Articles by members of the Editorial Panel

The articles below first appeared on other websites. Articles first published behind Inside Housing's pay-wall will not appear here until a few months after they are first published.

The Editorial Panel

The Thinkhouse review of 2023’s best housing research

This article was first published on the Inside Housing website in December 2023

2023 ended with nearly 900 reports – all of which look at ways to increase the amount and quality of the UK's housing stock and the related economic, social and community benefits of doing this - on

Time has flown by since Thinkhouse was launched, in 2018, by myself and a number of other Non-Executive Directors and Executives from within and beyond the social housing sector.  I like to think that we have built a very credible database for researchers and policy makers.  We have remained true to our original aim of making access free and easy. 

Along the way we have launched the Early Career Researcher’s Prize and I congratulate this year’s winner Dr Philip Graham, a UKRI Design Innovation Scholar at the University of Cambridge, Department of Architecture on his paper "Living without the ladder: How adjustable housing could help us thrive in the 21st Century"

In 2023 the Thinkhouse Editorial Panel have seen over one hundred reports.  All of which were uploaded and classified in our web library. The twenty members of the Panel assess the quality of the research, innovation, the breadth of analysis and whether the recommendations can be translated easily into policy or influence decision makers.  The Panel’s members are drawn from a cross section of the housing world: spanning academia and research to the not for profit and business sectors. 

The Panel’s assessment translates into a score which we use to rank and then showcase the top reports and here is the 2023 top five….in reverse order: and why we selected them. 

In fifth place is “Housing Policy in a changing world”, Edited by Mark Stephens for the CIH and University of Glasgow.

Readers may be aware of the annual UK Housing Review, which provides statistic and analysis that are a rich source of data for the sector.  However, until now many of the recent contemporary issues chapters, which give important insight into key areas of housing policy, have been behind a paywall.  This document now allows readers, particularly students of housing, free access to pieces written by many of the most insightful researchers and experts in the sector over the last few years. It consists of seventeen ‘Contemporary Issues’ chapters published between 2017 to 2023. These chapters are divided into six sections, the first of which provides an overview of 30 years of housing policy. It also goes on to look in detail at housing supply, consumption, finance and policy.  It is a ‘must read’ for anyone in the sector.


In fourth place is a report written by the Building Research Establishment, entitled The Cost of Ignoring Poor Housing

Steve Moseley of L&Q and who sits on our Ed Panel, in his Thinkhouse blog for Inside Housing in September, said it outlines which tenure types of housing were most affected by Category 1 hazards, and therefore defined as ‘poor housing’. The report found that the estimated cost to the NHS to treat people impacted by excess cold, £540 million per year, could be mitigated if action was taken to improve the efficiency and quality of England’s housing stock. It also estimates that this cost could be paid back within 8-9 years if the necessary action is taken.

In third place is Turning the Tide on Rising Homelessness and Rough Sleeping by the late Lord Kerslake and his commission on Homelessness and Rough Sleeping.  Bob Kerslake is very sadly missed, and this report is a testament to the years of work, dedication and deep understanding he had of housing issues. He was a good friend to Thinkhouse and hosted our 2018 launch at the House of Lords.

The report concludes that the Government will not meet its goal to end rough sleeping by 2024. In fact, rough sleeping, as you will read later, is on the increase and at the heart of it are chronic and unresolved systemic issues, which have left the country vulnerable to new pressures. This report warns that many of the problems outlined would be resolved if there was more supply of social rented housing and supported housing and likens the scale of the challenges to early 20th century Britain.


In second place is the Institute of Fiscal Studies report Housing Quality and Affordability for Lower Income Households - written by Tom Waters and Thomas Wernham. 

Professor Ken Gibb in his Thinkhouse blog for Inside Housing in October said this paper contains some stark facts that should give us pause. ‘Housing costs are a first order issue for poverty’. Despite rising mortgage rates, renters face higher housing costs than owners and, consequently, struggle due to lower incomes and higher rates of food insecurity or material deprivation.  Waters and Wernham report that poverty rates are nearly half of all social tenants, a third of all private tenants, but just an eighth for owner-occupiers. Most of the focus is on the private rented sector and three points stand out.  Firstly, the relatively low quality of Private Rented Sector (PRS) homes for low-income renters (25% of homes would fail the Decent Homes Standard, compared with 18% in owner occupation and 12% in social renting). Secondly, the refreezing of Local Housing Allowance (LHA) has reduced the proportion of (Zoopla) advertised lets that would allow the LHA to cover rents from 23% to only 5% (2023 quarter 1) and finally a declining share of affordable properties for the PRS is associated with poorer quality outcomes for lower income private tenants. The authors conclude that, with the increasing numbers and share of low-income households in the PRS, the case for revisiting the levels of Local Housing Allowance and support for housing costs is warranted. They recognise that this is a political matter, but it is hard for the reader to ignore the mounting evidence.


… in first place and the Editorial Panel’s most highly ranked report of 2023 is ….

.. the annual Homelessness Monitor edited by Glen Bramley, Suzanne Fitzpatrick, Lynne McMordie, Hal Pawson, Beth Watts & Gillian Young for Crisis.  It provides its usual authoritative summary of one of the consequences of a shortage of affordable homes.

Following several years of decline, the number of people seen sleeping rough in England grew in 2022. At 3,069 in November of that year, recorded rough sleeping was 26% up on the equivalent figure twelve months earlier. Homelessness applications involving family households rose in 2021/22, with two-parent family applicants growing in number by 76% to stand substantially higher than in the pre-pandemic year of 2019/20 (25,020 compared with 21,240). Single adult applicants, by contrast fell back in the latest year.

Since bottoming out in 2010/11, total temporary accommodation placements had more than doubled to over 100,000 households by 31st December 2022. Within this, Bed and Breakfast hotel placements have risen more than five-fold since their 2009 nadir. Having increased sharply during the early part of the pandemic, Bed and Breakfast placements once again climbed steeply during 2022, up by 32% in the year to Q4 2022. The homelessness impacts of the Ukrainian and Afghan refugee crises, and wider asylum dispersal pressures, were said to be ratcheting up existing temporary accommodation pressures on local authorities.

‘Core homelessness’ in England – a concept which captures the most acute forms of homelessness – is estimated to have totalled 242,000 in 2022, compared to 206,000 people affected a decade ago. Current drivers of these increases relate primarily to inflation squeezing real incomes and increasing poverty and destitution, alongside rising private rents and evictions, and declining social rented lettings. Further rises are projected in the longer term, particularly in London, with core homelessness rising by 37% above 2020 levels to 303,000 by 2041.

The report outlines a number of short and long-term policy initiatives, which include allocating of a significant proportion of social lettings to core homeless households, increasing the level of the Local Housing Allowance, maximising prevention activity to the level of the higher performing local authorities and increasing housing supply.

Being a store of intelligence into how our nation can increase the housing supply is why Thinkhouse was set up in 2018. It is of course disappointing that not enough progress has been made in that period. Political and funding constraints are still with us but as highlighted by our top report the consequences of not increasing the supply of social housing is real and stark.

Hidden consequences of the housing crisis

This article was first published on the Inside Housing website in November 2023

The severity of the housing crisis gripping the UK has shown how far reaching its impacts are. We know some of us are more at risk than others in experiencing poor quality, insecure and unaffordable housing and some people have no home of their own at all. This month’s Thinkhouse review highlights reports draw attention to the challenges faced by people at the most acute end of the housing market, shows how unaffordable the UK housing market is compared to the rest of Europe, and outline solutions that could boost existing and new housing supply over the short and longer term.

A report by Independent Age focuses on the challenges faced by older renters in the housing market. Hidden renters: the unseen faces of the rising older rental wave is a really helpful oversight of the key challenges many older people face in navigating the private rented sector - and at the sharp end being pushed into homelessness. The cumulative impact of decades of a lack of supply of affordable housing, coupled with the more recent cost of living crisis means we now have a population where all at all life stages, people either can’t afford home ownership or get access to social housing and the private rented sector is the only option. This is increasingly having an impact on older people.

A striking finding in the report is the prevalence of long term poverty – 25% of older renters compared to 6% of the total population and points to housing costs being a key driver of this. The research also looks at why rising rents and affordability are of particular concern with no means for older people to increase incomes or little or no savings within the constraints of state pensions. And like many people in receipt of housing benefit it does not cover rents and there is a disproportionate levels of rent arrears amongst older renters.

Another often hidden group within the housing crisis are victims of modern slavery. The Human Trafficking Foundation has published a report - The Key Issue: Housing for Survivors of Modern Slavery. For victims of modern slavery, escaping exploitation forces many people into homelessness. Having access to safe and appropriate accommodation enables improved recovery and stops people returner the perpetrator. But as the report sets out, a lack of adequate long term housing options can prevent full recovery and leaves many people feeling unsafe and isolated.

The report looks at the Whole Housing Approach (WHA) which is a framework for addressing housing and safety needs for survivors of domestic abuse and how the benefits of this (acknowledging the limitations of the model) could be applied to housing provision in supporting victims of modern slavery. There are helpful principles in the approach but as for many people accessing housing at the acute end of the market there are systemic issues and policy barriers in the way. The report draws attention to the problems both priority need and local connection rules in the homelessness system cause victims of modern slavery as well as the need to enact the 2017 commitment to provide accommodation for people before they enter the National Referral Mechanism - the framework for identifying and referring potential victims of modern slavery and ensuring they receive the appropriate support.

There are a few publications this month which focus on how we further boost supply of housing and the wider benefits this would have. A short paper by the Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE), Capital grant is an effective intervention for stimulating supply of new social rented housing evaluates the additional Homes England funding that was made available in 2018 to deliver new social rented homes, but only in local authorities of ‘high affordability pressure’. The analysis shows that whilst the capital grant was associated with some additional social housing delivery it was limited (just over 3,000 units). As many others are calling for, the report recommends there needs to be a substantive increase in the capital grant budget to support the stimulation of new social housing supply.

Future of London have looked at the role collaboration can have increasing housing delivery. Like many of us looking for solutions to address the housing crisis in the UK, their report Affordable housing: Overcoming crisis through collaboration is a mix of demonstrator projects designed to unlock new supply of genuinely affordable housing from existing and new stock with a range of case studies featuring examples of retrofit to new financial models and community engagement approaches.

Finally, the housebuilders Federation, Housing horizons: examining UK housing stock in an international context concludes England is the most difficult place in the developed world to find a home. The in-depth international comparative analysis on housing supply, conditions and cost is thought provoking and well worth a read. There is a striking statistic in the report that shows the equivalent of a fifth of the population in the UK (11.3 million people) spend more than 40 per cent of their income on housing and is further testament as to why we need to act now in to stop the housing inequity getting worse.


.. Diagnosing our Housing ills

This article was first published on the Inside Housing website in Autumn 2023

A colleague and I were recently discussing the different bases for arguing for housing policy reform based on how we diagnose the current situation. One view is to look at the evidence through a moral lens. A different way is to be more instrumental and points to the evidence about societal benefits from allowing for instance housing investment and better housing outcomes to reduce other non-housing costs such as those relating to poor hea.  Personally, I don’t think these approaches are in conflict, but I certainly see that there may be times to be outraged and demand action or promote a campaign, but also other occasions when it makes sense to draw up a robust technical appraisal of the net benefits and savings that can flow from more resources for housing.

This month’s Thinkhouse must reads offer robust evidence that supports both positions. The IFS have published a paper written by Tom Waters and Thomas Wernham titled ‘Housing Quality and Affordability for Lower Income Households’, which is a part of their wider study: Living Standards, Poverty and Inequality in the UK 2023. At the same time BRE have written a further, and extended, update of their quantification of the wider costs of poor-quality housing: The Costs of Ignoring Poor Housing, by Helen Garrett, Molly Mackay, Susie Margoles and Simon Nicol.


The IFS paper contains some stark facts that should give us pause. They conclude (p.20) that ‘housing costs are a first order issue for poverty’. Despite rising mortgage rates, renters face higher housing costs than owners and, consequently, struggle with lower income standards in terms of higher rates of food insecurity or material deprivation.  Waters and Wernham report that poverty rates are nearly half (46%) of all social tenants, a third (34%) of all private tenants, but just an eighth (12%) for owner-occupiers.


Most of the focus is on the private rented sector and three points stand out:

•           The relatively low quality of PRS homes for low income renters (25% of homes would fail the Decent Homes Standard, compared with 18% in owner occupation and 12% in social renting).

•           The refreezing of the LHA has reduced the proportion of (Zoopla) advertised lets that would allow the LHA to cover rents from 23% to only 5% (2023 quarter 1).

•           A declining share of affordable properties for the PRS is associated with poorer quality outcomes for lower income private tenants. The authors find poorer EPC ratings and higher heating and hot water costs for affordable PRS properties in 2023 quarter 1. There are also more likely to be in low employment neighbourhoods.


The authors conclude that, with the increasing numbers and share of low income households in the PRS, the case for revisiting the levels of Local housing Allowance and support for housing costs is warranted. They recognise that this is a political matter but it is hard for the reader to ignore the mounting evidence.


Turning to the BRE paper, Garrett and colleagues, build on earlier work that takes a clear preventative or ‘other savings’ approach – i.e. by ignoring the costs to society of not improving our poor quality housing, we are obliged to spend more on the consequences in areas such as the NHS.  Looking at data for the next 30 years in England, they find that there are 2.4 million (10%) of homes that fall below minimum standards for Category 1 Health and Safety hazards (HHSRS). They find that it is costing the NHS a billion pounds a year to treat those suffering from the consequences of these hazards – often the effect of cold or trip hazards (this is an underestimate as it is only the first-year treatment costs - many may be ongoing).


The estimated cost of repairs to the 2.4million homes is £9 billion – a nine-year payback period before net savings would start to emerge. Looking at broader costs and benefits over 30 years of preventing all category 1 hazards would generate, in today’s prices, a societal saving of £136 billion (£13 billions of which would be for the NHS). Taking the recent estimate that there are 60,000 homes in England with category 1 damp and mould, it is estimated that this would cost £250 million to fix but that the benefits to society of doing so would be worth £4.8 billion on today’s prices over the next 30 years.


These studies provide ammunition based on robust evidence to support campaigns about improving and investing in better housing outcomes. They also provide methods and approaches that are couched as appraisal or economic impact evidence that can be well placed to convince budget h

.. a period of stability is needed

This article was first published on the Inside Housing website in Autumn 2023

Either prompted by the rush to publish ahead of the summer break or the sheer number of different policy areas impacting housing which are worthy of comment at the moment, July was a bumper month for reports placed on the Thinkhouse website, with 11 new reports for scoring and analysis by the Editorial Panel.

For my review this month, I have picked out three of these reports which particularly grabbed my attention – noticeable in equal measure for their excellence and some of the depressing trends and stats they so eloquently convey.


The first of these is the DLUHC Committee report into Reforms of national planning policy. The inquiry launched in February 2023 and involved two oral evidence session involving representative housing bodies, as well as sessions with the Minister of State for Housing and Planning, Rachel Maclean MP and the DLUHC Director General.


The inquiry is focused on the raft of different planning reforms announced since 2019, which it notes is in part connected to revolving door of housing ministers which has seen five different postholders since the start of 2022. The report and its conclusions are grouped into six key themes covering the proposed reforms and impact including areas such as planning targets, resourcing and the proposed infrastructure levy. 


It’s a report well worth reading, not just because of the weight attached to a report representing the views from a cross-party grouping of MP’s but also the significance of the many conclusions it draws which seem to reflect a degree of concern with current plans. Key amongst these is their recommendation that Government


“must see the merit in pausing plans for further reform, in order to allow for a period of stability in which reforms already introduced can be properly implemented”.


