Anna’s Blog – Proposals for the Biggest Social Housing Building since WW2

Anna’s Blog – Proposals for the Biggest Social Housing Building since WW2

In her blog this week our CEO looks at proposals for the biggest social housing building project since WW2.

Shelter’s cross party report on the state of social housing in England is an impressive piece of work for many reasons – not least because it avoids the pitfall of political dogma.

The commission, established following the Grenfell Tower disaster, included figures from across the political divide – former Conservative party chair, Sayeeda Warsi, the former Labour leader Ed Miliband and the former Conservative Treasury minister and Goldman Sachs chief economist Lord Jim O’Neill.

Other commissioners included Lady Doreen Lawrence, the justice campaigner and mother of the murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, and Edward Daffarn, a social worker who escaped from his 16th floor Grenfell Tower flat and had predicted in a blog that: “only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord”.

It also reflects the views and experiences of both social housing and private tenants when it advocates the building of 3.1 million social homes in the next 20 years – the biggest social housing building project since World War Two.

The commissioners gathered case studies through an online survey and the submissions of 20 organisations ranging from the Local Government Association to the mental health charity Mind. Shelter also facilitated 12 public housing debates across the country. In all the views of 31,000 people were taken into account.

The report also considers examples of social housing models across Europe. Places like Amersfoort, Eindhoven and Rotterdam in The Netherlands and Copenhagen in Denmark.

In Amersfoort a development company was set up in a 50/50 joint venture between the local authority and a consortium of private landowners and developers. The company then devised a masterplan in collaboration with all the different interests. It’s what the Dutch call a ‘polder,’ meaning a will to find a consensus, encouraging different interests to find solutions to a common problem.

I believe the ambitious, but necessary, recommendations of the Shelter Commission can only be achieved through a cross party consensus. While local Government, National Government, developers and landowners continue to operate in political silos, decent, affordable, secure homes will remain out of the reach of the 1.2 million people who most need them.

Shelter has already gone some way to addressing the political divide by recruiting such diverse commissioners to write the report. Baroness Warsi revealed that when she started working with Ed Miliband she believed the market would provide the solution to the housing crisis. Now she is convinced of the need for a massive, public funded house-building programme, which she says could save billions in housing benefit.

Lord O’Neill said tackling the housing problem was also at the centre of improving the productivity of the UK economy, which he described as a greater threat to the country than a hard Brexit.

The truth is decent housing is the bedrock of a successful society. How can we expect people to be efficient, productive and effective when the shadow of eviction is permanently looming over them? How can we expect children to flourish and thrive when they are being forced to move home and school seven or eight times? As one private housing tenant said:

“This needs to come to a stop. We do not feel safe in any property. My 12-year-old daughter has gone to eight different schools and has really struggled with constantly making friends and losing friends because of all our moves. All the upheaval makes her so unhappy.