There’s a certain amount of expenditure involved in the upkeep of the properties, certainly, but as a HA tenant, my experience is that it is never enough because these organisations always have to make money.
That means that housing associations are a continuing income stream – income that streams in to the owners for as long as they have the properties.
And that means one thing: Sell them off and they’ll be gone forever.
Is this more shortsightedness from the Conservative Government?
Wednesday’s Autumn Statement could mark the beginning of the end for the country’s 1,700 housing associations. The chancellor, announcing the results of the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) for the next three years, may announce that housing association assets will be sold off before the General Election in 2020 to help him achieve the elimination of the structural deficit in this parliament.
This could be the largest ever sale of public assets – which housing association homes became following the Office for National Statistics reclassification of associations as public bodies – and the most radical solution the chancellor could pursue.
Otherwise, Osborne faces £60bn of housing association debt – equivalent to 3 per cent of total public debt – sitting on the national accounts, throwing his debt reduction strategy into disarray, and a blockage to his status as favourite to succeed David Cameron as prime minister in 2019.
Getting shot of this debt, possibly by reversing the ONS reclassification, will be a major CSR priority.
The backdrop to this muddle has been the decision by successive governments since 1988 to deploy the housing association sector as a means of transferring council housing and leveraging private investment into social housing without taking a hit on what used to be called the Public Sector Borrowing Requirement.
Since 2010 though, Tory-led governments have set aside this consensus, aiming to fundamentally reshape social housing into so-called ‘affordable’ housing, while targeting social tenants for welfare cuts and negative stereotyping in the media.
A year of policies aimed at housing associations and their tenants, including lowering the Benefit Cap, imposed rent reductions for the next four years, requiring better-off tenants to pay market rents or to move out, and, most controversially, the extended right to buy, have all piled pressure on social landlords and tenants alike.
In the middle of the year, attacks on the housing association sector by Channel 4 News, the Spectator and The Times, claiming house building under-performance by associations, even though such claims have largely been refuted by housing commentators, was seen by many as a ‘softening-up’ of the sector.
Hot on the heels of these attacks came the rent reduction announcements in July’s Budget followed by a housing association vote in September on whether to accept the right to buy ‘voluntarily’, which was meant to head off the ONS decision reclassification – unsuccessfully, as it turned out.
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