I work in a Local Authority Housing Department, but not directly in housing provision. I am fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to study for a Chartered Institute of Housing qualification. To assist in this, I am reading as widely as I can. This is how I came to be reading this post. The reason that I give my background here is because, I am in effect writing this almost as an academic exercise. I do not claim to have any expertise in this subject. I am also writing this to excuse myself in advance if I happen to write about something that is already in place, or about something that couldn’t work for some obvious reason that I have missed.
I would appreciate any feedback that people wish to give on my ideas.
The idea of Social Housing comes from an era in which there was a large number of working people in need of housing. Local authorities responded to this need by building affordable housing that was within the budget of the average worker. The idea of this being any social stigma was negated by the fact that so many people lived there; this was then default type of housing. It was unlikely at this time that the “average working man” would aspire to owning a property.
Obviously things have changed and more and more people have the opportunity to own property or to rent privately at a market rate. For this reason, the “market” for social housing has changed and perhaps we need to consider the allocation of social housing.
So should social housing be available to all, or should it be allocated only to those on low incomes? Bearing in mind that there is a greater demand than there is supply, perhaps the “filter” of only allocating to those who are on low incomes needs to be operated. How do we though guard against the scenario where we would ask someone to leave social; housing when they achieve a certain level of income, only to have them return if circumstances change. This would certainly make social housing appear to be a ghetto where only the poor people go. Of course earnings are not the only measure of a person’s place in society. A person may have stayed in an area and very much be part of it. If they should find their level of income increase, whether through good fortune or hard work, is this reason to make them leave the neighbourhood of which they are a part.
It is clear that there are conflicting needs, in ensuring that social housing is made available to those who need it, but at the same time, ensuring that those in social housing have security of tenure without the fear of being evicted at a whim. I have come up with the following which I think goes some way to appreciate all sides of the argument and ensure fairness.
Any proposed changes should not apply to existing tenants. It is unfair to impose new terms on someone who entered an agreement under an accepted basis
For new applicants, income should be a factor. I do not know exactly what levels would apply. This would be for each authority to decide based on demand and market forces in their area. Only those who could not afford to obtain housing at market rates should be able to access social housing. This is not a situation that sits easily with me, but I feel it is necessary to ensure that those who are in the highest need have access to housing.
If someone qualifies based on their income at the time of application, the tenancy agreement should contain provision to alter the agreement based on changes in income. There should be a biennial review of their income. If they exceed the levels of income that have been applied above, this becomes difficult as it is not an ideal situation to have to evict someone simply on the basis of their income. My solution would be not to say that they no longer are eligible for social housing, but instead to say that they are no longer eligible for social housing at a discounted rate. They would have the option to give up their tenancy or remain in the tenancy but pay for it at a market rent. Receiving this market rent would increase rental income for local authorities and they may choose to use this to build new housing or to rent private rental properties in which to house other applicants. Depending on needs and demand in areas, some authorities might also choose to offer properties at market rate to those who exceeded the income level at the time of application.