The report supports the principle of a plan-led system but reiterates previous recommendations that the Government should also set targets by tenure including within that, a national housing target for 90,000 Social Rent homes per year.


It concludes by referencing the stop/start nature of planning reform over several years which has caused uncertainty amongst local authorities and across the planning sector, and voices a concern that if this is not addressed the Government will not achieve its national housing target of building 300,000 net new homes per year.


The second report I have picked out is The Cost of Ignoring Poor Housing by the Building Research Establishment. This builds on BRE’s earlier cost of poor housing research and estimates the costs and benefits of tackling England’s poor housing over next 30 years. It does this by utilising HM Treasury green book methodology, English Housing Survey (EHS) data and considering costs to the NHS as well as wider societal costs and benefit.


By considering the EHS estimate of 2.4m homes in England with at least one Category 1 health and safety hazard, it concludes


it is costing the NHS more than £1 billion per year to treat those people who are affected by poor housing.


It goes on to estimate that the cost of remedial work to make the 2.4 million poor homes healthy and safe (removing all Category 1 hazards) is around £9 billion and, if all this work were to be undertaken immediately, savings to the NHS would mean the investment would pay back in under 9 years. On damp and mould specifically, something which is obviously such a significant and ongoing concern for residents and landlords, it estimates it would cost £250m to address the 65,000 affected homes but undertaking this work immediately would create a benefit of £4.8 billion over the next 30 years.


The report concludes by stating one of its key aims as to encourage discussion and further research hopes this model can be used to make the case for plan and target resources on the most urgent situations and vulnerable households.


The final report – Housing quality and affordability for lower-income households - is from the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS). The IFS reputation as a politically neutral and truly independent organisation providing expert analysis of economic and social policy, is well earned. Like many people, I have watched enthralled as many a Chancellors budget has been carefully and painstakingly unpacked on national news.


This report breaks down the trends behind rising housing costs for lower income households which it sets out clearly in a series of salutary facts and fascinating, but depressing charts. It details the trend of increasing numbers of low-income households residing in the private rented sector driven by the scarcity of social housing. This matters, the IFS states, because those in the private rented sector have higher housing costs than both social renters and those owning with a mortgage, as well as having less security of tenure.


The main focus of the report is affordability and in doing that it focuses specifically on Local Housing Allowance rates (LHA). In 2011, LHA rates were cut to the 30th percentile of local rents. But from 2013–14, rather than maintaining the 30th percentile, LHA rates were uprated by CPI inflation, 1% or frozen. In the wake of the pandemic, the government reset all LHA levels to the 30th percentile of September 2019 rents, but frozen again in cash terms.


The consequence of this, IFS states, is that in the first quarter of 2023,


just 5% of properties were affordable to low-income households


– less than half the proportion affordable before the pandemic, and less than a quarter the proportion affordable back in 2013. Those that are, tend to be the least energy-efficient, raising their true cost.


The IFS describes housing costs as a first-order issue for poverty. It does note that how much support a government provides private renters through the benefit system is to a significant extent, a political question. However, given the increasing prevalence of low income households in this sector and with levels of support based on rents in 2019, the IFS concludes – with its typical independent bluntness – “it is difficult to think of any justification for pursuing the policy”

New thinking on the role of public sector housing and its tenants

This article was first published on the Inside Housing website in August 2023

June 2023 saw nine high-quality submissions made to the Thinkhouse Editorial Panel for review.  As ever they were on a wide range of topics, from rental market considerations, to placemaking and homelessness services.  The experience of rental market from the tenant’s perspective was a popular topic, so for this month’s Thinkhouse blog, I’m going to take a more detailed look at two of those submissions, both if which were focused on how landlords can improve engagement and services to their tenants – albeit one from the social housing sector, and the other from the local authority sector. 

A Partnership of Equals: resident involvement for relationships, culture and services” by social housing sector leader L&Q, is the outcome of a series of papers, including a Theory of Change, developed through qualitative interviews, focus groups and workshops to discuss the context, purpose and desired outcomes of their involvement in developing services and operational culture within the company’s senior management.  The company utilised its existing Resident Services Board membership, plus an online survey of around 3,000 L&Q residents.  It also undertook extensive desktop research of resident engagement practices within its peers in the social housing sector, along with direct interviews, which were then discussed further with L&Q residents in the focus groups and workshops.

The Executive Summary of the document sets out 9 key principles to guide resident involvement going forward.  The report makes it clear that adherence to proposed regulatory reform won’t be sufficient, and that the sector cannot resolve all of its tenants’ complex problems in a world that often feels uncertain and rapidly-changing.  Social sector landlords have a key influencing role in ensuring that their homes remain the “sanctuary” that their residents want and need – but they have a long way to go in rebuilding trust, accountability and transparency with their tenants, especially for the long-term.  The report acknowledges that this is challenging, and that must take themselves out of their comfort zones in ceding more power to residents away from the organisation to resident; they also state that  “landlords must not be afraid to fail”.  L&Q also state that they re-framed resident involvement as ‘volunteering’ to make it more valued, and gave their volunteers agreements setting out clear roles and responsibilities, and what they could influence and what they couldn’t influence: this included investing in a Volunteer Toolkit and an ambition to meet the NCVO’s ‘Investing in Volunteers Standard’.  L&Q also set out how it will measure progress on its resident involvement practices that it hopes will provide a blueprint for the sector.  Certainly, the L&Q report sets out a bold and intriguing new approach to fostering tenant-focused civic engagement, and it will be fascinating to see how this pans out over the longer-term.

The second report is an LGA-supported ‘pause and reflect’ thinkpiece on behalf of the London Housing Directors’ Group, who collectively let 390,000 social rented homes and provide services to 410,000 leaseholders.  “Delivering for All: the foundations of an effective Local Authority landlord” looks at the key principles needed to provide a high-quality Local Authority landlord service and contribute towards wider Council objectives.  It is based on 5 foundations – vision & strategy, leadership, management, performance & compliance and assurance  on which service development and delivery could be based -  developed collectively through workshops, focus groups, surveys and interviews with tenants, councillors and officers at all levels, plus interviews with key stakeholder such as Housing Ombudsman, Regulator of Social Housing and London Tenants Federation.  Within each foundation, a series of principles were detailed in terms of actions, practices and anticipated outcomes: a selection of real-life examples help illustrate how the principles can be applied in practice.  Whilst there are no great revelations in this report, it does what it says on the tin well, in clearly setting out a user-friendly guiding framework for local authorities to use to help develop, monitor and evaluate housing services.


It many ways I couldn’t help think that it was a shame that these two reports look to have been developed simultaneously, but in apparent isolation or without cross-reference.  Collectively the two authors could have pooled their resources and experiences to test and develop a fully-rounded pan-public sector approach to providing high-quality landlord services, and the role of their tenants in co-creating, guiding and evaluating those services.  In a time of such uncertainty and stress for public sector bodies and their residents, the more we can work as a collective sector, the better.

Housing supply, supported housing, later living and retrofitting

This article was first published on the Inside Housing website in June 2023

At The Housing Forum, we represent the entire housing sector, so it was great to see such a wide range of topics in this month’s latest publications submitted to the Thinkhouse website.

First up, the ever-reliable House of Commons Library series has produced a briefing on Tackling the under-supply of housing in England. They review the evidence on how much housing we need, look at trends in supply, and then ask what the barriers and solutions are to building more. It’s good to see this report reminding us of the political consensus that we do need a lot more housebuilding in England at the time of the 2019 election where the three major parties all committed to 300,000 new homes a year, a rate that they note that hasn’t been achieved in the last 50 years.



In terms of how we fix it, the evidence is reviewed on all the main theories commonly put forward. They look at use of public land and some of the reasons it hasn’t brought new housing forward as quickly as hoped. The role of local authorities and housing associations in increasing the supply of affordable housing is explored, with suggestions for how to increase this including more flexible and longer-term funding and also higher grant rates. The report looks at ‘land banking’ as a possible reason for low supply, but concludes that there is little evidence of this. The need for new infrastructure and systems for capturing land value uplift are considered, both topical issues as the government moves ahead with the Infrastructure Levy and Labour proposes new CPO powers to capture the uplift. The role of planning is also considered, with the resourcing constraints that are currently slowing down the process usefully highlighted.

Most of the sources reviewed are a few years old and don’t capture the very recent impact of housing market slowdown, rising construction costs and new planning and building safety requirements which are causing current issues in new housing supply. Despite this, it’s a really solid and thorough and a valuable addition to the Commons Library series.

Two of the reports this month look at supported housing. The National Audit Office’s Investigation into supported housing was commissioned in response to concerns from MPs about the rise in short-term supported housing. It outlines the scale and composition of the sector – who lives in it, how it’s funded and how its regulated, alongside reviewing the Government’s recent efforts to improve the sector. Complementing this nicely, the Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence have examined The economic and social benefits of housing support. They highlight the very varied nature of housing support – filling the gaps and providing the ‘glue’ between other services and call for greater visibility on the positive outcomes it achieves.

Focussing on retirement living, The Associated Retirement Community Operators (ARCO) with Trowers & Hamlins set out proposals for Leasehold Plus – a new tenure model more suited to Integrated Retirement Communities than the existing leasehold structure This differs from traditional leasehold in that rather than properties being sold on direct to another leaseholder after someone dies or moves on, properties are instead sold back to the scheme operator, This avoids delays in reselling and enables the operator to set new terms to the lease granted to the new resident – giving new residents more certainty over costs and more flexibility over what support they require. This three-way sale process isn’t currently possible as stamp duty would kick in twice over. The new Leasehold Plus model does not require new primary legislation, and could be introduced via two statutory instruments alongside a Code of Practice, something that ARCO are lobbying for.

Finally, the last report reviewed this month is again from the Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence Reviewing the residential retrofitting literature. It’s the output from a substantial piece of work – reviewing nearly 300 papers published internationally over the last 20 years. This historical approach is novel and able to highlight increasing range of disciplines focussing on retrofitting over this last 20 years with a step change in the number of articles published visible around 2013. Some gaps are also identified – notably around ventilation, an issue that’s a very much a concern to housing providers currently with the recent attention on preventing damp and mould. The review did, however, identify an increase in papers focussing on multiple aspects of retrofitting – reflecting the growing understanding of complex dynamics of the ways we heat, insulate and maintain our homes.

You can read all of these in full alongside all the latest housing research on the Thinkhouse website, here.


Levelling Up and regeneration in the North – the unequal effect of the cost-of-living crisis

This article by Suzanne Benson was first published on the Inside Housing website in May 2023

For this month’s Thinkhouse blog, I have chosen to focus on a single report – the excellent “The Case for Place – Creating prosperity through the economics of attraction” produced by the Create Streets Foundation and commissioned by Karbon Homes. This report takes a detailed and analytical approach to the challenge of implementing the levelling up agenda and achieving true regeneration in the North -with a particular focus on the North-East.

For me, the standout statistics focused on the skewed impact of the cost-of-living crisis on communities in affected areas – a factor which is not immediately obvious when looking at the national picture. The rise in prices and the spiral in the RPI figures have had a detrimental effect across the country but specific factors in areas experiencing the long-term effects of low investment have created particularly harsh conditions.

Poorly maintained housing stock leads to significantly increased heating bills and lack of transport connections creates an over-reliance on petrol. These factors have contributed to an inflationary impact up to 30% higher in some northern cities. This is taking effect in areas with some of the lowest income households. It is in this context the report considers current challenges in effectively taking forward the Government’s Levelling-Up agenda.

This context highlights an important insight in considering how the Government’s approach to levelling up, and its response to mounting cost of living pressures: global events and macroeconomic forces, interacts with localised place factors to determine different households’ experiences.

The report looks at the following areas in detail:

  • The value of regenerating left behind neighbourhoods – considering the wider case for why central government should support and fund interventions to regenerate deprived neighbourhoods.
  • The different models of regeneration which have been used in different parts of the country, and the conditions needed for different approaches to succeed.
  • Why place quality matters and how to approach it:
  • The current framework for public investment and the need for a new approach from central government towards funding and policy decisions.
  • The current barriers to using public funding and policy to create the conditions for increased investment in housing and placemaking in left behind places, with a focus on the role of HM Treasury’s Green Book.
  • By way of conclusion, the report goes on to make recommendations to empower government to create the conditions for increased investment in left behind places, enabling prosperity, enhancing renewal and regeneration of the homes, streets and town centres which most urgently need levelling up

Overall, the authors present a number of key take away points:

Firstly, the focus of the report is centred on the concept of “left behind areas”- defined as “Communities experiencing slow long-term economic growth and depressed house prices”. Such localities are found in every region of the UK, with higher concentrations in the north of England and especially in the North East. The key point for these communities is that they will not alone attract private sector investment and any prospect of regeneration needs to be supported by long term, consistent intervention in the local market.

Key to the analysis of the currently available pots of public funding is the emphasis that Government should be an enabler rather than the sole form of funding and delivery. Whilst there is a generally accepted narrative that the market cannot do it alone, it is equally important to recognise that public sector funding and resource is also only part of the picture. True levelling up can only be achieved through an effective combination of public and private sector intervention.

The focus on the North and particularly the more challenged areas in the North-East, allows the authors to highlight the specific challenges created by national policy making. This is not necessarily to raise a political challenge but more to recognise that national metrics can distort the framework for investment. This creates a high risk of poorer placemaking in regions with lower demand housing markets. Not surprising perhaps that a key recommendation of the report is to increase devolution of funding and powers.

Homes England budget has not to date been targeted towards left behind areas due to the focus on additionality – there does however seem to be a move towards change. Key recommendations here focus on extending Homes England’s investment to include refurbishing existing homes in priority areas and tasking Homes England with place-based regeneration.

Overall, the report concludes with many of the key recommendations the sector would expect to see in the context of improving place-based regeneration. The true value of this report however lies in the level of detail and analysis generated by the relatively narrow geographical focus combined with the commentary on the specific impact of current economic and political headwinds in recent months.

Its time to step up – ending homelessness and temporary accommodation?

This article was first published on the Inside Housing website in April 2023

In looking at the March Thinkhouse contributions  there is the almost inevitable mix of reports in this case covering building and planning, the right to buy, community land trusts and community businesses and older persons housing as well as a cluster focused around homelessness and temporary accommodation. In choosing to focus on this cluster I was probably unduly influenced by having listened to Faye Greaves presentation on Homelessness across Great Britain at the recent launch of the 2023 UK Housing Review.

Faye was drawing upon Lynne McMordie’s chapter on homelessness in the Review and both her summary and the article provided a valuable synoptic overview of homelessness across Great Britain and the ways that crisis is evolving under the growing  dual  crisis of both reduced public expenditure and the rising cost of living.

There are four reports in the March collection which take different slices across the multi-dimensional challenges of homelessness – Centre for Social Justice  on Housing First,  a Crisis contribution on the situation in Scotland and Shelter on temporary accommodation alongside the Universities of Kent and Southampton on homelessness in the countryside

The CSJ report is focused up on the impact of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 and the numbers of households presenting and being accepted as homeless because of domestic abuse. It highlights the shrinking base of permanent accommodation and the rising use of temporary and often unsuitable homes and the key role now being played by Housing First schemes in England. The report sets out a long list of recommendations about how to both expand and improve Housing First to better deal with people suffering from domestic abuse.

