I tell people what I think of it.’

Convictions under the 1824 Vagrancy Act quadruple in central London. There are strikes as housing workers refuse to take on the extra work of administering the new poll tax.

1991

Local authorities struggle to come up with workable mortgage-to-rent schemes as figures show annual repossessions reached 40,000 in 1990.

The government proposes to make squatting a criminal rather than civil offence, and housing minister Sir George Young describes rough sleepers as ‘the people you step on when you come out of the opera’. From 10 September, they’ll also be the people selling a new magazine called the Big Issue. Vendors get to keep 40p of the 50p purchase price.

1992

Another ‘disastrous’ Budget for housing. With an election looming, Conservative and Labour manifestos on housing are disconcertingly similar.

As the Tories blame ‘feckless’ single mothers for all the country’s woes, Labour MP Glenda Jackson asks social security secretary Peter Lilley in Parliament how he plans to distinguish between genuine pregnancies and ‘pregnancies conceived purely for the purpose of gaining access to priority housing’.

New housing minister Michael Howard freezes two housing associations’ grants after they place recruitment adverts specifying applicants be black lesbians.

1993

For the first time Warden Housing Association will offer tenants a choice of six colours of interior decor for their homes, and carpets in the hall and lounge instead of linoleum.

There’s another Budget disaster as chancellor Kenneth Clarke slashes the local authority programme by 25 per cent. Mortgage arrears climb to an all-time high at the end of the year, affecting 1.5 per cent of all mortgages.

1994

Inside Housing invites its readers to ‘have an angry new year’, as it counts a loss of £800 million from the housing budget.

Thousands of New Age Travellers become criminals overnight as the government scraps councils’ duty to provide sites, and gives them the powers to evict travellers from illegal ones.

In April, Inside Housing goes colour and publishes its first supplement on information technology.

Environment secretary John Gummer says councils can’t rely on government money for regeneration - they must use stock transfer instead. ‘We have all been stuffed,’ pronounces Chartered Institute of Housing chief Christine Laird.

1995

The first housing management contract is awarded to a private company under compulsory competitive tendering in south Oxfordshire. But by September, bidders are pulling out blaming heavy penalties for non-performance for rendering them commercially unviable. Major urban areas spend millions preparing for competitive tendering but contractors aren’t interested.

1996

The year opens with 30 local authorities under investigation by the government for allegedly flouting competition rules - less than 4 per cent of housing management contracts have been awarded to outside organisations.

And there’s the worst Budget ever for housing as Ken Clarke slashes £1 billion to halve the approved development programme and chop a quarter off local authority funding. Housing minister David Curry promises 1 million council homes will transfer over the next decade.

But there’s a landmark victory for gay and lesbian tenants, when MPs narrowly vote to let them succeed tenancies when their partners die.

1997

As election year rolls on, Barnsley’s tenants face doing their own minor repairs as the council concentrates funds on major works.

Readers broadly support Labour, though the magazine is surprised and not a little perturbed that a quarter would back a Conservative win.

In the first issue after Labour’s landslide, Inside Housing is particularly excited that deputy PM John Prescott has hinted at councils building once more. Capital receipts are freed in a £5 billion bonanza, homeless families regain the right to council housing, the new government abandons benefit curbs for single people under 60 and quietly scraps advice to all councils to prepare for transfer. The magazine celebrates a bright new dawn with a bold new look.

But there’s a shock when housing minister Hilary Armstrong cuts the grant rate even lower than the Tories to an unprecedented 54 per cent.

1998

The internet is here: a new electronic version of Inside Housing goes live on 1 January. One commentator notes: ‘Cynics may suggest it is simply the new fad… [but] it appears there is a genuine belief that the internet will become a means of empowerment for all sections of the community.’

Nearly one in 14 council homes are now unfit to live in - ‘National Disgrace’ splashes the mag - but chancellor Gordon Brown delights the housing world with £4.2 billion of capital receipts, more money for rough sleepers and the new deal for communities. Inside Housing heralds a ‘New era for estates’.

In March, CIH chief executive Christine Laird is said to be ‘not working from her desk’ - which translated into her being dismissed after differences with the institute’s council.

