The latest proposal by the Conservative Party to extend the Right to Buy to tenants of housing associations is another nail in the coffin of social housing.
The news has been met with the biggest outcry I have witnessed from the housing sector for some time.
I only regret that the other disastrous housing policies introduced in the last five years have not been met with a similar amount of opposition.
Many housing associations have complied with the government policies to reduce social housing and this is their reward. I hope that this new found zeal to defend social housing will serve to unite the sector to oppose the proposal and overcome it, if the Conservatives win the election.
We have done it before. In the 1980s I was a regional officer at the National Federation of Housing Associations now known as The National Housing Federation (NHF). The Conservative Government introduced a similar proposal to include tenants of housing associations in the legislation to give council tenants the Right to Buy.
There was a similar outcry to the one we are witnessing today and the NHF began to a campaign to exclude housing associations from the legislation.
The federation had already been successful in opposing the government’s moratorium on housing spending, which was announced at the annual conference in 1980. They followed this with a national campaign against the Right to Buy.
It was so successful that even though the bill was passed in the House of Commons it was defeated in the House of Lords. The Lords pointed out that if rented stock was sold at substantial discounts housing associations,which were charities, would be parting with their assets for the benefitof those housed today at the expense of those needing housing tomorrow.
The argument won the day and charitable housing associations have been exempt from the Right to Buy ever since.
Can we learn anything from this today? The first point is that the sector was united in its opposition to the government and was not afraid to campaign hard against it. This spirit has been missing in recent years. I hope that we can revive it.
The second point is that the charitable argument is still relevant. In addition the independence and complex structures of current housing associations and their funding will almost certainly lead to legalchallenges. I am sure other stakeholders, including funders, will have a strong view on the proposal today. I envisage this will be at the heart of the debate. In 1981 we were also able gain support for the social purpose of housing associations. This argument has been neglected in recent years and might be more difficult to resurrect.
I think it is the main issue. If the Right to Buy is extended and all that remains is so called affordable rents, who will provide homes for poor people tomorrow? If the Conservatives win the election and we fail to resist the proposal, social housing will no longer be available to future generations.
Yes our business model is at stake but more importantly are the lives of millions of people who depend on housing associations to provide the best quality homes at the lowest rents for those in need. This is social housing and we should be defending it to the bitter end.