Crisis makes the point that despite Scotland having some of the best protections for people who lose their homes the challenge of homelessness remains. Planned legislation for late 2023 has the potential to ensure households have earlier access  to assistance not least to give them more control over the process. This report draws upon the views of homeless people. It highlights the multiple triggers that can result in the loss of a home which in turn underlines the need for flexible and person focused support.

Homelessness in the countryside is so easily overlooked even though we might more readily recognise the vulnerabilities of rural economies and the pressure of housing in many of these areas. The work by academics at Kent and Southampton Universities was commissioned by a number of housing organisations and is based on both case studies and desk research. It is a powerful and timely piece of work highlighting the need to build much better understanding of the situation and arguing why both local housing allowances and service provision need a radical rethink

Finally we come to the Shelter report on temporary accommodation. It is titled Still Living in Limbo: Why the use of temporary accommodation must end. The recent press commentary on Afghan refugees in hotels has highlighted some of the failings of the temporary housing “solution” and the desperate need for permanent homes. Quite rightly Shelter argues for a legal limit on how long a household can be placed in temporary accommodation and of course for a rapid and substantial expansion of suitable long term homes.

What all of these reports underline is the failure of supply and the lack of funding and action by central government. Local authorities are placed in impossible situations. Ministers and officials can point to new initiatives and  more funding (but not in real terms). They are in essence still fiddling while Rome burns and parking the problem for the next Minister who comes along. Homeless people deserve solutions not platitudes. We know that households are being placed under enormous strain by rising costs and falling real incomes and John Perry’s synoptic overview of housing expenditure plans in the latest UK Housing Review highlights the very variable performance of the four administrations. Choice are being made as to how to spend public money and real  homes for all is ultimately a very cost efficient solution. As it stands our continuing failures to deal with homelessness properly  are just adding to the spending burden and to the real costs borne by households and communities.

A rich exchange of evidence and ideas

This article was first published on the Inside Housing website in March 2023

With the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill reaching a critical stage in its passage through Parliament, and a consultation open on changes to the National Planning Policy Framework, it was perhaps no surprise that many of the reports added to the Thinkhouse online library in February 2023 majored on housing supply and planning reform.

Former Housing Minister Brandon Lewis provides the foreword to Policy Exchange’s contribution Homes for Growth. He opens by citing Churchill: ‘Housing is the first of the social services. It is also one of the keys to increased productivity. Work, family life, health and education are all undermined by overcrowded homes.”  Author James Vitali builds on this, arguing housing can make an important contribution to solving the productivity puzzle, noting that ‘Prohibitively high rents and house prices in cities are deterring skilled workers from moving to jobs that will not only boost the economy but will materially improve their living standards’

The Policy Exchange report concludes that the planning system is the underpinning cause of a ‘low-supply status quo’ and sets out a range of recommendations to address this. These are perhaps more pragmatic than one might expect from Policy Exchange, and include better resourcing for local planning departments, limiting changes to planning regulations for pilots in ‘regeneration areas’, and support for a programme to ‘significantly expand social housebuilding’.

Centre for Cities’ contribution to the debate is more radical. Authors Samuel Watling and Anthony Breach have assembled data that enables them to compare British postwar housebuilding rates with those of other European nations. They say this shows 4.3 million homes are ‘missing’ from Britain’s housing market - as they were never actually built. For England, this creates a need for 442,000 new homes a year over 25 years to close the housing stock gap between England and the average European country – or a staggering 654,000 per year to close the gap in ten years.

The solution that will end this shortage? You guessed it, planning reform. ‘A big problem requires a big reform’, argue the authors, and replacing the current planning system with a rules-based, flexible zoning system, and increasing private sector housebuilding is the big reform proposed. This sounds a lot like the ill-fated ‘root and branch’ planning reforms of the 2020 Planning for the Future White Paper; and while there’s no doubting the authors’ commitment to their recommendations, there’s less there on how to overcome the political obstacles that drove those proposals into a dead end. What will persuade ‘blue wall’ voters that Houston’s planning system should be the inspiration for Chesham and Amersham?

Chesham itself is the inspiration for aspects of Bright Blue’s report, Greater and Greener Homes. As the title suggests, James Cullimore’s contribution seeks to reconcile housing growth and net zero, and is the first of three planned reports on the topic.  The report identifies Chesham as a trailblazer – with four urban Neighbourhood Development Orders in progress. If these Orders succeed in enabling densification in areas close to transport links, shops and workplaces, they can speed up the delivery of homes in sustainable locations.  Of course, the homes themselves also need to be sustainable, and the report contains seven practical recommendations intended to ensure the planning system delivers new homes compatible with securing net zero by 2050. 

Boosting delivery of housing and securing net zero are both long-term endeavours. Another of February’s reports argues that Government should be seeking to address a much more immediate challenge – a housing market downturn – and in so doing, change the housing market for the long-term.  JRF’s report Reboot – building a housing market that works for all suggests that a downturn will have four features: a slowdown in housebuilding, the creation of an ‘investors’ market’, serious impacts on vulnerable groups such as renters and marginal home-owners, plus a slowdown in market transactions as potential sellers sit on their hands and wait for prices to recover.

The authors of the JRF report –Toby Lloyd, Rose Grayston and Neal Hudson – argue that Government should intervene immediately to keep development going, using many of the tools deployed in previous downturns. Not wishing to waste a good crisis, the authors suggest Government go further and use the downturn to permanently rebalance the housing market. The playbook they recommend includes measures to enable first-time buyers to benefit from lower prices, encouraging the growth of an ethical private rented sector, and a suite of recommendations intended to reduce expectations of a return to rapidly rising prices in future. Measures such as a proportional property tax and an ‘unambiguous commitment’ to permanently reduce house price to income ratios are suggested to prevent any return to business-as-usual.

These are just four of the eight reports added to Thinkhouse during February 2023. We’re very lucky as a sector to have such a rich exchange of evidence and ideas to inform policy debates – do make sure you’re keeping up to date by accessing the site at .

Whatever your view on how its delivered, more affordable homes must be the answer to unlocking the housing crisis

This article was first published on the Inside Housing website in February 2023

Homelessness is at the sharp end of the housing crisis. It’s a solvable issue but one that will persist unless there is a step change in government policy including significant investment in social housing. This month's Thinkhouse review focuses on six reports that track the recent trends in homelessness, how the cost of living crisis is driving this, and debates around how we might build or invest our way out of the housing crisis.

The Homelessness Monitor Great Britain by Heriot-Watt University is a comparative analysis of how homelessness stands across England, Scotland and Wales in the last five years and the policy decisions that have affected this. Packed with quantitative and qualitative data, the report shows you are nearly twice as likely to experience homelessness in England than Scotland and points to a range of reasons why this is the case. One is the chronic lack of social housing and weaker commitments to do something about this. In the last five years, only 12% of affordable homes built in England were available at social rent compared to 68% in Scotland and 79% in Wales. It is well established that Scotland has proportionally a lot more social housing compared to England and Wales, but the Monitor also suggests that social landlords in England and Wales allocate a much lower proportion of available lettings to homeless households compared to Scotland.

Shelter's report, Homelessness in England 2022: the numbers behind the story, illustrates again the growing problem of homelessness in England. Using statutory homelessness data, the report calculates rates of homelessness across regions in England and highlights the 30 areas where there are highest rates of people living in temporary accommodation or rough sleeping. Twenty five out of the 30 are London boroughs and the remaining five also reflect areas where housing market pressures are most acute.

The Centre for Homelessness Impact’s update on their public perceptions of homelessness research shows the public rightly continue to view homelessness as a serious problem and there has been an increase in people believing homelessness will go up. Not surprising in the current economic context which is an area explored through first hand accounts in the Crisis report experiences of homelessness during a cost of living crisis. The research shows unaffordable housing and other rising costs are forcing people to lose their homes and many people are trapped in homelessness as it becomes harder to cover the living costs of a new home.

Two further reports focus their attention on the housing crisis but with very different solutions at their centre. Housing affordability since 1979: Determinants and solutions by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) makes a compelling evidence-based case for why we need an optimal mix of cash and non-cash housing subsidies - investing in both the expansion of social housing and reforms to housing benefit to improve housing affordability for people on the lowest incomes. The bricks versus benefits debate is a well-rehearsed one but this report, through new data analysis, unpacks how total investment in housing subsidies are far lower than 40 years ago. If subsidies from housing benefit, social housing and rent controls had remained at their 1979 levels as a share of total housing costs, they would have amounted to £45 billion rather than their actual level of £31 billion. All leading to the huge pressures on housing affordability many households face today.

In contrast the Centre for Policy Studies, The Case for Housebuilding, focuses on the case for increasing supply overall and the role the shortage in housebuilding has had on driving house prices and rents up. Whilst I disagree with the sole focus on homeownership, we know we are continually failing to meet housebuilding targets to meet housing need in England. And what this month’s reports show is we need to ensure these are the right types of homes in the right places that people can afford. Without this we cannot reverse the rising levels of households trapped in temporary accommodation with nowhere to go and the continued pressure facing many low income households to cover their rent.


Broad shoulders

This article was first published on the Inside Housing website in January 2023

December is usually a quiet month for in term of new housing research.  Nevertheless, the quality of the reports we curated on our site was high and two stood out for me.  They succinctly explain, from different viewpoints, the challenges faced by the housing sector.

The first is a tightly focused analysis of the issues related to insulating our housing stock to eliminate building emissions by 2050. The task that this brings to the sector is on top on many other external pressures such as cost of living crisis, building safety, the rent cap and post pandemic strains. My second report sets out why there is a fundamental need, even when faced with these headwinds, that the social housing sector can and must improve the quality of its homes.

As the sector enters 2023 a lot is resting on the shoulders of its leaders

Hitting a Brick Wall by the Economy 2030 Inquiry, is a collaboration between the Resolution Foundation and the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

Emissions from buildings must be halved by 2035, and near eliminated by 2050, if our net zero targets are to be attained (according to the Climate Change Committee). Furthermore, the energy crisis has hastened the need to act. Families living in poorly insulated properties consume an extra 58% more gas a year than they would in a home that meets the Government’s EPC target of a C rating. Badly insulated homes mean higher emissions, greater reliance on imported fuels, bigger bills and – especially worryingly – cold homes.


Those cold homes are in the poorest neighbourhoods, which contain 40% of the homes with inefficient walls. Many residents in the social housing sector live in better insulated homes than those in the private rented sector, having benefitted from Decent Homes Standard investment in the fabric of their buildings over the last couple of decades.  However, there are still 1.4 million socially rented properties that have an EPC rating of D or below. The report estimates that upgrading all these homes to a C rating would cost between £7.5 billion and £12.5 billion. The report demonstrates that it takes many years to recoup insulation costs through lower energy bills (insulating walls often requires significant upfront investment) but concludes that if policy makers get tough and offer incentives, change can happen. It warns that this does not come cheap and if not targeted sensibly (perhaps in a similar way to social care), could cost a staggering £60bn, across all housing tenures.


The Better Social Housing Review was set up by the National Housing Federation and Chartered Institute of Housing to examine issues relating to the quality of social housing and is therefore not unrelated to the problem of cold homes as well as building safety, damp, mould, leaks, inadequate ventilation, pests, overcrowding and more.  Inspired and informed by best practice it also focuses on culture and responsiveness to tenants’ concerns and complaints.

There are seven recommendations, among which is a proposal for the sector to work to a new standard that assesses housing quality and service experience and suggests there should be a sector-wide adoption of the HACT UK Housing Data Standards (UKHDS).  This would strengthen scrutiny and accountability, allow for informed comparisons across housing associations, give all tenants a quality benchmark and promote much easier sharing of good practice. Conducting a national audit based on these standards would establish the true state of social housing in England and could be used to inform policy and practice and create a powerful case for targeted support from, and engagement with, government on increasing the quality of social housing, including the upgrading of insulation.

In terms of cold homes and net zero, the report calls for the current 20% VAT on retrofitting (vs. 0% on new builds) to be reduced so that it becomes as economically viable for a housing provider to bring an existing home up to standard, as it is to build from scratch.

Responding to tenants concerns and complaints, the report recommends creating community hubs and to have staff members and other agencies available to meet tenants at known times. Hubs could tap into and make connections with other local services such as after school clubs, libraries, crèches, shared working spaces, training and skills programmes, furniture exchanges, repairs workshops, community gardens, and many other ideas that benefit the community. This approach does not necessarily require substantial financial investment, but the positive impacts on health, wellbeing, opportunity, life satisfaction and increased social cohesion represent substantial social value – a value which must be captured by housing associations in any assessment of return on investments.

I like the practical suggestions in the Better Social Housing Review.  The steps suggested provide a sensible framework, that will help the delivery of the costly, but much needed improvements, that are central to the Economy 2030 report. This reduces the environmental challenges, that will otherwise fall on the shoulders of future generations.

The Thinkhouse review of 2022's best #housingresearch

This article was first published by Inside Housing in December 2022

Whilst 2022 will stay long in the memory due to the revolving door at No 10, it has also been a stimulating year for those who are interested in understanding how we can increase the amount and quality of the UK's housing stock and the related economic, social and community benefits of doing this. This year the Thinkhouse Editorial Panel have seen over one hundred reports that broadly fit into this category.  All of which were uploaded and classified in our web library. The twenty members of the Panel assess the quality of the research, innovation, the breadth of analysis and whether the recommendations can be translated easily into policy or influence decision makers.  The Panel’s members are drawn from a cross section of the housing world: spanning academia and research to the not for profit and business sectors. 

The Panel’s assessment translates into a score which we use to rank and then showcase the top reports and here is the 2022 top five….in reverse order: and why we selected them. 

In fifth place is a report written by the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion Research at the London School of Economics. Climate Crisis/Housing Crisis: How can social landlords reconcile safety and energy saving? Social landlords are facing two significant challenges. They must respond to the building safety recommendations set out in the Hackitt Review and the Grenfell Inquiry and they must improve the energy performance of their stock to meet net-zero targets in response to the climate crisis.  These two issues create major budget pressures. In addition, a shortage of social housing means that the stock must be protected to continue to provide homes for people in need.  This report explored these challenges and provided several case studies that pointed to innovate solutions.


In fourth place is Delivering a step change in affordable housing supply published by Legal and the General and British Property Federation in March 2022.  It was edited by Professor Peter Williams, who sits on our Editorial Panel, but excused himself from reviewing it.  It is a short report that sets out that the undersupply of affordable housing can only be addressed by an increase in capital funding. It estimates that increasing annual supply to 145,000 homes will require £34bn of additional capital funding per annum. It then sets out the potential opportunities for housing associations and investors to explore collaborative models which would bring substantial new resources both for housing supply and refurbishment.


In third place is Shelter’s excellent report, Unlocking Social Housing, How to fix the rules that are holding back building and authored by Charlie Trew, Tarun Bhakta and Venus Galarza.   This report starts from the premise that our housing system is broken which is also at the core of why we set up Thinkhouse.  It states that social housing has had so many barriers arbitrarily put in place, that it’s almost impossible to deliver even if there is a commitment to build more. To fix this it suggests that we need reforms around investment, land rules and planning and sets out a number of policies to do this.  Although this report only runs to twenty-one pages, it is extremely well written and many of its recommendations are practical and could be enacted. If you are pressed for time this gives you a quick feel for some fundamental changes to housing policy that could be made.  For this reason, it was my personal favourite of 2022.







