We need more social rent homes, but they must be homes of the right type and in the right places to end homelessness

Sarah Rowe, Senior Policy Officer

England needs to deliver 80-90,000 additional homes for social rent each year for at least the next fifteen years at least 12 times more than the 6,500 homes a year we’re providing now. Over the last two years the Government has made important changes that will help increase the numbers – but nothing like the 80-90,000 homes we need.

Last year Crisis published Everybody In, setting out a long-term strategy for UK Governments to end homelessness. This set out evidence showing that building social rented housing at scale is critical to help local authorities deliver on the Government’s objectives of ending rough sleeping and reducing homelessness. So it is good to see the Housing Communities and Local Government Select Committee shining a light on this key area of public policy – looking at how to get homes built at the scale the country needs and how to make sure new provision meets the needs of tenants.

£12.8 billion a year investment in social renting is needed to tackle the housing crisis

Analysis by the National Housing Federation, conducted together with the Greater London Authority and G15 group of housing associations, has shown that Government needs to invest £12.8 billion a year to deliver 137,000 affordable homes each year, including 80,000 homes a year for social rent. Analysis by Heriot Watt University for Crisis and the National Housing Federation shows that while most of these new homes are needed in London and the South East, the shortage of social housing is not an exclusively southern problem – with a need for affordable housing investment in the Midlands and Northern Regions.

Investing in new social rent homes makes economic sense. Unlike the private rented sector, social rents are pitched at levels that people on low earnings can afford. This reduces the amount of money that the Government has to pay out on Housing Benefit compared with the amount that would be spent if the same households live in the private rented sector. Although Government borrowing is needed to help get homes built in the first place, that investment pays dividends over time. Successive studies have shown that a major programme of social housebuilding would have wider economic benefits too – helping to boost construction activity and improve the likelihood that the overall supply of new homes will reach the Government’s target of 300,000.

In the short term, while capacity to deliver social rented housing at scale is being developed, many low income households will continue to need access to private rented housing. It is essential then that Government also invests in closing the growing gap between private sector rents and Housing Benefit rates. This is not an either or.

But while getting more investment in place and tackling the barriers to social housing delivery are critical, these are not the only challenges.

We need more homes for low income single adults

This year’s England Homelessness Monitor reported concerns from some local authority housing options teams that there is a particular shortage of social rented tenancies to meet the needs of single homeless people. The shortage of homes of the right type in the right places compound the problem that we have previously reported on - that social rented housing is not always accessible to people on the lowest incomes, including many single homeless people.

A major programme of investment in social renting would provide the opportunity to get more of the right types of home in the right places. But to do this it will be critical to ensure that local assessments take full account of the housing needs of homeless people, including both families in temporary accommodation and single adults.

We hope the Inquiry will provide further cross-party endorsement of the well-evidenced case for increased Government investment in homes for social rent – and for getting homes of the right type built in the right places. Alongside other key reforms – including restoring Housing Benefit rates to cover the cost of rent – this will be critical to end homelessness.

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