1999

It’s a year of new arrivals and rows - inspections begin, the first refugees from the Kosovan emergency arrive and the government’s new dispersal scheme, which transfers asylum seekers across the country to the regions, kicks in, needing 48,000 places in its first year.

New ‘homelessness czar’ Louise Casey, former Shelter director, provokes the ire of campaigners when she blames soup runs for keeping people on the streets. Her policy recommendations include roving psychiatric nurses sectioning rough sleepers with mental illness, and the spectre of the notorious vagrancy laws raises its head once more.

Home secretary Jack Straw is cross that councils haven’t embraced their new powers to impose child curfews and anti-social behaviour orders, but in December an Edinburgh tenant becomes the first person convicted of breaching an ASBO when she torments her neighbours with the songs of Celine Dion at top volume.

The largest voluntary transfer programme ever gets under way as the government approves sales from 25 councils to housing associations, totalling 140,000 homes.

2000

The Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions makes it clear that councils have no choice but to transfer their stock or set up an arm’s-length management organisation in order to unlock decent homes funding. Tenants complain of blackmail. But there’s jubilation in July when Gordon Brown’s comprehensive spending review promises £1.6 billion for housing, catapulting it up the agenda.

Jan Luba QC warns that new human rights legislation could prevent evictions, but the ASBO bug has caught on in Wandsworth where tenants are threatened with orders for feeding pigeons and cycling on footpaths.

Sutton Council is the first to be inspected by the Audit Commission - it receives a single star. And of the 50 registered social landlords piloting the new best value regime, eight abandon it before completion.

Labour MP Mo Mowlam spends her birthday in September at an event for homeless people. They complain that hostels don’t let in couples: ‘We are not against shagging,’ she affirms.

2001

The stock transfer system will be swamped, Inside Housing warns, as more than half of all council landlords declare their interest. No one is very interested in the ALMO option.

The housing sector isn’t faring well under Audit Commission scrutiny, with a string of no-star ratings and prospective ALMOs failing to qualify as ‘excellent’. The government lowers the bar. There’s a row over fat-cat salaries for association chiefs, after Liver Housing Association tries to pay three senior members of staff a total of £1.75 million as it merges with Grosvenor. Housing Corporation chair Brenda Dean denounces the association as ‘completely off the wall’. Top pay doesn’t do anything to stem a mounting recruitment crisis in the sector though, and a survey by Inside Housing finds four in 10 housing workers would rather work elsewhere.

2002

The Duke of Edinburgh gives Inside Housing his first interview on social housing. ‘Is it really necessary?’ he wonders. ‘In a sense it would be better, it seems to me, to have a specialised housing association that provides for the sort of people who can’t afford normal housing.’

Tenant rebellions derail massive transfers in Birmingham and Glasgow; meanwhile Bath and North East Somerset Council says it has spent £38,000 - or £400 a day - on consultants to deal with correspondence from one anti-transfer campaigner.

There are fears that landlords are becoming overzealous on anti-social behaviour - a Blackburn tenant is evicted for failing to keep her garden tidy.
Payments for housing association board members divide the sector - one chair declares herself ‘sullied’ by the prospect.

2003

It’s the year of John Prescott’s mighty communities plan. In February, the deputy PM announces a mega £22 billion spending bonanza up to 2006. There will be 200,000 new homes in the growth areas and nine ‘pathfinders’ in the north to fight low demand. ‘Modern methods of construction’ will cut the costs of building.

The ALMO budget is doubled to £1 billion, and the National Federation of ALMOs is born. Overnight, the arm’s-length option becomes the most popular, with a third of councils rushing to sign up. In March, the National Audit Office says hitting the transfer target will cost £1 billion more than if councils upgraded homes themselves.

2004

Decent homes runs into trouble as tenants vote resoundingly against government ‘blackmail’ and councils pull out of ALMO and PFI bidding rounds.

Economist Kate Barker’s review for the Treasury says housing investment should be doubled. But there’s no new money for any of it in Gordon Brown’s Budget.

The National Housing Federation’s ‘In business for neighbourhoods’ rebranding initiative is shunned by two-thirds of associations - the smaller ones say they can’t afford it.