In second place - the annual Homelessness Monitor edited by Beth Watts, Glen Bramley, Hal Pawson, Gillian Young Suzanne Fitzpatrick, & Lynne McMordie for Crisis - provides its usual authoritative summary of one of the consequences of a shortage of affordable homes. Our Editorial Panel member, Brian Robson in his Thinkhouse blog for Inside Housing reviewed it in March and noted that the report warns of increased homelessness, particularly as more generous social security provision introduced during the pandemic is rolled back.  A substantial rise in core homelessness is predicted, with overall levels expected to sit one-third higher than 2019 levels on current trends.  While the UK Government remains committed to ending rough sleeping in England by 2024, the Monitor warns that there is little confidence that this objective will be achieved at present, not least because it is not clear how this is defined or will be measured. On social housing, there is encouraging news that the proportion of social housing lettings made to homeless households has continued to increase: but the sting in the tail is that the overall number of social lettings has declined – meaning the number of lettings to homeless households has remained fairly static

… in first place and the Editorial Panel’s most highly ranked report of 2022 is ….

..a report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and written by Darren Baxter-Clow, Joseph Elliott and Rachelle Earwaker, Making a house a home: Why policy must focus on the ownership and distribution of housing.  This report achieved a judging panel score that was a record.  It also capped a good ‘Thinkhouse’ year for Rachelle and Joseph, who won our 2022 Early Career Researcher’s Prize for another of their reports.

Our recently retired Editorial Panel member Suzanne Benson in her blog for Inside Housing in September said that the JRF report takes a broad view of the market and flags the importance of understanding the composition of the current market to inform future policy decisions. The authors acknowledge the need for new supply and the correlation between supply and rising housing costs but highlight the importance of analysing who owns and lives in our existing 25 million homes. This is arguably the better source of data to start addressing the rising cost of housing. The reports identifies four key areas for focus:

Setting policy to create a smaller, higher quality, better managed private rented sector – interestingly this point focuses on discouraging private individuals from speculating in the market and using policy to focus the lending market more on first-time buyers. This is perhaps a shift from more recent policy which has tended to seek a solution in the Build to Rent sector.

Developing policies which proactively shape the market and offer direct routes from rental to homeownership – this does not address the current question mark over the gap to be left once Help to Buy comes to an end but instead focuses on reviewing barriers to accessing the lower end of the mortgage market, reviewing affordable homeownership products and encouraging largely public sector housing providers to engage more with the secondary market in order to bring more homes back into use;

Looking to support households for whom homeownership is not feasible or desirable – this suggestion focuses on the gap between rental and the intermediate market, with a particular focus on collective schemes to access a level of ownership and support for saving. Both are areas of focus for providers in the affordable sector but often fail to get traction due to the current regulatory constraints; and

Finally, any reduction in the private rented sector needs to be managed equitably – this mainly focuses on levelling the playing field for lower income renters through reforming the benefits system and improving the purchasing power of this group.

Overall, the report brings together some constructive thinking on the current state of the market and puts it in the context of policy. It lays out structural inequalities in the UK housing sector and goes to the heart of what Thinkhouse was set up for. It can be no surprise that the Thinkhouse Panel selected this report as their top one of 2022. 

We now have eight hundred reports on the site. For any policy maker, housing executive, researcher, academic or non-executive director interested in having a positive impact on resolving the shortage of affordable homes we hope that this article has been a useful pointer to the solutions that can be found in reports that we curate.

UK housing energy efficiency and the cost-of-living: not just a short-term crisis

This article was first published on the Inside Housing website in November 2022

In last month’s Thinkhouse blog for IH, my colleague Steve Moseley took an in-depth look at the excellent Shelter report, “Cover The Cost: preventing homelessness for renters in the cost of living crisis

Since then we’ve had several other noteworthy submissions relating to the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, all of which I would recommend to IH readers, including the House of Commons’ Library briefing “Housing and Cost of Living;  Crisis and Zoopla’s “Falling short: Housing benefit and the rising cost of renting in England”;  Peabody’s “Protecting social housing residents from compounding crises”; and the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ)’s Protecting Vulnerable Households from the Inflation Crisis.  The latter is particularly recommended: concise (27 pages) but fact-filled and evidenced, it calls for a new highly-targeted ‘cost-of-living’ package of support for the poorest working households in the UK, namely those in receipt of Universal Credit (UC), legacy benefits and pension credit, to help to significantly counteract the fall in average real income levels among poorer households now expected this autumn and winter.  CSJ estimate that it would be more cost-effective than the current proposed Energy Price Cap, which since it was first announced in September then quickly reduced from 2 years to 6 months, and may be reduced again given the UK Government’s current fiscal instability.  The current Energy Price Cap is an inefficient intervention anyway, being an effective UK Government subsidy of super-profit generation by the private energy sector, and doesn’t, as the report points out, address the long-term failure of UK Government to protect consumers by robustly regulating the UK energy sector. 


The debate over how the UK deals with long-term energy sustainability leads onto the next Thinkhouse submission for this article - “Hard To Decarbonise Social Housing”, a joint report by the National Housing Federation (NHF) and Local Government Association (LGA).  Given that 15% of the UK’s total energy emissions come from heating homes alone, and the UK has one of the oldest and most energy-inefficient housing stocks in Europe (RICS, 2019), improving the energy efficiency of the country’s housing stock would be a key to easing both the current short-term cost of living crisis, as well as medium-term decarbonisation needs.  Unfortunately, at present the rate of decarbonising within the UK housing stock is half that of the average of the rest of Europe per capita, due a myriad of reasons including age, construction typologies, funding availability, current UK Government policy, etc.  The NHF/LGA report defines ‘hard to decarbonise homes’ as those where “…the measures required to reach Net Zero are uneconomic, logistically or technically troublesome or impose unacceptable impacts on the tenants or others” and to define the associated characteristics and constraints.  It then uses Parity Projects’ “Portfolio stock assessment tool“ (a dataset derived from the 2016 English Housing Survey) to consider how changes to current policy could maximise its decarbonisation potential for these different typologies without the need for demolition.  The report concludes there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution, but the biggest barrier to providing any solutions for social housing providers is lack of available funding - an issue that is likely to be a barrier for much of the private provider sector too.   One other key constraining factor is the current shortage of required workforce and skills to decarbonise the UK’s housing stock.  In 2020 the Construction Leadership Council estimated that the UK needs at least 400,000 extra qualified professionals in the sector, alongside upskilling of the whole of the existing domestic heating workforce, to have any chance of delivering Net Zero by the current target date of 2050. 


This dearth of required skills is also the focus of another publication Thinkhouse received this month, the IPPR‘s “Train Local, Work Local, Stay Local”.  The report highlights the need to address the existing regional imbalance across the UK of available heating & insultation workforce, which is a mismatch with existing energy-efficiency retrofitting needs.  The challenges of retraining/upskilling the existing workforce and attracting new workers to the sector are also detailed, as are issues and inconsistencies in current professional training standards & practices.  IPPR conclude the multiple challenges can only be addressed by urgent major multi-level policy intervention at UK Government level, which does not appear to be on the current Government’s list of economic priorities.  Whilst this lack of Government-led impetus is undoubtedly a challenge for cash-strapped housing providers, there is plenty of freely-available evidence on a range of interventions for the sector to start working in partnership with the relevant education & training providers to develop detailed actions plans to improve housing-related energy-efficiency.  With a new Prime Minister, the imminent COP27, and a new monarch who has a long proactive interest in our climate change challenges, Government policy in this area could suddenly be re-prioritised – so it will be strategically and tactically astute to have a (sustainably-powered) “oven-ready” deliverable action plan.

A perfect storm of spiralling rents and out of control bills

This article was first published on the Inside Housing website in October 2022

The current political and economic environment provides an interesting backdrop to the latest group of reports which feature in this month’s Thinkhouse review.

With an intensifying energy crisis, a fiscal event which will linger long in the memory for many reasons, and a patchy economic outlook, the eight reports published in September focus on some familiar current themes with the cost-of-living crisis in particular featuring heavily.


However, despite the common areas of focus, the range of reports produced this month manage to look at these issues from a variety of different perspectives and policy lenses, contributing hugely to the overall quality of debate – exactly as good research should do.


The standout report for me is Shelter’s Cover the cost: Preventing homelessness for renters in the cost-of-living crisis. I love reading Shelter’s reports because they are always brilliantly written and researched, backed by great insight and analysis but presented in a format which is  accessible and easy to read and sets out some clear policy recommendations.


This report looks at the significant impact the cost-of-living crisis is having on households living in private rented homes who, in the words of Shelter, “face a perfect storm of spiralling rents and out of control bills which threatens to push many towards the brink of homelessness.” The statistics which back up this analysis are stark – a third of private renters spending half or more of their monthly income on rent and over half are in receipt of housing benefit but still left with an average shortfall of £151 per month.


In addition to the economic backdrop, Shelter highlights the freeze on LHA levels until at least March 2023 as a major contributory cause to this situation meaning it now covers the cheapest third of rents in just 3% of England. This is compounded by the benefit cap which now impacts 120,000 households.


So, what is to be done? Well, Shelter set out five clear recommendations including restoring LHA rates to the 30th percentile, abolishing the household benefit cap and reiterating a long-standing Shelter ask for investment in a new generation of social housing.


Adopting a similar theme but approaching it from a different perspective is my second  highlighted report – protecting social housing residents from compounding crises published by Peabody. This inhouse research undertaken in April 2022 consisted of a roundtable and survey of residents. Whilst the sample survey isn’t large, it provides some well-presented data on the impact on residents from energy prices and the cost-of-living crisis. The headline figures bluntly summarise the critical nature of the issue with over 80% of residents surveyed already restricting their use of heating, 42% spending less on food and 41% having to restrict expenditure on both, thus neither heating nor eating adequately.


The report sets out some practical recommendations which also link to the need to address the environmental sustainability of social homes with the significant challenges attached to achieving net zero only exacerbating the fuel poverty of residents. These include the implementation of a Social Tariff to equalise costs between prepayment and direct debit customers, uprating of benefits in line with inflation and greater support for the decarbonisation of social housing homes.


 The final report which caught my eye this month is the Smith Institute’s Housing allocations and the vacancy chain. Whilst this might seem a fairly dry subject amongst the more headline grabbing research reports, it tackles a really important topic impacting the lives of residents both already in social housing and those on long waiting lists.


Focused on London, it explores approaches and methods which could support a more strategic approach to lettings and answer the problem statement of how each available home can be used to alleviate as much housing need as possible. The context for this is a 70% fall in ‘churn’ amongst social homes since 2007 resulting by 2019/20 in a situation where only 3% of London’s total available social homes churn on an annual basis.


In terns of solutions the report focuses on creating more vacancy chains where each home let is used to initiate moves in a chain of other properties, ensuring more residents are helped into homes suitable for their needs. The report is split into five sections and includes a literature review, analysis of statistical datasets, interviews and workshops with those involved in lettings and also features a number of helpful case studies. It outlines a number of practical ways in which vacancy chains could be improved. 


With the supply of genuinely affordable housing continuing to track so far below current needs, it feels like an important contribution to the debate of how we maximise a scarce resource whilst – linking back to where we started and the final ask of Shelter’s report – highlighting the importance of investing in a new generation of social housing.

The UK ‘cost-of-living’ crisis: what next in housing?

This article was first published on the NHF website

Most people reading this blog would acknowledge that the UK is now in a ‘cost-of-living crisis’, although there may be a difference of opinion as to how far the nation is into this crisis.  It therefore isn’t unexpected that Thinkhouse has received a significant uptick in research related to this topic, which we’ll consider in this blog.

The scale of the cost-of-living crisis is illustrated by the latest factual briefing by the House of Commons’ Library, entitled “Housing and Cost of Living”.  It reports that an Ipsos survey in June 2022 revealed that 47% of renters said that they were worried about their ability to pay the rent or their mortgage.  The comparable figures in the English Housing Survey in 2020 - a time when there was considerable Covid-generated uncertainty over employment and income security - was 23-25% of renters and 6% of mortgage-holders.


The next tranche of reports consider the impact of the current UK cost-of-living crisis on different types of households. These reports are “Cover The Cost: preventing homelessness for renters in the cost of living crisis”, by Shelter; “Falling short: Housing benefit and the rising cost of renting in England” by Crisis and Zoopla and “Protecting social housing residents from compounding crises” by Peabody. 


Shelter’s report focuses on those renting in the private sector, whom they feel are disproportionally exposed to the current cost of living crisis.  In their report they state that 32% of private renters are now spending at least half their monthly income on rent; and that 54% who claim housing benefit (1 in 3 in PSR) have an average shortfall I that benefit to cover their rent of £151/month, which they have to make up themselves.  This issue of ‘shortfall’ is backed up by the Crisis & Zoopla study, which found that even before the current (October 2022) mortgage interest rate escalation, rents had increased 12% since the start of 2020 whilst Local Housing Allowances (LHAs) remain frozen at 2018-19 levels.  The Crisis study also highlights the regional and typological disparities in housing affordability and hence the level of shortfall households are having to pay for: across the UK less than 1 in 8 private rentals were on average affordable within existing housing benefits levels, but this went up to 1 in 20 in some areas and in certain typologies, especially one-bedroom properties.  Zoopla’s survey data also suggested that housing benefits shortfalls were more than double that suggested by recent Government figures – which worryingly indicates that the scale of vulnerability is much greater than the current Government believes it to be. 


The impact of the cost-of-living crisis even on social housing tenants is starkly set out in Peabody’s report, with information derived from a resident survey and consultation with staff and other housing associations.  Amongst its own residents Peabody found that 80% of its tenants were restricting use of heating  to inadequate levels; 42% were spending less on food to inadequate levels; and 41% were having to do both.  This is particularly shocking if as many believe, we are only just at the beginning of a cost-of-living crisis.


The Shelter and Crisis & Zoopla reports both conclude that to prevent mass rental defaults and evictions over the next 12 months there is an urgent need to abolish the prevailing ‘Benefit Cap’ and re-link Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates to the actual cost of renting.  The key longer-term solution is a significant central Government investment in social housing with rents pegged to local income, as the only truly-affordable and sustainable tenure.  The report by Crisis & Zoopla also highlights deficiencies in central Government data which market it is difficult to keep housing benefit levels in line with the real cost of, which could be easily-resolved by introducing things like a landlord register, with formal rent reporting, etc. 


The shortcomings of Government data intelligence on households in the UK is also highlighted by the final report we’re looking at in this blog, by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), Protecting Vulnerable Households from the Inflation Crisis, which makes specific recommendations for immediate Government interventions to reduce the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on all vulnerable households.  Up-to-date data could inform the Government of the need for, and level of, a further tranche of household in spring 2023 if current inflationary forecasts continue to rise at the same pace as expected.  A new ‘cost-of-living’ package of support for the poorest working households in the UK could provide a highly-targeted income boost for households on Universal Credit (UC), legacy benefits and pension credit, which in turn would help to significantly counteract the fall in average real income levels among poorer households now expected this autumn.  CSJ estimate this package would also cost only 10-15% of the estimated cost of the Energy Price Cap announced by UK Government in September 2022 – which is effectively a UK Government subsidy of private profit generation, and does little to address what the CSJ state is a failure of central Government to regulate the energy sector.


At the time of writing this blog (mid-October) central Government fiscal policy was in a state of flux and hence it was difficult to be definitive on central Government support or safeguards for the UK’s most vulnerable households.  This obviously makes it very difficult for housing associations to plan with any level of certainty, but having a granular knowledge and understanding of your respective resident cohorts and the specific impacts on them is now essential - and Thinkhouse can help arm you with the research evidence to substantiate your calls for support.

A new government and a cost-of-living crisis – is homeownership still a priority?

