Reject the Right to Buy for housing associations: letter from Cllr Philip Glanville
The government has proposed a voluntary agreement with housing associations to extend the Right to Buy to housing association tenants. Cllr Philip Glanville, Cabinet Member for Housing, has written to housing association board chairs in Hackney urging them to reject this deal, as a policy likely to worsen the housing crisis in London.
Dear Board Chair,
In the coming days, your Board is likely to consider the government’s invitation for you to ‘voluntarily’ agree to an extension of the right to buy to your stock. The government is presenting a case that, if you agree at this stage, rather than have the extension imposed on you through legislation, you will enjoy extra flexibilities, as yet not fully defined and control over the process, again not yet fully defined.
As you will know we at Hackney Council have been committed to a joint approach on this issue between our housing association partners and the Council right from the start, and to this end we submitted joint evidence to the DCLG Select Committee in August. We firmly believe, as I believe all housing associations in Hackney do, that we can find a common purpose on this issue, and we need to continue joint working wherever we believe we can achieve more together.
While I understand from discussions with some housing associations that many of you feel the voluntary deal being offered is the least bad option, that ensures a degree of independence for the sector for the future, I would stress that it still concedes much whilst running the risk of the sector being seen as endorsing the government's continued undermining of social housing. We still believe that the best way to defend social housing is to present a united front and hope that whatever happens over the course of this week we can all continue to oppose the forced sale of high value council homes to fund this policy.
The Communities Secretary, Greg Clark MP, has already admitted publicly that introducing the right to buy extension voluntarily would “change nothing” about how the proposed scheme would work. The implications of this statement are of significant and fundamental concern to Hackney Council. I believe the government is playing a tactical game – and I would urge you not to blink.
I would urge you also to reflect on the political reality that the government has a very slim majority in the Commons and none in the Lords. There are scores of Lords and MPs, especially those who represent London constituencies, who are very concerned about the right to buy extension and other aspects of the Housing Bill and have publically expressed their concerns. As you know, the government itself is concerned that using legislation to extend the right to buy could risk adding housing association debt to the national debt, a move they are very keen to avoid.
If housing associations decide not to agree to endorse the offer negotiated on their behalf by 2nd October, the government will face stiff opposition from its own side getting the Bill through Parliament. At the very least, exemptions and compromises similar to, or better than, those you have been promised this week may well then be offered at that stage. In a best case scenario, we stand a chance of defeating this Bill altogether.
Defeating the Bill would help protect social housing across the country, and particularly in London. As you know, the Bill is set to force councils to sell off so-called 'high-value' council homes on the open market. Much of the money from forced sales in London will leave the capital, as it will be used to compensate housing associations nationwide for the right to buy discounts.
This unprecedented loss of council homes in Hackney will have profound and long term significant damaging social and economic consequences. As you know, even effectively working in close partnership with housing associations in Hackney to address these issues, we are already struggling to help homeless families, those suffering overcrowding, and vulnerable households. The sudden and dramatic loss of council homes that the Housing Bill proposes will make these challenges even more severe, and you can expect to see the number of families in temporary accommodation and bed and breakfast rise fast and substantially. In the longer run, this policy will wreck the mixed communities in London for which we have all worked so hard and are all justifiably so proud of, and on which Hackney and the capital’s success depends.
That is why we are determined to oppose the Housing Bill, and why we are so disappointed the national trade body for the housing association movement risks undermining our position. By agreeing voluntarily to the right to buy extension, you make it far more likely that the other measures in the Housing Bill will become law. This will fundamentally undermine the aspiration we have all worked towards to provide good quality affordable housing for low paid households and others.
I and many others are concerned that a fundamental change is being proposed to social housing which should have full parliamentary scrutiny, as so many questions remain about the policy including possible exemptions; the number, tenure and location of replacement homes; and a regional ring fence, this is of course aside from the potentially disastrous impact this could have on the future supply of lower cost social housing for people on low incomes in London. You do not have to agree the right to buy extension. You have the chance to change this.
As you know we value our relationship with and we work closely with the housing association movement in Hackney. We try to make sure that whenever we offer funding or other support for new developments, the benefit of that support is retained within our borough. We will work with all housing associations who share this goal. I think it is fair to say that, even if some housing associations were to sign the voluntary agreement, those who do not sign will be in a particularly strong position to reassure us that the benefit of any funding, land, or other support we put into their new development schemes will stay within our borough in perpetuity. We would welcome this reassurance when deciding what support to offer.
I would like to stress that housing associations are and will remain critical to solving Hackney, London and the nation's housing crisis, and the Council will continue to make the case for truly affordable homes for rent and sale when it comes to the replacement of any homes sold.
For all these reasons, I would urge you and your colleagues to reject this voluntary agreement. I would urge you instead to continue to work closely with us and other local authorities to protect and expand London’s affordable housing. Instead of agreeing the right to buy extension, join us in opposing, amending, and even defeating this Bill.
Cllr Philip Glanville
Cabinet Member for Housing
cc: RP Chief Executives