Dominic Raab is the new housing minister. So what are his big ideas?

Housing minister Dominic Raab. Image: Getty.

It’s safe to say the housing world has been on a bit of a rollercoaster journey over the past 48 hours. We’ve had rumours about a dedicated housing minister role in the cabinet, quickly put to bed by its integration into the newly named Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (or MHCLG – not an acronym that rolls off the tongue too easily). And finally, yesterday, came the shock news that Alok Sharma is to be replaced as housing minister by Dominic Raab.

So whilst many see the cabinet re-shuffle as more of a re-brand, in the housing sector, we are seeing real change occur. Alok Sharma has certainly been playing a key role in community engagement and consultation during one of the most turbulent and tragic eras in housing to date. I sincerely hope we can still see the legacy of his work.

However, Raab’s appointment has the potential to shake things up a little – and perhaps that’s what we need. After all, you can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results. And, let’s be honest, the housing sector has had a bit of a reputation for its ‘traditional’ approach over the years.

So we need a visionary. We need something new and brave to finally get to grips with this housing crisis.

Is Dominic Raab that visionary? Well, if we look back to his 2012 report with the Centre for Policy Studies, Unleashing the Underdog, we can perhaps catch a glimpse of what’s to come. 

Raab pushes for equality – but he sees innovation as key to achieving this. Ever heard of tenants having a “right to own”? This bold concept he talked of in 2012 involved releasing “dead equity” and gifting social housing tenants with a percentage of the capital, “to incentivise home ownership and finance new social housing”.


This report was written over five years ago, but it shows imaginative solutions to housing issues. These are bold concepts and we can work together to shape them into deliverable and practical solutions.

Secondly, this specific “Right to Own” idea sets out a desire to increase ownership opportunities for all aspiring homeowners – not just the privileged few – and he notes just how important homeownership can be in achieving social mobility. This is something that we, as a sector, embrace. Home Group only recently asked its customers if they wanted to own their own homes, and a huge 87 per cent said yes. We also know through recent YouGov research that raising a deposit remains the biggest barrier to ownership.

This is why we launched our own home ownership product, “Deposit Builder”, to respond to the challenge and meet customer aspirations. It shares the same goal as Raab’s “Right to Own” – helping social housing customers into homeownership. It works by enabling customers to save a deposit while they are renting – through a discount on their tenancy, price freezes and match-funding the government’s Help to Buy ISA.

So perhaps through this appointment what we might start to see is much bigger and bolder thinking that inspires the sector in this way. And if Raab does meet barriers along the way, let’s work together to come up with new ways to overcome them.

But better still, if we are led by a visionary housing minister, we might just see that there is a power to remove such barriers for the greater good.

Mark Henderson is chief executive of the housing association Home Group.

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How spurious imperial science affected the layout of African cities

Freetown, Sierra Leone. Image: David Hond/Freetown From The Air/Wikimedia Commons.

As the European powers spread across the world, systematically colonising it as they went, one of the deadliest enemies they faced was disease. In 1850s India, one in twenty British soldiers were dying from such diseases – on a par with British Empire casualty rates during World War II.

When Europeans started dropping dead the minute they got off the boat, the scientists of the day rushed to provide their own, at times fairly dodgy, solutions. This era coincided with a key period of city planning in the African colonies – meaning that there is still visible evidence of this shoddy science in the cityscape of many modern African cities.
For a long time altitude was considered a protection against disease, on the grounds that it was far from the lowland heat associated with putrefaction. British officials in India retreated to the ‘hill stations’ during the warm season; this practice continued in the African colonies established by all sorts of European powers in the late 19th century.

So it was that one bunch of imperialists established the capital of German Kamerun at Buea, high on the side of Mount Cameroon. The city still has a population of 90,000 today. Evidence of this height fetish can still be found in the ‘Plateau’ districts of Brazzaville, Dakar and Abidjan as well as the ‘Ridge’ district of Accra.


Malaria, particularly, was an ever present fear in the colonies, and it did much to shape the colonial cities. It’s a sign of the extent to which 19th century medical science misunderstood how the disease was spread that its name comes from the French for ‘bad air’. By the late 19th century, knowledge had managed to progress far enough to identify mosquitoes as the culprits – but views still wildly diverged about the appropriate response.

One solution popular in many empires was segregation. The Europeans had incorrectly identified Africans as the main carriers of the disease; African children under five were believed to be the main source of malaria so they were to be kept far away from the colonists at all times.

And so, many powers decided that the European settlers should be housed in their own separate areas. (Of course, this wrong headed but at least rational response wasn’t the whole explanation: often, sanitary concerns were used to veil simple racial chauvinism.)

The affluent Hill Station – a name reminiscent of the Indian colonies – in Freetown, Sierra Leone was built as a segregated suburb so Europeans could keep well clear of the local children. Today, it’s where the home of the president can be found. Yet despite all this expensive shuffling of Freetown’s urban landscape, inhabitants of Hill Station came down with malaria at about the same as those who lived elsewhere.

 

The Uganda Golf Course, Kampala. Image: Google Maps.

In Kampala, Uganga, a golf course now occupies the land designated by the British powers to protect the European neighbourhood from the African. A similar appropriation can be seen in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of The Congo, where a zoo, botanical garden and another golf course can be found the land earmarked for protecting colonial officials and their families.

All this urban juggling was the privilege of immensely powerful colonial officials, backed up by the military might of the imperial powers. The indigenous peoples could do little but watch as their cities were bulldozed and rebuilt based on the whims of the day. Yet the scars are still visible in the fabric of many modern African cities today.