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.