Right to buy will worsen Britain’s lack of affordable homes

It is fair to say that the Right to Buy scheme for council tenants introduced under the Thatcher government where so many tenants snapped up their homes at a vastly reduced cost had serious implications on housing stock. Social housing numbers were reduced and never fully replaced despite the indication that it would be. No one can blame those who aspired to owning their own home when they bought their house, sadly many eventually fell into the hands of private landlords or were just sold on for profit. Almost all in the housing industry acknowledge the detrimental effect of removing so many homes from the country’s stock of low cost rental housing. 

Many years later, in 2022 there are over 1 million families sitting on housing waiting lists and the situation is beyond desperate. Last year alone around 29,000 social homes were sold off or demolished yet only 7,000 were built across the country. In Frome alone over 500 families are waiting for social housing. These families are either struggling in high rent privately rented homes, staying with friends and family or even in temporary accommodation. 

So when we understand how deep the crisis is it’s not surprising that the recent announcement that Housing Association tenants might be given the right to buy at a significant discount raises big arm bells. As before there is the suggestion that new housing stock would be built to replace stock that has been sold to tenants. However history tells us that this has never actually happened to an extent that the levels of available homes remained the same. Lets be honest here, replacing any sold-off homes with new ones doesn’t actually cut the mustard anyway as we are already about a million homes short so even replacing ones sold under a new scheme does little to change where we are right now. An additional twist to all of this is the never ending conflict between green spaces and the need for more homes. Last year saw proposals for around thirty Community Land Trust – genuinely affordable homes withdrawn in the face of significant public objection. The Fair Homes project didn’t even get as far as the planning stage as those involved – Mendip District Council, Selwood Housing and the CLT felt that backing off was the right thing to do. If as might happen Housing Association tenants gain the right to buy then where in a town like Frome will we build replacement homes, let alone homes needed over and above those existing numbers. It doesn’t take a genius to see that we might be heading towards an even more serious housing crisis. 

Community Land Trusts can be part of the solution here. Obviously CLT’s are never going to make up the social housing deficit nationwide but at a local level community built housing does help and have some advantages.  A significant one is that CLT’s are able to ensure that there is no right to buy on their properties with the homes remaining as affordable rental homes in perpetuity. Another feature that makes CLT’s an attractive option is the placing of a local lettings plan on their homes. As its stands social housing in Frome can be and sometimes is allocated to people from the Mendip or Somerset area. Whilst it’s understandable that those in the most need are housed first, wherever a home is available there is also justification for saying that local families in need should be given the first option. Community Land Trusts are exactly that, locally orientated and dedicated to keeping local communities together. We hear many stories of Frome folk being housed in Shepton Mallet of having to go even further away to get a home, we’d like to hear rather less of those stories and help make a difference to our wonderful town. 

Mark Brookes on behalf of Frome Area Community Land Trust