This article by Suzanne Benson was published on the Inside Housing website in September 2022

Perhaps a result of the ongoing uncertainty both around the future Government and the arrival of double-digit inflation August seemed to be a good time for researchers to focus on the question of homeownership. Two substantial reports from leading thinktanks – one from the Policy Exchange entitled “Helping more people become First-Time Buyers” and a second from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation “Making a house a home: Why policy must focus on the ownership and distribution of housing” – consider the twin questions of who owns and lives in our housing and how can we promote access to the market, particularly for first-time buyers

The JRF report takes a broad view of the market and flags the importance of understanding the composition of the current market in order to inform future policy decisions. The authors acknowledge the need for new supply and the correlation between supply and rising housing costs but highlight the importance of analysing who owns and lives in our existing 25 million homes. This is arguably the better source of data to start addressing the rising cost of housing.

The report’s authors identify four key areas for focus:

  1. Setting policy to create a smaller, higher quality, better managed private rented sector – interestingly this point focuses on discouraging private individuals from speculating in the market and using policy to focus the lending market more on first-time buyers. This is perhaps a shift from more recent policy which has tended to seek a solution in the Build to Rent sector;
  2. Developing policies which proactively shape the market and offer direct routes from rental to homeownership – this does not address the current question mark over the gap to be left once Help to Buy comes to an end but instead focuses on reviewing barriers to accessing the lower end of the mortgage market, reviewing affordable homeownership products and encouraging largely public sector housing providers to engage more with the secondary market in order to bring more homes back into use;
  3. Looking to support households for whom homeownership is not feasible or desirable – this suggestion focuses on the gap between rental and the intermediate market, with a particular focus on collective schemes to access a level of ownership and support for saving. Both are areas of focus for providers in the affordable sector but often fail to get traction due to the current regulatory constraints; and
  4. Finally, any reduction in the private rented sector needs to be managed equitably – this mainly focuses on levelling the playing field for lower income renters through reforming the benefits system and improving the purchasing power of this group.

Overall, the report brings together some constructive thinking on the current state of the market and puts in the context of potential policy change – all food for thought for the incoming administration.

In the second report, Gerald Lyons, working with the Policy Exchange, highlights the housing market as one of the more critical challenges for the incoming Prime Minister – with a particular focus on moving renters into homeownership – a traditional key focus for the Conservatives. As with the earlier report, the authors identify several main policy objectives, arguably ones with a more market-led emphasis.

The preferred option is to look at solutions which largely allow the market to provide its own solutions – with light touch intervention from government. This is perhaps a direct response to the more active involvement of recent policies such as Help to Buy. This option focuses on removing unnecessary regulation around access to finance and helping those who cannot save a deposit. This is to be achieved in two ways – requiring rental history to count towards a credit score and working to restore 100% LTV mortgages. Although the aim of this is logical, the outcomes are potentially concerning – the increase in FCA regulation of the mortgage market and the move away from 100% mortgages was a direct response to irresponsible lending practices. Any return to this approach undoubtedly carries a risk of less scrupulous lenders participating in the market.

As a secondary option, the report suggests Government consider extending and renewing its approach to mortgage guarantees to provide an effective insurance policy for increased lending to first time buyers. For some this may be viewed as simply an alternative mechanism to Help to Buy – and one which supports rather than remedies rising house prices. It could however be a useful tool to maintain and increase lender confidence – particularly in more challenging economic times.

The third option acknowledges that there may be no universal solution and recognises that the ultimate answer may lie in a combination of policy intervention, mortgage guarantees and innovative mortgage products.

Although neither report can reasonably be expected to solve the conundrum of increasing access to homeownership for those who are currently excluded from the market, both do provide a balanced and well researched approach to this challenging subject. One which we can reasonably expect to hear a lot more about as the new Prime Minister starts to set her own agenda.


Real issues that we should not overlook

This article was published on the Inside Housing website in August 2022

This month’s review is based on three reports linked by concerns with decarbonising the housing stock, rethinking planning responses and specific challenges associated with rural housing. I will start with the more specific problems that confront those thinking about how to retrofit off the grid housing in largely remote and rural locations, before moving on to new questions for planning in rural locations in the next decade and then on to public health messages for the built environment and beyond.

The new report by Localis (Reaching Rural Properties: Off-grid Heating in the Transition to Net Zero) notes that 15% of households are off-grid, and of the 1.1 million households that are off the grid in England and use fossil fuels, 78% use heating oil, 13% rely on LPG and 9% purchase coal. They are also living in rural, often remote and generally older properties. One in five are living in properties with EPC ratings as low as F or G. The authors argue that we currently have no effective policy frameworks for tackling such housing.


What is to be done? Localis recommend slowing down the pace of shifting away from fossil fuels, suggest more reliance on fabric first (even if air source heat pumps are the generally preferred energy solution). They also support mixed technologies rather than one size fits all solutions. They also make a case for supporting regional heating decarbonisation hubs.


RTPI have set out in a report a comprehensive assessment of how planning can respond to the challenges facing rural settings in a context of Brexit and its impact on agriculture, well as Covid and its effect on counter-urbanisation and tightening rural housing markets through increasing forms of tourism impact land use, while demand pressures, second homes and short term lets reduce affordability. A third factor is climate change mitigation and adaptation to new weather phenomena (again affecting agriculture) and the consequences of decarbonisation of housing and buildings alongside seeking to reduce demand for private cars via new public transport strategies.


Planning in this context has to sharpen its game in the classic areas of balancing competing interests to help support effective placemaking, follow up on responding to the second homes problem and contributing to tackling wider issues such as poor broadband connectivity and rural policy fragmentation, for instance,  across DEFRA, BEIS and DLUHC.


Finally, the Committee on Creating Healthy Cities ask what creates healthy cities? It turns out this is not just about urban life but is, density aside, as relevant to the rural focus of the other reports discussed above. The report is organised around four policy areas: the built environment, transport, public health and good governance. They argue that health creation ought to be a proactive statutory criterion across these policy realms and for placemaking and planning.


What do they propose for the built environment? First, more affordable housing – a third of the 300,000 annual new supply target should be affordable to the bottom half of the income distribution. Second, the government should embed health creation into land planning decision-making. Third, local control should facilitate more land value uplift via planning decision that puts health at the centre of developments through a greater focus ion elements such as active travel. Fourth, regulations for accessible housing in the new building regulations should be made mandatory and net zero ready new homes should be accelerated. They also, fifth, endorse call for a national housing retrofit strategy incorporating strong enforcement of the new proposed Decent Homes standard and a more effective replacement for the abandoned Green Homes Grant. They also propose setting VAT at 0% for refurbishment/retrofit works. Finally, they argue that health creation in placemaking should be at the centre of all future levelling-up activities.


These are all thoughtful and provocative pieces. The challenges facing policy and practice are many in the areas considered. While they are not all housing issues per se, there are also important housing questions to do with rural unaffordability, second homes and  other symptoms of the counter-urbanisation pressures for higher income households, a process certainly increased by the pandemic.


At the same time, the reports identify areas of real difficulty such as the off-grid decarbonisation problem which, like other areas of retrofit, clearly has an important fabric first dimension. We also see policy recommendations for rural planning and for health creation which are dependent on a lot of local enforcement professional capacity and ability to deliver innovation and reform. This of course in at a time when capacity and enforcement are at a premium because many services across the country, not least the planning services, are stretched and under-staffed. Ambition and reform have to be matched by resource and capacity.

Homelessness, Right to Buy, zero carbon planning and housing with care

This article, written by Anna Clarke, was published on the Inside Housing website in July 2022

This month’s reports covered a range of topics – zero carbon, housing with care and the Right to Buy.

Three of the reports looked at homelessness. Crisis’s analysis of the Homelessness Reduction Act reports on a study that set out to analyse impact of 2018 Homelessness Reduction Act, but ended up providing interesting analysis of how homeless people were treated pre-Act, post-Act (2019) and during “Everyone In” during covid. It’s a must-read for local authorities providing help to people who are homeless or at risk full of advice on how to get it right. Meanwhile, Safer Renting’s report on protection from eviction in England and Wales is not so much a research paper, as think-piece setting out the reasons why we should collect data on harassment of tenants and illegal evictions. They make the case that publishing annual figures would help underpin the need for action to address the issue – much like it does with homelessness figures. It’s a comprehensive review of currently available data, though fails to address the issue of potential double-counting between sources, and acknowledges that there would be unavoidable under-counting of evictions and harassment that aren’t ever reported. Amnesty International’s An Obstacle Course reviews homelessness assistance and makes the case for there being a human right to housing. It documents the huge difficulties that homeless people have in accessing housing, though the policy asks don’t really get to grips how to tackle the housing shortage, without which it’s hard to see how a right to housing could be translated into practice.

Moving on from homelessness, The “Right to Own” by Alex Morton of the Centre for Policy Studies revisits ideas set out a decade ago which made the case for extending the Right to Buy to the housing association sector. Morton makes some well-argued critiques of the left-wing inclination to blame the Right to Buy for all the ills of UK housing – he points out that the UK homeownership rates are lower than most Europe, and that the shortage of social housing has grown with rising house prices – reflecting growing numbers unable to afford homeownership, rather than falling supply of social housing.

He goes on to propose a new model of selling off social housing – the “Right to Own”, which involves government-backed mortgages for tenants to purchase 60% of a property, with the remaining 40% gifted to them at the end of the term. The “interest” on this loan is back-loaded via an annual increase in the buyer’s payments in line with the rent increases for social housing. The model is complex, especially once you get into the details of how to treat people who want to move on, the interaction with benefits, a joint liability for repairs or how to make it work in high value areas. His argument is that this will be a more attractive offer than the Right to Buy, but  - despite potentially lower payments in the early days – the complexity makes it hard to see the appeal to tenants or government.

Morton also re-makes the case for extending the Right to Buy to housing association tenants – though doesn’t really get to grips with the main challenges to this identified in the recent pilot. The paper was published back in June, just before the Right to Buy extension was re-announced with Johnson clearly in support. It’s clearly an area that the Conservatives are keen to explore – though remains to be seen how these ideas will be greeted by whoever takes the reigns next in government.

Altair’s consulting’s Manifesto for Change in Older People’s Care in Social Housing asks what role Registered Providers should have in older people’s housing and care. It’s a well written, timely and thorough overview of this sector today. It’s a manifest with actions to improve housing with care – ranging from ensuring that older people can remain independent in their homes to making housing and care a more desirable career, also tackling planning issues and financial risks. But it’s also underpinned by a wealth of evidence – including a historical look back at how the housing and care sector has changed over the lats 70 years and examining some of the newer models and innovative technologies to assist in independent living. It guides the reader through the current policy environment and then goes on to look internationally, highlighting the greater availability of Housing with Care in many countries and growing focus on communities for older people.

Lastly, the Association for Public Service Excellence has looked at the Role of Housing and Planning within Local Authorities in Rising the Climate Change Challenges. This isn’t an easy read - it’s long and dense. It does, however give a thorough review of planning legislation in this area, and highlights the tensions between local and national policy-making – pointing out that local authorities are often more ambitious than central Government in driving up environmental standards. This is clearly something for the Government to consider as it takes forward its plans for Levelling Up and reforms to the planning system.

Where Scotland leads others should follow.

This article was published on the Inside Housing website in June 2022

In Thinkhouse terms May was a light month in terms of output  - only 6 reports listed on our site but nonetheless there was content of relevance and importance for many of the readers of Inside Housing.

Three of the six reports were from the CaCHE stable – the UK’s academic housing research consortium - two of which were notionally UK wide studies and very welcome too and not least given the intense housing pressures in England in particular and the too frequent research silences around Northern Ireland and Wales.  The report on planning participation is largely focused on England and is timely given the recent DLUHC proposals to place community interests at the heart of the planning process there.  As the report makes clear the focus is on engagement as an on-going relationship rather than participation at stages in the process. There is much to learn here about making planning a positive process rather than simply a blocking device. 


The second UK wide report is also more comparative in nature drawing in published evidence from countries across the OECD. Here the focus is on a review of the academic evidence of home adaptations as part of a wider and quite strongly Scottish focused of adaptations policy and practice programme that is underway within the research consortium. Given the ageing of the population and seemingly ever-increasing longevity adaptations are an ever more important part of the housing landscape rather than just a footnote to wider policy.  Academic evidence reviews can be quite hard going for the policy and practice community because a lot of what might be seen as extraneous material is included. However this is quite a short report by academic standards and is easily dipped into.


The third CaChe report is unashamedly Scottish as the focus is on Glasgow tenement net zero retrofit but it does have relevance to any older flatted developments. The report is a social cost-benefit analysis of a high-quality green (EnerPHit) retrofit compared to two plausible counterfactuals or alternatives - in this case demolition and new build and a different variant retrofit strategy. The findings though much caveated suggest retrofit is more effective than demolition - an argument that might give many a pause for thought?


The Building Back Britain Commission may have passed many readers by but this organization has now produced two reports on housing and in this most recent case a report on the Net Zero challenge. This is a major focus for many landlords and is again timely. Indeed, in my judgement this is the most significant of the reports reviewed here. Part drafted by former government housing economist Chris Walker the report explores what needs to be done to the existing stock, then moves to greening new build before finally closing on consumer incentives – this last probably the least developed of the three core chapters. Nonetheless there is much food for thought in this study and not least on the focus on low value existing homes  and its linkage to levelling up. There is a lot of good common sense here and some well thought out analysis and recommendations. Again, the focus is on England and though it’s quite long - 58 pages – it is well worth the read!


Scotland comes back into focus in the Rent Better Wave 2 final report supported by the Nationwide Foundation. The report looks at low-income private renters and those in housing need and not least in the context of the reforms brought in by the Scottish Government. The research highlighted the pressures on landlords and tenants. On landlords from successive new requirements via a range of government agendas with the impact falling most heavily on smaller landlords who despite being most favoured by low-income tenants were also more likely to be considering leaving the sector – potentially leaving a gap at the bottom of the PRS market. These tenants highlighted the difficulties of finding and keeping rental homes they could afford, and it is hard to believe this is an experience unique to Scotland.

The final report is from Kirklees Council on the housing needs and preferences of their older

ethnic minority households.  The research was undertaken by the Housing Improvement and Learning Network and it provides good local insight into what this population wants and needs – it throws up many familiar agendas about tailored housing, advice and support and in the context of rising numbers of single person households. There is a lot to be done but at least now there is an evidence base to build programmes around.

As this last report shows and indeed others covered here housing is inevitably a very granular issue built around the highly varied geographies of the UK. National policies can only go so far and as we build up our understanding of regional and local housing markets so our capacity to provide suitable tailored solutions grows. Our knowledge of Scotland is perhaps the richest reflecting the very active research and policy agendas in that country. However, our current knowledge and understanding of English regions and of the different markets in Wales and Northern Ireland are probably far too rudimentary despite the efforts that have been put in.  There

Shipping containers, community-led housing and healthy housing.

This article was published on the Inside Housing website in May 2022

The reports received for review by the Thinkhouse Editorial Panel in April 2022 once again represented the sheer diversity of analysis in housing-related research. As usual all will be added to the Thinkhouse repository. Of these I’ll focus on a handful of reports which stood out to me for different reasons.

