02/11/2018

The Future of Social Homes for Rent

Local authorities need to build an average 1,800 homes every year according to our latest research.

When polled, almost two-thirds (65 per cent) of senior managers and decision-makers within local authorities in England are 'very concerned' about the provision of socially rented housing in their area. In southern England (including London), this rose to 75 per cent. The general public were just as concerned with 64 per cent of adults saying they think there is a social housing crisis in England.

The decline in building homes for social rent

Currently, the majority of government money for housing goes to housing associations, rather than local authorities, which now occupy a key role as non-government delivery agents for the provision of affordable and social housing. 

But the housing association model is not delivering enough new homes for social rent. In 2017-18, registered providers based in England, representing 89 percent of the housing association stock, completed just 4,500 homes for social rent (both inside and outside the Affordable Homes Programme). This represents a drop of six per cent on 2016-17 when 4,775 social rented homes were built, which, in turn, represented a decrease of 13 per cent on 2015-16 when 5,464 social rented homes were completed.

Councils have not held the required level of responsibility, or had the funding, to build homes for social rent for years. It has all been down to housing associations who, with the best will in the world, have not been building homes for social rent on the scale the country needs. The model is not working.

Mark Robinson, Chief Executive, Scape Group

Mark Robinson continues, "It seems that the government has finally recognised that local councils need to be contributing towards meeting housing targets, but it will take years to turn back the clock of decades of under-supply. Given the concerns expressed by both the public and elected councillors, a solution needs to be found, however radical. In 2018, local authorities will be contributing just tens of thousands of new homes; in 1977, councils built 121,000 homes."

The Prime Minister recently announced that the government is set to lift the Housing Revenue Account cap, which means local councils will be able to borrow against their assets to fund new development. Being able to fund and build more housing for social rent in their area was something that all of the local authority representatives we polled wanted to be able to do.

However, even if councils were given the power and responsibility to build homes for social rent on the scale required, our research highlights issues that could still impact delivery. Council representatives cited resourcing (46 per cent) and the construction industry skills gap (35 per cent) as barriers to the building of new homes. This is particularly serious given the skills gap is set to widen and the growing likelihood of a no deal Brexit.

The modern day solution

In our report, recommendations to improve the future delivery of homes for social rent include the use of Modern Methods of Construction (MMC), which offer immediate solutions to these challenges. Using MMC, it is possible to build up to four times as many homes with the same amount of onsite labour required for a traditional build with increased speed of delivery.

MMC approaches include:

  • panellised units produced in factories and assembled onsite
  • volumetric construction to produce modular units in factories prior to transport to site
  • hybrid techniques that combine both panellised and volumetric approaches

Given the latest official figures from the Local Authority Housing Register for England, shows that the average local authority has over 3,500 families on its council house waiting list, speed of delivery has never been more important. In England alone, 1.25 m families remained on the waiting list for social housing between 2016-17. Over 60 councils have more than 5,000 households on their lists, and the local authorities with the longest housing waiting lists have over 25,000 families registered. 

Putting the responsibility for building more homes for social rent back in the hands of local authorities - and delivering it using Modern Methods of Construction - is clearly a fundamental part of the solution to the social housing crisis. The government needs to consider ways of adjusting the planning system to make it easier to build modular developments: for instance, pre-approved modular designs could be fast-tracked.

Victoria Brambini, Managing Director of Scape Procure

Scape Group Cmyk

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