In what is set to be one of her last public appearances as Prime Minister, Theresa May spoke at the Chartered Institute of Housing conference in Manchester, outlining what she felt the Government had achieved for the sector in the three years under her control.
Despite record levels of homelessness, growing inequality, and increasing rent and housing prices, May insisted to a packed auditorium that her Government had put in place changes which could turn the housing crisis around.
Due to various interventions, last year they “created more additions to the housing market than in all but one of the past 31 years.”
“The Tory party promised to deliver one million more homes in five years,” said May, a goal which she said is set to achieved by this autumn, with areas like the North West and Midlands seeing significant growth. London’s development, on the other hand, has slowed by 20% in the same period.
According to May, the Tories have “made it so that 80% of first time buyers are out of stamp duty, made brownfield sites more accessible and appealing for developers, and made developers more accountable. We’ve also scrapped the pay-to-stay policy”, a scheme which meant tenants of council houses who earned more than £30,000 in the UK, and £40,000 in London, would have to pay market or near market rents. This would have affected 70,000 people and risen their average rents by over £1,000 each year, said May.
Despite these improvements, May continued “not enough homes have been built, the work is not over, and the job is not done. It’s not just about addressing the immediate shortage but creating long term structural action.”
May said that she wanted to make sure that housing doesn’t mean “homes people have to live in, but homes they want to live in.” In 2019, she stressed that affordability shouldn’t mean “compromising on space or aesthetics.”
It wasn’t just affordable homes on the Prime Minister’s agenda, but also the private rental sector. “Over 18 million people woke up in a rented property this morning. Home ownership is great but we need to improve the rental sector too.”
May said that an action plan and implementation document are to be published in September, in order to combat some of the issues that have arisen in the rental sector. This includes the reworking of the relationship between the landlord and the tenant, in which the tenant is to be more empowered by “enhancing the tenant’s rights, as is their ability to raise complaints.”
She pointed to the creation of social housing, born out of World War One with the Addison Act in 1919, to house war veterans. But quality in this sector had become “a victim of the drive for home ownership.” May suggested that with the £2bn extra that had been allocated to affordable housing funds, there could be widespread improvements, in terms of “comfort and space.”
There will also be increased regulations around housing sizes including the creation of “a universal space standard, which will be made easier by the building materials produced in the Northern Powerhouse.”
These incremental changes on “1,000 fronts haven’t provided a big boom, but they will make a drastic impact in the long run.”
In the session immediately before May’s speech, speakers Lord Richard Best, chair of the Affordable Housing Association, Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, Campbell Rob, chief executive of both the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust, Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, and Helen Evans, chief executive of Network Homes, spoke about what ‘affordability means and how do we achieve it’.
The five agreed that much more needed to be done in terms of building social housing, and communication at both national and local Government level needed to improve. Firstly however, Best said that the definition of “affordable housing has to change. It shouldn’t be based on market value, but instead based on amount of income.”
Contrasting the later statements from May, Neate said social housing was still in need of investment, and the benefits would help not only people at ground level, but at a Government level too. “If £3.1bn was invested in social housing, it would be recouped in 30 years on just the savings of housing benefits alone.”
The housing crisis, according to Neate, has caused an emotional shift in the population, saying that generations haven’t just “lost aspiration, they’ve lost hope”.