Firstly, I am continually impressed by the work of all at the Centre for Homelessness Impact. They are relentless in the ways in which they systematically provide data and evidence to help us understand how homelessness can be addressed effectively. They are also routinely innovative in the issues they choose to focus on. This month’s contribution to Thinkhouse is a case in point. Katy Karampour and Gemma Burgess from the Cambridge Centre for Planning and Housing Research at the University of Cambridge explore, in detail, the increasing role, and impact thereof, of modular and shipping container schemes on addressing homelessness. The report draws on 33 schemes across 22 local authority areas. I know that this is an area that local authorities, social enterprises and contractors have been exploring for some time. The report does a good job in providing an analysis of how such schemes have been developed and managed. Whilst there are a range of factors to feel positive about arising from the report, I, like many people, am very uncomfortable with advocating for the use of shipping containers to accommodate humans in the most pressing need. The authors are clear that it is not the intention of the report to advocate the use of such accommodation and do scatter the report with warnings such as the unsuitability of this form of accommodation for families and how the enduring lack of supply of housing means people in such schemes are often accommodated in them for long periods of time (over two years). The report is interesting and well worth a read – as we need all the tools available to support people during the housing crisis - but there is a danger that implementing such schemes can take the pressure off finding and creating good quality affordable accommodation. Whilst this might be welcome initially, does this really help anyone in the long-term?

Next up, the report from the London School of Economics ‘Keeping Communities Together:  How smaller social landlords and community-led housing can provide affordable, secure, local accommodation for communities in need’ was of particular interest to me at the minute as I complete a piece of work looking at Mutual Aid with colleagues from Royal Holloway University. The LSE report brings together work the research team engaged in before the COVID-19 pandemic to explore the role of community-based housing providers in housing provision. It draws on three residential events, desk-based and primary research to inform its findings. The findings point to the importance of supporting a range of providers for social housing provision. Drawing on a series of case studies and engagements with smaller community-based providers the authors identify the gaps these providers fill and the priorities they have. These include aspects such as: their close links to the community in which they are based and their knowledge of local characteristics, the responsiveness to local idiosyncrasies at the neighbourhood level, the embeddedness of democracy in the governance of schemes, the innovative use of space and the engagement with high-levels of energy efficiency. Critically, the authors also point out that community-led housing is often about more than just housing. They are often driven by meeting broader social, and environmental needs which helps provide community members with the spaces and places to develop even stronger community bonds. Reading these findings in a post-pandemic situation, after having witnessed the heroic actions of Mutual Aid groups over the last two years should remind us that community is not just for crisis; communities need to be fostered and nurtured and housing is a perfect vehicle for this.

Finally, the month saw two reports which sought to address health and well-being through a lens of planning and housing. The report from Future of London ‘Health Neighbourhoods: Working Together’ and the report from Public Health Wales NHS Trust ‘Maximising health and well-being opportunities for spatial planning in the COVID-19 pandemic recovery’ are particularly welcome. Out of the tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic it is encouraging to see the renewed interest in health across various policy agendas, including greater consideration of health at the centre of future housing and the [re]development of places such as towns and cities. However, the development of built environments is often divorced from the work of health professionals. The attention brought about by such publications remind us of the need to find ways for housing, planning and health to work much more closely together to ensure housing is an enabler of health and well-being and not yet another challenge to overcome.


Why we must learn from international housing and homelessness policy and act now in a global age

This article was published on the Inside Housing website in April 2022

In understanding how policy plays out we can fall into the trap of only looking on our own doorstep. Yet the global impacts of the pandemic over the past couple of years remind us we must think and act wider than this.

In this month’s Thinkhouse review, two of the reports take an international view. The first of these: COVID-19: Housing market impacts and housing policy responses - an international review by UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE) analyses the pandemic impacts on housing systems across a range of high income countries during this period, and documents the policy responses relating to housing and homelessness. The report has a wealth of information, commentary and data for anyone interested in comparative policy analysis in this space.

Drawing on data in Australia, Ireland, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, Spain, the US as well as the UK, it shows how house prices across all these countries defied early predictions that the market would stagnate or even collapse. If fact the opposite has occurred, but it is particularly marked in what is described as the ‘Anglophone’ nations in the study. For example by quarter 3 in 2021, annual nominal house price inflation had reached 22% in Australia and New Zealand, 18% Canada and USA, 12% in the UK and 11% in Ireland.

The report highlights that this was primarily down to central banks reducing interest rates or initiating or expanding quantitative easing. In the case of Australia and the UK homebuyer support measures (i.e. cuts to stamp duty and house purchase grants) were quickly introduced to stimulate the market. The research also shows that rents have followed a similar pattern and whilst some of the countries in the study had restricted rent increases in the early parts of the pandemic, all but Canada had lifted these by the end of 2021. By late 2021, in Ireland, New Zealand, the UK and the US, typical rent levels were more than 10% higher than those at the start of the pandemic. This is eye watering to read.

The aftermath of the housing and rental boom has serious implications for housing affordability. The temporary assistance available for people in the (low end) rental market – in the form of rent or eviction moratoriums, rent relief schemes or temporary increases in social security payments – were just this, temporary. The report shows the main groups to have benefitted from the housing market buoyancy coming out of the pandemic are people who were in strong financial positions, able to save and exercise buying power and take advantage of government interventions in the housing market. Housing inequality has been further exacerbated. 

Then second report is a special edition of the European Journal of Homelessness which looks at What Works: Research Impact and Homelessness. Convened by the Centre for Homelessness Impact it looks at best examples of robust evaluation and knowledge into practice in the Global North.

The collection of articles is an interesting mix of what we know works in tackling homelessness to date but also uncovers areas where more robust studies and methodological approaches are needed. Getting policy makers, commissioners and practitioners to follow the evidence and base decisions on the best available information is also a key message to this edition of the journal. This is not only about targeted programmes or interventions based on evidence, but addressing larger systemic issues including housing affordability, welfare, wages and ensuring homelessness is seen through a public health lens.

There are encouraging examples, which show there are scalable strategies that end homelessness. Evidence from Finland, Canada and France on not only scaling up Housing First but ensuring it is embedded in a system that is designed to end rather than manage homelessness. Taking a systems approach to build a shared understanding of how health and housing inequalities are inter-related. And the first randomised control trials in the UK which will provide better evidence on the long term impacts of using temporary accommodation rather than settled housing. An important focus given the huge rise in the use of TA (especially B&B) in the last 10 years across the UK, at huge financial cost which does nothing to tackle homelessness.

Yes, we need better evidence, but we also need ambition, determination, political commitment and a housing market that is designed to work for everyone. Reading the reports this month reminds us many of these things were enacted at a global scale during the last two years and we can design a system that achieves all of this again.



Housing rights, housing wrongs

This article was published on the Inside Housing website in March 2022

February 2022 was another strong month for housing-related research, with nine reports being added to the Thinkhouse repository. I want to focus on just three of these studies – reports which stimulated my thinking on the outcomes we want from housing policy, and the extent to which we’re making measurable progress towards those outcomes.

First is Walking the talk, a fascinating report from Newhaven Research for CIH Scotland on the right to adequate housing and human rights issues for landlords. This is a live issue in Scotland, where the Scottish Government intends to incorporate the full spectrum of civil, political, economic, social and cultural human rights into Scots law, including the right to adequate housing.

The report sets out seven dimensions of adequate housing established by the United Nations: these being security of tenure, habitability (dry, warm spacious), availability of services, affordability, accessibility, location and cultural adequacy (enabling people to live in ways that allow them to express their cultural identity).

A report like this could easily have focused on high-level principles and therefore had limited relevance to those working in housing policy and practice. The beauty of the CIH Scotland report is that it relates each of the seven dimensions to everyday housing management practices – considering (for example) how pre-tenancy arrangements, and approaches to rent collection, can contribute to security of tenure, and in so doing provide the bedrock of adequate housing. It succeeds in being as much a guide for landlords as an overview of the right to adequate housing.

As Walking the talk makes clear, Governments aren’t just obliged to respect and protect human rights – they also have an obligation to take positive action to fulfil human rights – facilitating the supply and provision of housing to meet needs.

Progress on housing supply in England is the subject of a comprehensive and typically even-handed research briefing on Tackling the under-supply of housing, from the House of Commons Library. The authors note that ‘There’s some consensus around increasing housing supply to address the backlog of housing need, but there’s less agreement about how best to achieve it’.   

The briefing provides admirable clarity on current performance – supply having peaked at 243,000 homes in 2019/20, some way short of Government targets and independent estimates of need. It also contains important detail that is often overlooked – for example, setting out that the net annual supply of housing is now higher than the estimated average in the 1970s. The difference is that we are now demolishing far fewer of our existing homes and conducting more change of use of existing buildings, so new build is still at lower levels.

While the briefing rightly identifies consensus on increasing the level of housing output, it struck me that there was less consensus on the outcomes that doing so might deliver – while ministers have claimed higher output will improve affordability, others have suggested that if this is the outcome sought, other policy levers might be required.

One clear outcome for housing policy suggested by the UN’s Special Rapporteur for housing is ‘Eliminating homelessness as swiftly as possible’ – something they believe should be a minimum core obligation for states. Our third report - the annual Homelessness Monitor written by Beth Watts and colleagues for Crisis - provides its usual authoritative summary on how far England is from that aim.

The Homelessness Monitor reminds us of what Crisis’ CEO describes as ‘decisive action at the start of the pandemic [which] saved thousands of lives’. But the report warns of increased homelessness, particularly as more generous social security provision introduced during the pandemic is rolled back.  Academics foresee a ‘substantial rise in core homelessness, with overall levels expected to sit one-third higher than 2019 levels on current trends’.  While the UK Government remains committed to ending rough sleeping in England by 2024, the Monitor warns that there is little confidence in the ability to achieve this objective at present, not least because it is not clear how this is defined, or will be measured.

On social housing, there is encouraging news from the Monitor that the proportion of social housing lettings made to homeless households has continued to increase: but the sting in the tail is that the overall number of social lettings has declined – meaning the number of lettings to homeless households has remained fairly static.

Reading the two English reports alongside the Scottish one, it occurred to me quite how much housing policy has further diverged since devolution 23 years ago. Embedding a right to adequate housing in law is not part of the mainstream policy debate in England. Yet, as the Commons Library and Crisis reports remind us, fine words aren’t enough – it’s the action taken to fulfil those pledges that would very often make the difference. All of us who care about righting housing wrongs must hope that we benefit from further high-quality research and analysis which enables us to evaluate and learn from the outcomes of divergent approaches.

To AirBnB, or Not To AirBnB!

This article was published on the Inside Housing website in February 2022

The first month of submissions to the Thinkhouse editorial panel in 2022 included a wide-ranging selection, looking at topics as diverse as supply & demand issues, environmental planning and housing as a tool for social inclusion.

One report that caught the author’s eye was that by the House of Commons Library on “The Growth of Short-Term Lettings” in England.  Now I’m sure that a substantial portion of readers have, like the author, benefitted from the huge growth over the past decade of portals for short-stay visitor accommodation, including ‘peer-to-peer’ accommodation portals such as AirBnB, Spareroom, etc.  They have provided a new way for many to travel and interact, with a range of accommodation options that are often cheaper than ‘traditional’ accommodation such as hotels, B&Bs, etc, and which provide a ‘live like a local’ experience that they cannot.  Some portals also claim that this enables travel that might not otherwise have taken place, although this is difficult to substantiate due to a lack of  independently collated and verified data. 

However, there is increasing evidence that the continuing lack of knowledge, control and regulation of the short-lettings sector is creating more problems than it is creating benefits.  As the report sets out, unlike the ‘traditional’ visitor accommodation sector, there are currently no mandatory registration requirements in the UK for peer-to-peer accommodation sector providers, and therefore no checks on quality, health & safety, etc.  This lack of registration is also probably leading to a substantial taxation revenue opportunity-loss at the local and national level.  At a community level, the growth in the short-lettings market has led to increased negative impacts on existing residents, especially in neighbourhoods with high concentrations of such accommodation - for example  disturbance from noise and disrespectful behaviour.  At a broader economic level, the explosion in peer-to-peer providers has inevitably displaced trade in the more traditional accommodation sector - with consequential impacts upon their ability to generate economic benefits in terms of local employment, patronage of local traders, etc. 

But the most serious negative impact of the uncontrolled growth of the short lettings sector is that it is having on local housing markets.  An increasing number of landlords have shifted from offering longer-term tenancies for local residents to more profitable short-term lettings for the visitor market via the likes of AirBnB: this not only reduces supply available for local permanent residents, but then has the knock-on effect on inflating prices of the reduced remaining rental supply.  This is not just a city phenomenon either: it is equally affecting rural areas where leisure & business tourism is a key contributor to the local economy.  The lack of regulatory costs, and hence relative profitability, of the short-term lettings market has attracted investment specifically for short-term lettings, compounding the owner-occupier supply and affordability problems multiple parts of the UK is already suffering.

It should be clarified that this is not just a UK phenomenon: many countries across the world are currently grappling with this challenge, especially tourism ‘honeypots’.  Several cities across the world - including Barcelona, Paris, Amsterdam and New Orleans - have already responded proactively by introducing controls.  The report summarises some of these, such as mandatory licensing & registration; controls on number of licences and/or bed-nights; restricting hosting to owner-occupiers, etc.  The EU has also recognised the need to monitor this evolution in visitor accommodation: in 2020 it negotiated a data-sharing agreement with several major portals, including Airbnb, Booking, Expedia Group and Tripadvisor, with the data now available to EU states via Eurostat which is now being used to support evidence-based policies national or local level.

However in the UK, there is no clear coordinated response to the challenges being created by the short lettings sector, nor is there any reliable data on the scale and impact to justify evidence-based interventions.  Scotland is the most advanced, having already introduced powers for local authorities to introduce licensing of the sector, and Wales is currently consulting on proposals to amend the development management system and planning policy which will provide indirect control.  But despite calls from many stakeholders - including a direct request to UK Government for mandatory registration powers from the Mayor of London in spring 2019 - there is still no firm progress in England in regulating a sector which according to its main player, AirBnB is now providing up to 60% of all accommodation in England.  A private Members bill in 2017 failed to secure passage through Parliament, and consultation on a ‘voluntary registration scheme’ promised in the UK Government’s 2021 ‘Tourism Recovery Plan’ has yet to materialise.

As the report points out, it is not the existence of the peer-to-peer accommodation sector that is fundamentally a problem in England: it’s the current lack of control or regulation, and what the London Assembly called in 2018 “the growing professionalised sector who seek to abuse the system”.  The report doesn’t expand on the longer-term consequences of allowing this situation to persist in England, but it is obvious that the longer it does, the more numerous and widespread the negative impacts will be, and the harder it will be to mitigate and/or reverse them - at a time when the English housing market doesn’t need any further exacerbatory influences.

Housing injustice: can reforming the planning system really help?

This article was published on the Inside Housing website in January 2022

December can sometimes be a quiet month for, with few reports that examine how we build more, and better affordable homes being published…but not this time.  I had a variety of fascinating and insightful pieces to read over my Christmas break.  I have chosen to review four reports, three of which look at how our planning system can be reformed and how these proposals can impact on the housing crisis, which is so starkly set out in the Centre for Social Justice’s (CSJ) report Exposing the Hidden Housing Crisis  

The CSJ report’s foreword is by Theresa May, MP and it eloquently exposes the scale of the problem. ‘The dysfunction in our housing system is deep-rooted, having developed over multiple decades and under governments of all stripes. Addressing it fully remains one of the fundamental public policy challenges of our time’.