2005

Labour puts homeownership at the heart of its election campaign, with equity stakes for tenants and 80,000 first-time buyers on the housing ladder by 2010. The Tories says it’s just a watered-down version of their policy.

New shadow housing minister Michael Gove admits housing ‘lacked prominence’ under the last Conservative government but says it would be different this time round.

Consolidation among associations continues, driven by the Housing Corporation’s restriction of grant to its ‘partners’, but a survey reveals large associations are no more efficient than small ones.

The government asks landlords to make £835 million of efficiency savings, but no one’s sure how to calculate them. ALMOs take over their millionth home, and try to sever contracts with their inefficient council parents. Mr Prescott’s pathfinders are forced to scale back their demolition plans amid resident protests and a cash crisis.

2006

Shattered dreams and U-turns abound. The Housing Corporation fails to interest private developers in social housing grant - only four are awarded money and £60 million of the £200 million pot remains unallocated.

Gordon Brown says £1 billion of the Budget will go to shared ownership schemes. But more than half of nearly 1,400 homes built so far are lying empty. ‘Key worker’ living is extended to anyone on the waiting list who can afford it. Mr Brown changes his tune: social rented housing is just as important as other tenures, he tells the autumn party conference, and investment will be doubled.

The corporation says associations should get out of their ‘comfort zone’ and take more financial risks.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Ross provokes 60 complaints to the BBC when he suggests putting ‘something in the water supply’ to stop council tenants having children. A tenant writes in: ‘Vicky Pollard [the teenage delinquent from Little Britain] is a brilliant satirical characterisation of someone on the receiving end of years of poor practice in public services.’

2007

Grand ambitions mark the start of the year, as Places for People toys with floating on the stock market.

David Blunkett says problem estates should be bulldozed, while a Communities and Local Government department consultation paper proposes immediate evictions for Gypsies and Travellers.

In some boroughs, families must wait 10 years for a four-bedroom house. The housing sector is outraged by trade minister Margaret Hodge’s suggestion that allocations favour ‘British’ families. Everyone agrees: ‘The real issue is supply.’

New PM Gordon Brown’s Housing and Regeneration Bill promises 3 million new homes by 2020, building 240,000 a year instead of 200,000, and is simultaneously dismissed as unrealistic and not ambitious enough. Mr Brown boasts of enthusiasm for his eco-towns, with more than 50 applications. Chancellor Alistair Darling’s Budget puts emphasis on building at the expense of regeneration, but expects housing associations to borrow a quarter of the money on the private market.

In November, Bradford & Bingley pulls out of lending to the sector.

2008

Amid the credit crisis, housing associations struggle to secure £15 billion of private finance to meet building targets, and scale back their plans.

But housing association chief executive pay hits a new high, as Anchor Trust’s John Belcher takes home £327,000, a 32 per cent rise on the year before.

Housing minister Caroline Flint’s new idea that tenants should look for work or lose their homes prompts outrage. ‘So stupid it frightens me,’ says one Labour MP. ‘A return to the workhouse,’ says Shelter. Three-quarters of the public back her in a poll.

In October, yet another new housing minister, Margaret Beckett, backs away from the 3 million homes by 2020 target: ‘That was an ambition actually, not a target.’ Nearly 10,000 homes built for sale by associations stand empty, while Sir Bob Kerslake of the new Homes and Communities Agency says that new estates will need to be rental-only.

2009

Back to the future, as councils are given the freedom to build again, although no one is quite sure where they will get the cash: it all looks gloomy for social housing finance. And as Inside Housing celebrates its 25th anniversary, housing associations finalise their annual accounts.

Through the years

Temporary measures

20,790
Households in temporary accommodation in 1986

42,190
Households in temporary accommodation in 1996

89,510
Households in temporary accommodation in 2006

Tenure changes

In 1984…

61 per cent
of homes were owner occupied

28 per cent
were social rented

11 per cent
were private rented

In 2004…

71 per cent
of homes were owner occupied

18 per cent
were social rented

11 per cent
were private rented

Home builders

In 1984…

165,560
homes were built by private house builders

17,290
were built by registered social landlords

37,570
were built by local authorities

In 2004…

182,020
homes were built by private house builders

20,660
were built by registered social landlords

130
were built by local authorities

 

 

 

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