Post-coronavirus boom in social housing needed

Council leaders have said that a post-pandemic building boom of 100,000 new social homes for rent each year would not only meet demand for affordable homes but deliver a £14.5 billion boost to the economy.

A new report, commission by the Local Government Association, the Association of Retained Council Housing, and the National Federation of ALMOs, warns that rough sleeping, homelessness and sofa surfing is only likely to increase in the coming months. Together, they estimate that spiralling council housing waiting lists could be set to nearly double to two million households next year as a result of the economic impact of coronavirus, with a large-scale social house-building programme by councils offering a cheaper, safe and high-quality accommodation for struggling families priced out of the private housing market.

As well as going a long way to meeting the government’s target of 300,000 homes a year, the report says this would also help to realise its ambition of levelling-up the country, targeting those communities in greatest need, by providing low-cost quality housing.

Additionally, it would also help rescue the country’s ailing construction industry, which is forecast to have lost 1.3 million worker-years of construction by 2024, as a result of lockdown closing many building sites, and social distancing impacting on those that have been able to reopen. The LGA is now urging the government to use the Spending Review to introduce measures that allow councils to resume their historic role as major builders of affordable homes.  

David Renard, LGA housing spokesperson, said: “With the number of people on council housing waiting lists set to double, it is absolutely vital that we build more housing for social rent. Building 100,000 social homes for rent a year would bring significant social and economic benefits, from tackling our housing crisis and reducing rising levels of homelessness to wiping millions off welfare bills and improving people’s health and well-being while alleviating the pressure on health and social care.  We are urging government in the Spending Review to give councils the powers to get building at scale again and deliver a housing programme that can play a central role in the national recovery from coronavirus.”  

Chloe Fletcher, policy director at the National Federation of ALMO, said: “We can’t stress enough the social and economic value communities get from well-managed publicly owned housing. All the evidence shows that councils and those who have ALMO partners are perfectly placed to deliver the wrap-around help – with finances, debt, health support, employment and retraining – that so many will desperately need, alongside sufficient good housing, as we recover from the pandemic fall-out. This is why building more social housing will deliver such outstanding value for public money.”

Matthew Warburton, ARCH Policy Adviser, added: "In helping the economy recover from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, it is essential that the government targets public investment where it will do most good. This research provides compelling evidence that investment in council housing should be given the highest priority."