How housing acquisition can regenerate disadvantaged communities, raise standards and decarbonise homes
The New Economics Foundation (NEF), working with the Homes for Us coalition of grassroots organizations and campaigners, is developing policies to fix England’s broken housing model. our report, Beyond new build, It is argued that as well as building more social housing, the government should encourage the upgrading and repurposing of private rented sector (PRS) properties into social housing.
This article outlines a range of policy levers to encourage transaction flows from PRS to the social sector. These will enable social landlords to quickly deliver much-needed social and affordable housing, targeting demand, including temporary accommodation for more than 100,000 families, and rebalancing our broken housing system. First, we outline community rights to buy: rights of first refusal for social landlords and community-led housing organizations. This would enable communities to take control of poorly maintained and vacant homes in disadvantaged areas with low property values. It would also give them a necessary competitive advantage over buy-to-let, often absentee landlords who continue to extract wealth from lagging communities. A national takeover scheme to support such organizations would boost the regeneration of England’s so-called backward towns, injecting jobs, economic growth and pride of place.
Secondly, local authorities should have the power to acquire properties from landlords who are unable or unwilling to rent their properties to required standards, whether those relate to energy efficiency ratings, the Decent Homes Standard (DHS) – which will be extended to the PRS – or any other specified form of regulatory noncompliance. Therefore, we are proposing new rules that would prohibit landlords from selling non-compliant properties on the open market and would only allow local authorities to purchase these properties as buyers of last resort. This would incentivize landlords to invest in better, greener homes and encourage local authorities to purchase these at lower prices if they do not meet standards.
These policy levers can only enable large-scale acquisitions if supported by investment and central government funding. The 10% acquisition cap for the Affordable Housing Program (AHP) should be increased, and a national housing conversion fund should be established and targeted in low-demand areas to inject growth into the economy and prevent the high-value property market from overheating. The fund should include grants to non-registered providers, such as community-led housing groups. Only then will these proposals enable social landlords and grassroots housing organizations to address housing needs, become a vehicle for regeneration and economic growth in disadvantaged areas, and contribute to improving standards and energy efficiency in PRS.