UK Theresa May pledges new right-to-buy plan to boost social housing

Posted on May 16, 2017

UK Prime Minister Theresa May pledged a new right-to-buy program for social housing in an effort to boost home-building by local authorities and help alleviate a growing shortage of low-cost housing.

Councils and housing associations will be offered government funding to build homes along with permitting help from the Homes and Communities Agency, the Conservatives said in a statement on Saturday. But ministers said the plan didn’t involve a new commitment of extra state funding, and refused to commit to a target for the number of homes to be built.

The program will require a proportion of the homes to be sold after a set period of 10 to 15 years. Existing tenants at that point will have the first right to buy the properties, which will otherwise be sold to private or institutional investors.

“Too many ordinary working families are stuck on council waiting lists, facing unaffordable rents and struggling to save for that first deposit,” Ms. May said in the statement.

“That’s why we will fix the broken housing market and support local authorities and housing associations to build a new generation of council homes right across the country.”

Britain’s housing shortage has pushed up rents and house prices across the country. By focusing on the need for social housing, and proposing a plan likely to benefit areas with shortages such as Birmingham and Manchester, Ms. May is continuing her party’s push to win over traditional opposition in Labour heartlands. Local elections earlier this month suggested Ms. May will significantly increase her majority in the June 8 election, as surveys of likely voters have also shown.

The government will also reform compulsory purchase rules to allow councils to assemble parcels of land to build on, including derelict buildings or unused pocket sites.

The Tories predicted “thousands” of new homes may be built, without specifying how much the plan would cost. The program will take the form of direct funding as well as extra borrowing between the councils taking up the plan and government.

There are 300,000 fewer homes to rent for social housing tenants now than 20 years ago, and 1.2 million families on local authority waiting lists, according to the Conservatives.

Defense Secretary Michael Fallon, in a BBC television interview, said the plan didn’t come with “new money” from the government. Home office minister Brandon Lewis told the broadcaster in a separate interview that he wouldn’t put “a fixed number” on how many homes will be built.

Awareness that the homes will be sold after the set waiting period will ensure developers keep the private value of the housing in mind, making for better quality construction and returning the funding for social housing, the party said.

The Labour Party attacked Ms. May’s pledge as failing to present a credible plan to solve Britain’s housing problems, which include a shortage of supply and soaring rents.

“There’s no commitment on the number of new affordable homes or on new funding,” John Healey, Labour’s spokesman for Housing, said in a statement. “After seven years of failure, the Conservatives have no plan to fix the housing crisis.” -- Bloomberg