This report is the first of two linked reports (the second will publish a raft of policy proposals) and sets out the injustice of the 820,000 households living in cramped and overcrowded conditions and the millions of renters who see the gains of work undermined by exorbitant housing costs. It offers some stark headlines. On any given night over 90,000 families and more than 120,000 children are in temporary accommodation. Nealy 70% of private renters in the lower two income quintiles spend 30% or more of their disposable income on rent. This equates to 1.2 million households. 60% of private renters have less than £100 in savings, making even low-cost home ownership affordable housing products (such as Shared Ownership or First Homes) unattainable. Taxpayers are now picking up the bill for decades of too few truly affordable homes being built. Next year, housing benefit expenditure is forecast to exceed £30 billion – and then to double again in the 30 years thereafter as more (and older) households see the more expensive private rented sector as their only option.  The report concludes by saying that reversing the decline in truly affordable housebuilding is desperately needed.

Whilst we wait for the CSJ recommendations, three reports on planning shine a light on reforms that may help.


The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) argues in its report; How the infrastructure levy can be designed to boost social and affordable housing supply that the proposal for an infrastructure levy (IL), to replace S106 and CIL agreements, can be used to better capture uplifts in the value of land to create significant funding to deliver social and affordable housing.  The IL would be charged on a fixed proportion of development value above a threshold. This would target uplifts in land value that result from achieving planning permission.  However, JRF highlight that without careful policy design it could make a large development unviable. They believe this can be avoided if a zonal approach is taken to setting the levy to both control and capture land values. Local Authorities could vary the rate they charge within their boundaries, setting higher rates where potential uplifts in land value are greater (such as green field sites).  Affordable housing commitments should be fixed in local plans so that it is a fundamental part of land value.  Compulsory purchase orders should be reformed to stop developers holding back sites in the hope of persuading local authorities to revise down their infrastructure levy rates.  They also recommend the setting of regional benchmarks that local authorities must reference in their calculations – which links nicely to the next report.

The County Councils Network (CCN) report on The Future of Strategic Planning in England looks at how spatial planning decisions should best operate across all tiers of government.  Whilst naturally biased toward the County level it succeeds in demonstrating that without a framework that allows key national policy and investment decision to be taken at a higher spatial level, we will fail to deliver the housing the nation needs. The CCN’s solution is a strategic planning body that delivers a strategic growth plan alongside a representative advisory / challenge body that will ensure accountability.  They believe this will provide a stronger and more effective basis for planning decision making.

Finally the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) examines the location of approved planning applications for major residential development in terms of the accessibility of these new developments to a variety of different amenities. It demonstrates that those who live in the least accessible new developments are impacted in multiple ways. They will have reduced access to - and choice of healthcare and educational provision and fewer options to choose their mode of travel. The resulting lower access to economic opportunity creates significant housing injustice. This research highlights the stark differences across England. For example, in the 10% most accessible planned developments, access to jobs and educational facilities will be within a 30-minute walk. In the 10% least accessible planned developments, access to the same facilities will be over 90 minutes walking time away. The location of planning permissions approved between 2015 and 2019 shows that access to amenities from these locations is twice as fast by car compared to public transport, and nearly three times quicker than by walking. Average public transport travel times to hospitals or large employment centres were also comparable or slower than walking, which may not be a realistic option for all residents of these new developments.

I believe the answer to the question I posed in the title is yes. These three planning focused reports catch the very essence of why Thinkhouse was formed.  They give policy makes easy reach to data and analysis and offer some solutions that will help address the consequences of the housing crisis that the JRF report so clearly sets out. 


Will our homes and services stand the test of time?

This article was published on the NHF website in January 2022

Being a housing association board member is becoming an ever more challenging role. You are currently dealing with some really difficult operational and strategic issues, against the wider context of considerable uncertainty and increasing competition.

Unsurprisingly, there’s a mountain of material for you to keep up with if you are to provide the right level of challenge to your executives across a wide range of topics. If the Thinkhouse bookshelf is anything to go by, the flow of new reports is considerable both in volume and in length!

In light of the pandemic and the COP26 climate change summit, some recent reports have questioned the adequacy and suitability of UK housing stock over the medium to long term – as well as how adequate it is now. While much of this has focused on the private sector and, especially, the private rented sector, there are also big questions to answer about local authority and housing association stock.

From the bookshelf: top picks for board members

The Affordable Housing Commission published a series of reports in 2020, all of which are worth a look, including Making housing affordable after Covid-19. Then, in February 2021, the Commission of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York on Housing, Church and Community published its report, Coming Home: Tackling the housing crisis together. It’s a lengthy report, but the key messages are helpfully summarised on page five – including this reminder:

“A good home is a place that enables us to live in harmony with the natural environment, it is a place where we feel safe, it enables us to put down roots and belong to a community, it is a place we enjoy living in and which is a delight to come home to.”

Those reports set the scene for a number of more recent publications all of which should provide some food for thought:

Staying focused on the quality of our homes – now and in the future

There is a risk that, important though these longer term issues are, they may detract attention away from more immediate issues. While you may be busy dealing with cladding and retrofit issues, balancing off of growth strategies and upgrading your existing stock, it is important for you as board members to stand back and reflect on what is being achieved in terms of the new homes your association may be building. These homes may be new and better than some of those that came before them, but are they good enough now, and will they stand the test of time?

In November the BRE published a briefing paper on The cost of poor housing in England 2021 citing the bill to the NHS at around £1.4bn per annum, and the wider social costs at a staggering £18.5bn – page six gives a useful checklist of the issues and the costs. 

You may also find the CIH Cymru team’s Right place, right home, right size? report interesting reading. It discusses how social housing providers can help residents adjust their housing needs and aspirations as they change over time. And you will likely be aware of the Good Home Inquiry’s work into the causes of, and solutions to, poor-quality housing – which prompts important questions for boards members around the long-term sustainability of homes and services.

The pandemic has resulted in households placing an ever greater premium on space, including having rooms that can be separated off to provide workspace for either children or adults. This poses questions about some new housing association homes, with somewhat limited living room and kitchen space, and generally tight space standards throughout. Yes, of course there are questions of regulation, resources and costs, but – to paraphrase the quote above – as board members it is your role to ensure that any new homes your association is building are “places people can enjoy living in, and that are a delight to come home to”.


This blog is a small snapshot of all of the excellent reports the Thinkhouse Editorial Panel reviewed in 2021 – please go to the Thinkhouse website to check out the many others. 

The Thinkhouse review of 2021's best #housingresearch

This article was first published by Inside Housing in December 2021

As we hopefully begin to move from pandemic to post-pandemic, the long-standing issues that have been the focus of housing sector such as shortage of supply, homelessness and other inequalities have once again dominated the reports we have seen. That is not to say, as you will read, that the impact of the pandemic has been ignored.

This year nearly 130 reports were uploaded and categorised in our web library and each one was assessed by our Editorial Panel. The panel considers the quality of the research, innovation or the breadth of analysis and whether the recommendations can be translated easily into policy or influence decision makers. The Panel is made up of 20 members, drawn from a cross section of the housing world spanning academia and research to the not for profit and business sectors. 

The Panel’s assessment translates into a score which we use to rank and then showcase the top reports in the “must read” section on the yearly pages.  This year we selected twelve reports.

Here is our top five….in reverse order and why we selected them.  If you want a quick fix of the latest and most influential thinking, these are the ones you should look at.

In fifth place is a report written by Colin Wiles, with a foreword by Kate Barker published by the Intergenerational Foundation. Stockpiling Space: How the pandemic has increased housing inequalities between older and younger generations. This report’s data period is the last decade up to and including the COVID-19 pandemic. It investigates the growing inequalities in housing assets and housing space between renters and owners, between rich and poor, and most significantly between older and younger generations.  It concludes that England now has two housing nations.  Our panel was impressed with the evaluation of the implications of older under-occupiers and the range of practical solutions to help solve the resulting intergenerational and inequality issues.

In fourth place is one of my personal favourites, Coming Home: Tackling the housing crisis together by the Commission of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York on Housing, Church and Community. This was reviewed by Editorial Panel member, Kerri Farnsworth, for our April 2021 Inside Housing blog. She said that the report is surprisingly frank in its views.  It calls the current system of Building Control and Building Standards in the UK “deeply-flawed”, with a “culture focused on price”, where “homes are generally built to the lowest standards and cost-cutting is rife”.  It criticises the lack of progress on climate change and decarbonisation in the past 5 years, citing the lack of coordination in current UK Government and lack of strong enforced standards (eg. EPC ratings for new homes, only 1% of which at present are ‘zero-carbon’).  It berates the ongoing short-termism and policy mis-steps within UK Government: “Simply building more homes without regard to whether people can afford them will not solve the housing crisis” it asserts, and instead calls for a ‘coherent and sustainable 20-year cross-party strategy that responds to those in greatest need’.  It is also remarkably blunt in its conclusions: the current UK housing crisis is “neither accidental or inevitable”, driven at its heart by a “lack of truly affordable housing”.

In third and second places are two reports that were published in September 2021 and were reviewed in our October blog for Inside Housing by our Editorial Panel member, Emily Pumford. 

In third place, The Kerslake Commission on Homelessness and Rough Sleeping’s final report A new way of working: ending rough sleeping together. Emily wrote that this report, whilst focused on homelessness also makes arguments for addressing unfairness and inequalities. Young people, for example, frequently become homeless as a result of family relationship breakdown – with structural issues such as poverty and poor housing often playing a role. The report states that, along with women, young people are particularly likely to experience hidden homelessness and be less visible to services. Another reason stated for young people becoming homeless is family rejection as a result of coming out as LGBTQ+, with a LGBTQ+ youth significantly more likely to experience violence, sexual exploitation and health problems whilst homeless. The report states that more than half of LGBTQ+ young people have faced some sort of discrimination whilst accessing homelessness services.

In second place was What's causing structural racism in housing? by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.  The report focuses on how Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people in the UK face inequalities that lead them to disproportionately lack access to suitable and affordable housing.  Findings from the report are stark. They show that: more than a quarter of BAME working adults spend over a third of their income on housing compared to just over 1 in 10 white workers; 8 in 20 households affected by the benefit cap in England are BAME despite BAME households representing only 3 in 20 of the total population and all but one of the 10 most ethically diverse local authorities in England outside London has a significantly higher rate of eviction possession claims than the 10 least diverse. But these findings are not a result of direct discrimination (although this can be an additional barrier), they are a result of a long history of structural discrimination based on labour market inequalities, the design of the social security system and the immigration system.

… in first place and the Editorial Panel’s most highly ranked report of 2021 is ….

..another report sharply focused on the economic, social and community costs of not increasing the amount and quality of the UK’s housing stock. The Homelessness Monitor 2021, by Crisis, is part of a series of reports longitudinal studies providing an independent analysis of the homelessness impacts of recent economic and policy developments.  It covers a year dominated by the pandemic and therefore provides a comprehensive analysis of the Homeless Reduction Act and the ‘Everyone In’ scheme.  It concludes that this and other measures introduced in the pandemic had a positive impact in reducing homelessness.  If goes on to say that these benefits will not be maintained without building sufficient affordable housing to ensure that everyone, who needs it, has access to their own safe and stable place to call home. 

It can be no surprise that the Thinkhouse Panel selected this report as their top one of 2021.  It clearly lays out why we need to build more and better social housing.  This report goes to the heart of what Thinkhouse was set up for. We now have seven hundred reports on the site. For any policy maker, housing executive, researcher, academic or non-executive director interested in having a positive impact on resolving the shortage of affordable housing we hope that this article has been a useful pointer to the solutions that can be found in reports that we curate.

Your voice counts; where should decisions be made – and by whom?

This article was first published by Inside Housing in December 2021

COP26 dominated both general news agendas and those of the housing sector over the past two weeks. The Glasgow Climate Pact that was agreed was welcomed by some for its commitment to increasing adaptation finance and urging countries to commit to more ambitious pledges in the future. Other parties were disappointed in the outcome; for not responding to the urgency of climate change and its impact on vulnerable nations.  Much was made about who the representatives and involved parties were (and how they got there). The formal events were largely attended by world leaders; people with high levels of power and influence and sometimes a disconnect from the experiences of their citizens. Activists and citizens were part of the dynamic set of informal events, displaying a different kind of power.

This month’s Thinkhouse articles reflect both this important wider topic of climate change, but also the critical concept of decision-making and power – where are decisions made, who is involved and what does this mean for the validity, efficacy, and fairness of the outcome?

Savills’ report on Decarbonising the housing association sector is just one example of an important report into how the housing sector can address or take forward activities related to the climate change agenda. It outlines the costs and potential funding arrangements for pursuing this agenda across housing associations in England. Lagging Behind provides recommendations for a central role for local government in supporting the retrofit agenda cross tenure in the context of regional variability in house prices. 

There have also been several reports reviewed through Thinkhouse this month that reflect ongoing discussions about whose voices are heard and where decisions are made across a range of areas of the housing sector. These include who is involved in decisions around the regeneration and development of places and communities as well as who should contribute to decisions around service design. These discussions are well-rehearsed within the housing sector; from regulatory frameworks that require tenants to be at the heart of decision-making, to new models, like climate juries, considering how decisions can be made on emerging issues.

The TAPPI Inquiry Report (phase one) proposes a set of principles around the use of technology in providing housing and care for older people. The research programme has two phases, and it is hoped that by the end of the broader inquiry an industry standard will have been created for what ‘good’ looks like in technology for housing and care for an ageing population. The set of principles that have emerged from the first phase include technology being adaptable, preventative, and cost-effective. Importantly, principles are also included that require technological solutions to be person-centred, choice-led, and co-produced. It is argued, here, that individuals who are receiving services and using technological solutions for housing and care should be included in the design of these systems.

No Place Left Behind: the Commission into Prosperity and Community Placemaking presents a number of recommendations for government around improving places that are unlikely to generate financial value from development. As well as improving the wellbeing and prosperity of residents in these areas and contributing to broader debates around urban regeneration and community empowerment. The report outlines a broad swathe of recommendations aiming to address the geographical imbalances that impact ‘left behind places,’ which are described as “a legacy of post-war urban design, poor planning, centralised decision-making and under-investment in the social infrastructure that is so vital to local communities”. Part of the policy proposals included relate to supporting community asset acquisition, putting community asset ownership on an equal footing, and empowering communities to tackle dereliction and neglectful ownership.

Building Communities: Planning for a clean and good growth future equally supports the further decentralisation of power and decision-making relating to place. Published by Localis, the report considers the planning system through the lens of neo-localism which focusses on giving people and places more control over the impacts of globalisation. Arguing that “community will have to lie at the heart of a housing-led recovery that is rooted in place” it goes on to outline a strategic framework for a stewardship approach to decision-making. This involves recommendations that local government should, amongst other things:

  • produce community value charters to provide a transparent picture of how procurement around development is benefiting the local area
  • work with communities to embed local design codes into neighbourhood plans
  • produce cultural statements for new developments containing the provision and protection of cultural assets and ACVs.

The final report to consider whose voices are heard within decisions around issues of housing and place is Outpriced and Overlooked. This research focuses on young people’s experiences of living in rural areas, with key findings around concern for being able to access affordable housing, issues around infrequent and unreliable public transport, and poor digital connectivity. Notably, the report emphasises how young people in these areas feel left out of the political discourse around rural issues. Based on a YouGov survey of 1000 people between 16 and 25 years olds, it outlines that fewer than 1 in 10 felt listened to by decision-makers as a young person in a rural area and 62% said that decision-makers didn’t pay enough attention to rural areas in general. 

As the housing sector continues to tackle large and complex issues such as climate change, structural racism, and economic and geographical disparities it’s important to consider whose voices are heard within decision-making. Who has the power to decide what happens? Where do these decisions happen? And where should they happen? This month’s reports make the case for a more diverse understanding of power and decision-making, and challenge us to think about not just what we do to tackle housing issues but how we do it.

