Sir – As the election approaches, another day, another promise. The Conservative’s manifesto commitment to give housing association tenants the Right to Buy (RTB) was launched with great fanfare and certainly hit the headlines. But it will also hit very substantial obstacles if the Tories win.
They were clearly wooing ‘hard-working’ people in an attempt to echo Margaret Thatcher’s original RTB policy. This worked well 35 years ago but this time it’s destined for a rough ride.
Why? Well there are very practical problems which take the gloss off the initial idea, namely:
The RTB promise on housing associations’ properties has been tried before but has been rejected by the House of Lords over the last 20 years. To force housing associations to implement this new policy would require new laws.
There will be strong resistance from housing associations and local authorities, particularly in London. And is it fair? A select few get a cheap home, while those in the private rented and house-buying sectors are struggling to get anywhere near the foot of the property ladder. It’s not as if there aren’t opportunities to access cheaper housing via shared ownership schemes.
Supporters of RTB claim that no homes were lost back in the 1980s with the original RTB. That may be true regarding the nation’s total housing stock, but untrue when it comes to examining the number of homes available to rent to people in need. It reduced (and continues to reduce) that number dramatically. We all know that very few of the homes were replaced and that the income from the sales went to HM Treasury and not into the housing pot. So, millions that could have been used to build new homes were lost.
However, it may not all be bad news. In some cases, housing associations might benefit from being able to sell some of their stock. Properties in high demand areas that have high long-term maintenance costs (for example, old steel-framed properties) would be ideal candidates for RTB.
The real problem for the Tories remains the issue of how to increase the total housing stock without upsetting the ‘nimbies’. This manifesto statement is, of course, all about attracting votes, rather than creating a serious policy. But if a law enabling RTB to happen was introduced, some might wonder whether the impact will be as dramatic as many believe.
Only time will tell and we haven’t got long to wait!
Chief Executive, Shelton Development Services
Editor’s note: this letter was written before the results of the General Election.