What’s going on?
Selling homes to sitting tenants was a key manifesto promise for the new majority Government. Whilst we recognised that this option could be a great opportunity for some of our customers, we had grave concerns about the ways in which a compulsory scheme might work.
We believe that social rented housing that is genuinely affordable to our customers is even more vital today given the desperate shortage of affordable accommodation available. If we have to sell properties at a discount without being fully compensated, then housing associations in the North will be unable to replace homes sold.
Last Wednesday, a voluntary deal was struck between the National Housing Federation and Government, to which South Yorkshire Housing Association, and over 90% of all housing associations nationally, have ‘signed up’ to. Faced with a straight ‘yes’ or ‘no’ deal last week, we saw the voluntary deal as a better option for our existing customers, the Association, and, most importantly, for people in housing need in the future. This was an extremely difficult decision to make.
Why did we go with the voluntary deal?
The problem with the original Right to Buy scheme was the failure to replace homes which were sold. By going with the voluntary deal, we will have a far better chance of replacing the properties we sell, and protecting our social housing stock for those in need. With a fair wind, we will be able to replace many of the homes we sell on a ‘new for old’ basis. This will help to stimulate new house building locally in line with the Sheffield City Region’s objectives.
The deal contains far more flexibility than legislation would have allowed us. With the deal, we will be able to define the details of our own scheme. This means we can exclude, for example, homes in schemes where we provide care and support, those in rural communities where they cannot be replaced or homes funded in particular ways.
Had the Government legislated, there was a significant risk that housing associations may have been nationalised – swiftly followed by privatisation. This would have taken away our independence, made it very difficult to raise funds to build new homes and prevented us from working with local authorities to offer social housing to those most in need.
Under the deal we will be fully compensated by Government for the homes we sell. The discount will be repaid to us so that we have a better chance of replacing the stock. There was no guarantee this would have occurred if the Government had imposed a solution on us.
What does this mean for our tenants wanting to buy their homes?
It may be some time – several months or longer – before the Government and associations work out the detail of how the scheme will work. This means that we don’t have any specific information for our customers yet, but we will keep you informed as plans develop.
In the short term, our immediate priority is to re-establish a common cause around the value of social housing, affordability and neighbourhood cohesion. We will be exploring with our local authority partners ways in which we can work together to maintain a full range of housing offers. This will include building housing for outright sale, shared ownership including custom build, exploring other forms of tenure, and developing new rented housing for a variety of customers.
Since our inception with a Shelter Group grant over 40 years ago, we have been committed to providing housing and support for people when they really need it. Protecting and developing new social rented homes will continue to be an absolute priority for our organisation.