In April 2016 the Shared Ownership and Affordable Homes Programme (“SOAHP”) 2016 – 2021 was launched. In November 2016, through the Autumn Statement, the Government introduced additional funding of affordable housing including affordable rented homes. This was implemented in January 2017.
On 4 October 2017 the Government announced the introduction of Social Rent as a tenure eligible for funding. They announced that £2 billion would be added to the budget for the SOAHP, £1 billion of which would be made available in London. The total monies announced for SOAHP as a whole is £9 billion.
Under the current SOAHP, housing associations and other registered providers were required to start construction on schemes by March 2022 in order to qualify for the funding. Given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, this was always likely to be impacted. The Secretary for State for Housing, Robert Jenrick, stated that construction of approximately 53,000 affordable homes had stalled due to the pandemic.
One year extension granted
As a result, on 6 July 2020 the Government announced a further one year extension to the programme. This means that housing associations and registered providers now have until March 2023 to start construction. In addition, the Government also legislated to extend the current planning permissions due to expire, thus saving the needs for new permissions.
Grants not spent on social rent
While the building of new homes should be a positive with regard to stimulating the economy, it is crucial to look at what homes are actually being built. Based on the data released by the government in February 2020, only 4% of the homes funded by the SOAHP since 2016 were for social rent. This is despite 22% of the £9 billion budget having been allocated to social rents.
The lack of social rent homes has been highlighted during the pandemic. A report by Lockdown Living, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, found that that young people aged 16-24 are more likely to have been locked down in a home with, on average, half the floor space of older people. In addition, they are one and half times more likely not to have a garden, or to live in a congested or derelict neighbourhood. In addition, the report highlighted that ethnicity plays a large role in determining the quality of household living conditions. Nearly 40% of under-16s from black and minority ethnic households have no obvious garden, compared with only 17% of white children.
Therefore, it is crucial that there is a rebalancing under the programme so that more social homes are built. While the Government has stated that they want to end rough sleeping, rebuild communities and stimulate the economy, realistically this can only be achieved through building more social homes. In light of this, the chief executive of the National Housing Federation, Kate Henderson, has put pressure on the Government to put social housing at the forefront of their post-covid recovery plan. The Government need to incentivise companies to focus on housing, as the funds available for the same are not being utilised. One option going forward would be to stipulate a percentage of social rents are built as a requirement to access funding under SOAHP.
It remains to be seen whether the Government will take the call on board however it’s clear that a massive investment into social housing is required if there is to be a real chance of addressing the housing crisis in this country, especially given the impact of the recent pandemic.