An equal housing offer for all? Not yet

This article was first published by Inside Housing in November 2021

Last month, we had eleven reports submitted to the Thinkhouse website. There was a real variety in topics from community led housing, to the pandemic’s impact on digital life, to the Scotland 2021 Homeless Monitor. But my attention was immediately grabbed by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation Report; ‘What’s Causing Structural Racism in Housing?

The report focuses on how Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people in the UK face inequalities that lead them to disproportionately lack access to suitable and affordable housing.

Findings from the report are stark, they show that: more than a quarter of BAME working adults spend over a third of their income on housing compared to just over 1 in 10 white workers; 8 in 20 households affected by the benefit cap in England are BAME despite BAME households representing only 3 in 20 of the total population and all but one of the 10 most ethically diverse local authorities in England outside London has a significantly higher rate of eviction possession claims than the 10 least diverse.

But these findings are not a result of direct discrimination (although this can be an additional barrier), they are a result of a long history of structural discrimination based on labour market inequalities, the design of the social security system and the immigration system.

With this report firmly in my mind, what struck me as I reviewed the other reports uploaded to the website was just how many picked up on inequalities in the housing system. 

The report ‘Good Homes for All’, for example, shows that BAME households are overrepresented when it comes to living in poor-quality housing. It also highlights challenges and inequalities faced by older people, with over two million people aged 55 and over living in a home that endangers their health and wellbeing.

 ‘Rethinking Housing Supply and Design’ argues that housing is a key site of gender and intersectional inequality, with design that does not accommodate diverse needs. The recommendations made in this report focus not only on carbon reduction and our environment, but also on the ‘social and physical aspects of inequality that structure our lives’.

The report from the Kerslake Commission, ‘A new way of working: ending rough sleeping together’ is another key example. Whilst the report focuses on homelessness and makes several recommendations on what is needed to embed the lessons learnt from the emergency response to rough sleeping during the pandemic, it also makes arguments for addressing unfairness and inequalities.

This paper states that Black people are 3.6 times more likely to experience homelessness than all other ethnic groups and that over the last five years, statutory homeless has risen at a substantially higher rate amongst Asian and Black households than it has amongst white households.  The reasons for this? Structural factors linked to socio-economic inequalities. BAME communities are more likely to be living in poverty, experience inadequate housing and be in insecure work.

But not only does this paper discuss the issues faced by BAME communities in relation to housing and homelessness, it also shines a light on the barriers faced by other marginalised groups.

Young people, for example, frequently become homeless as a result of family relationship breakdown – with structural issues such as poverty and poor housing often playing a role. The report states that, along with women, young people are particularly likely to experience hidden homelessness and be less visible to services.

Another reason stated for young people becoming homeless is family rejection as a result of coming out as LGBTQ+, with LGBTQ+ youth significantly more likely to experience violence, sexual exploitation and health problems whilst homeless. Furthermore, the report states that more than half of LGBTQ+ young people have faced some sort of discrimination whilst accessing homelessness services.

All of these reports focus on different parts of the housing system as well as the various other systems that sit on the periphery, but what is clear is that these systems are not working to meet the diverse needs of all the people using them.

To quote a line from the JRF report, ‘these injustices are not inevitable’. They are instead the result of policy decisions and system design.  For too long, these systems have taken a ‘one size fits all’ approach. As a sector, it is time to act.  We often celebrate the diversity of our customers, but these reports highlight how much more we can do. We should be doing more research to understand the racial inequalities in society, we should be ensuring that women, children, BAME and LGBTQ+ people experiencing homelessness are offered the nuanced support they might need and we should be working to influence government to create a housing system that works for everyone.

‘Everyone In’ – a watershed moment, but will the outcomes be squandered?

This article was first published by Inside Housing in October 2021

Unsurprisingly, there were a smaller number of reports than usual published over the summer break as the subject of this month’s Thinkhouse review. However, any reduction in volume was more than made up for by the quality, with some thought-provoking reports covering a range of some of the most important current housing topics.

 For me the absolute standout report is the latest briefing from Shelter, Everyone In: Where are they now? There have been a plethora of reports produced in recent months focusing on the pandemic and its impact on social and housing policy, particularly in areas such as street homelessness. Despite the volume of commentary on the subject matter, this report still stands out – its brilliantly written and set out, supported by great insight and analysis, powerfully gets to the heart of the issue and also sets out some clear, cogent recommendations for what needs to happen next.

In housing we are often faced with what seem like completely intractable issues which all too easily get put in the ‘too difficult to fix’ box. However, as the first line of the Shelter report so powerfully states, the ‘Everyone In’ initiative showed just what can be achieved with the right political will and funding. It describes what happened during the first lockdown as a ‘watershed moment’ but is also rightly cautions on the risk of squandering the opportunity to end rough sleeping for good. How to avoid that is the focus of this report.

The headline Government figures from the pandemic indicate 37,000 people were helped under ‘Everyone In’ with 26,000 of them supported into longer term accommodation. However, this report uses data analysis of Freedom of Information requests to suggest that in reality only 1 in 4 of those helped have actually managed to move into settled accommodation – just 8,600 people.

The report sets out a clear five step roadmap to end rough sleeping – Protect, Prevent, Build, Involve and Support. These are each backed with a number of practical recommendations, 12 in total, which like the rest of the report are clear, well argued and unambiguous. They begin with an important reminder that the pandemic is not over and the importance of putting in place measures ahead of this winter and another wave of the virus. They include a call for clearer guidance for and funding of LA’s, a plea to lift the freeze on LHA and abolish the household benefit cap, a call for investment in new social housing and continued funding of the Housing First pilots. These deliver permanent affordable homes rather than two-year transitional tenancies which leave people with a sense of continued insecurity. The ‘Involve’ element of the roadmap particularly resonated as it argues the importance of the involvement of people with a lived experience of homelessness in shaping approaches – a point which goes beyond homelessness into improving all areas of housing policy and practise.

Finally, perhaps the most impactful section of all in the report is the appendix which includes individual case studies reported by Shelter’s advisors during the first lockdown describing the myriad challenges experienced by some of the most vulnerable people facing homelessness during the pandemic.

The theme of homelessness also features heavily in another of this month’s reports,  Overview of Housing Exclusion in Europe 2021. This is a dense report not to be read in one sitting! Nevertheless, it has some fascinating comparative information from across the European Union focusing particularly on homelessness and housing exclusion of young people. The familiarity of issues faced by our European partners is striking, both as a result of COVID but also dating back to the impact on young people following the 2008 financial crisis. An important reminder that whatever is happening politically regarding our relationship with Europe, in housing and social policy there is so much still to be gained from collaboration.

 The final report which piqued my interest was Deploying modular housing in the UK: exploring the benefits and risks for the housebuilding industry. Again, the topic isn’t a new one but I found the way this report, produced by Cambridge Centre for Housing Planning & Research, set out the opportunities and challenges was interesting and engaging. The solutions proposed included Government grants, tax breaks and policy incentives; promoting the education and training required to develop a skilled workforce, and the importance of data capture to create a strong evidence base. And finally, sharing a theme with the Shelter report, encouraging again to see a call for housebuilders and developers to do more to engage with residents as part the design process and post-occupancy review. A welcome prompt to involve those who ultimately matter the most when it comes to housing.

Well-being and the future of the private rented sector – two key themes of post-pandemic research

This article was first published by Inside Housing in September 2021

July's range of reports cover a broad range of topics but two of the key themes to emerge are the link between well-being and housing as well as a renewed focus on the place the private rental sector occupies in the future UK housing market. The latter is perhaps unsurprising after a prominent year for the homeownership market supported by the recent SDLT holiday.

The question of resident well-being has been an important part of the housing narrative in recent years but the impact of the pandemic and the increased time we have all spent at home has sharpened the focus. Starting with aging communities, the University of California's Center for Healthcare and Policy Research report on Planning Healthy Aging Communities does on the face of it have a bit of a head start in considering the promotion of well-being in spacious, sunny California. Notwithstanding this many of the concepts translate well to the UK market - particularly the acknowledgement of the importance of access to transport to support neighbourhoods with walkable amenities and community green spaces. Perhaps less commonly considered in the context of aging communities is the report's emphasis on reliance on technology - including access to 5G and electronic vehicle charging and its importance in the planning stages for these types of communities.

Two reports from Dr Jennifer Harris and Dr Kim McKee, of the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence, focus on the link between tenant well-being and the private rented sector. The first report provides an overview of key themes emerging from published research on the topic alongside views of sector experts whilst the second balances this with in-depth interviews with 53 tenants. Inevitably there is a focus on the impact the insecurity of the tenure and the increased likelihood of poor housing conditions in this sector.

Most notable in the second report is the question of capability and how housing impacts on the respondent's perception of what they can achieve. The report acknowledges that some people find that the services and flexibility associated with private renting assists their ability to achieve - but this tends to be the minority view. More prominent is the response that private sector housing conditions are perceived as a factor which holds people back in their wider life - whether driven by housing condition, lack of indoor and outdoor space or the negative connotations people associate with the sector. In the context of a growing UK private rental sector – with an emphasis on build to rent projects – these are important factors to focus on at planning stage. The report also highlights the importance of the landlord/tenant relationship as well as the role of local authorities, particularly Environmental Health Officers, in improving the outcomes people experience in living in the private rental sector. Both are factors which can be influenced by local governance supported by national policy.


Continuing to look at the growing build to rent sector, the Howsy report focuses on Single Family  Housing (SFH) and the question of its potential for increased investment from Build to Rent investors. The report acknowledges that the early growth of the Build to Rent sector has been primarily focused on city centre apartments. The UK housing market however is primarily made up of houses – currently only 14.8% of the UK live in flats – compared to a 46% average in EU member states. As a nation we have a clear preference for houses, and this is reflected in the newbuild housing market. The impact of the pandemic has also placed an emphasis on space and increased home working which is likely to support this trend continuing.

The report is interesting in its analysis of the existing focus of the Build to Rent sector and how this could be adapted for SFH - both from an investment and a management perspective – to promote more interest in building houses for rent. The BTR sector has developed increasingly sophisticated approaches to enhancing apartment living but these will need to be adapted for a more disperse housing model.

To some extent the acknowledgement that the SFH model will sit alongside open market housing in new developments has parallels with the affordable housing market - and some of the management policies (such as maintenance provision) will be very similar. Creating a different perception and brand for SFH will therefore be a key challenge for the sector. The potential for increased ESG investment opportunities and opportunity to increase use of MMC alongside a focus in carbon neutrality may help to promote interest in this part of the BTR sector.

The natural progression of the SFH model may also see a focus on an older age group - as renting grows in importance for the UK market. Perhaps this provides a timely opportunity for the sector to create a new approach to older persons housing with an emphasis on well-being factors to support a more appealing private rented sector for this group.

The Autumn White Paper must enforce real change for private rented sector tenants

This article was first published by Inside Housing in August 2021

The Private Renter Sector has grown to 4.4 million households and represents 19% of all households in England (2019/20). As well as its growth we see it diversifying with different households including families with children. But with rents rising faster than inflation, over 2 million families in the PRS fall under rental stress. Those renting on a low income face many difficulties, and at a time when we are expected to stay at home more than ever before, we must ensure the system is reformed.


Throughout June, six reports were uploaded onto the Thinkhouse website for review. They covered several topics from the overall decrease in housing supply since 1979, through the definition of ‘adequate housing’ and the need to improve data, to exploring how a place-based approach, already favoured by public and social investors, can be extended to institutional investors to provide the funding required to achieve affordable housing targets in England .


Two reports recently submitted to Thinkhouse focused on the Private Rented Sector (PRS). The first published by the House of Commons Library: Housing conditions in the private rented sector (England), and identifies the issues of the legal framework for the housing standards in the PRS. The second: Renting during the covid-19 pandemic in Great Britain: the experiences of private tenants, published by the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE), provides current examples of the difficulties and their impact on tenants.

The report from CaCHE explored the reasons for negative renting  experiences for private tenants. These include widespread poor property conditions, unprofessional tenant/landlord relationships, unaffordability, and tenancy insecurities. While this is not new news, the scale of these problems is not recognised by current policy and some aspects are not measured, such as the quality of furnishings. The paper demonstrates the extent of the issues had by tenants and the significant toll poor housing conditions has on wellbeing. The worst accounts are distressing to read and include un-usable stoves, kitchen sinks and showers; illegal foam titles; extreme damp and black mould, and a serious rat and mouse infestation. All with many failed attempts to get help from their landlords.

The CaCHE report finds the impact of Covid-19 has compounded these difficulties; disproportionately affected historically disadvantaged groups, widened existing housing inequalities, and deepened existing vulnerabilities.  Less than half of respondents considered their property and its location to be suitable for the stay-home demands of the last year. Issues of lack of space and noise intensified with everyone spending more time at home.

With 88% of social rented properties meeting the Decent Homes Standard why are 1.2 million private tenants living in sub-par conditions?

While high rents and poor conditions in the PRS may not be surprising, one finding consistent across the two reports was the power imbalance between landlords and tenants. Despite recent reforms such as The Homes Fitness for Human Habitation Act 2018 that suggest regulation for protection of tenants is increasing, the reality of chronic insecurity, combined with a shortage of housing options, means the power balance is far in favour of landlords. Tenants are unwilling to pursue a complaint against their landlord for fear of retaliatory eviction or a rent rise. However, the regulatory system relies on tenants taking action against their landlord by reporting poor conditions to their local authority or seeking redress through the courts. Both reports also noted that social suffering - the perception of current and future housing difficulties that impact on wellbeing, is not considered within policy, so landlords are absolved from the true impact of their treatment of tenants.

Change is happening, albeit slowly. Government has acted through its commitment to abolish Section 21 of the housing act to protect tenants from no fault evictions, and to introduce a ‘Renter’s Reform Bill’ to strengthen protections for tenants in the PRS. To date, the Bill has not been introduced, but in March 2021 it was confirmed it will be brought forward once the urgencies of the pandemic have passed.

Another issue examined in the House of Commons Library report is the confusing legislation which is unable to be upheld by local authorities as is intended. Although local authorities are empowered to tackle poor property conditions and management standards, the levels of enforcement are low and inconsistent. The Housing, Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) is being reviewed due to wide criticism for being overly complex and therefore difficult for landlords and tenants to understand. Local authorities have insufficient resources to undertake enforcement activity. In fact, 89% of local authorities reported they had not used the new powers and 53% did not have a policy in place.  Furthermore, where local authorities are enforcing the HHSRS, the risk assessed approach without prescribed minimum standards, means much is left to the interpretations of individual assessors. Local authorities need better data with a national registration system of all landlords, and adequate funding to develop appropriate responses to the challenging nature and context of the PRS.

The Queen’s speech 2021 confirmed the Government will bring forward reforms to drive improvements in standards in the PRS, including ensuring all tenants have a right to redress, and well targeted, effective enforcement. As the Private Rented Sector continues to grow rapidly and support the government to provide solutions to homelessness and local housing need, the risks are high if these issues go unresolved. The White Paper in the autumn has a lot to address.

Written by Jennifer Rolison, Group Marketing Manager at Aquila Services Group, parent company to Altair Ltd, providing high quality, creative solutions to the varied and dynamic challenges facing organisations in housing and regeneration.

Home Truths

This article was first published by Inside Housing in July 2021

A year ago I wrote an equivalent piece from recent Thinkhouse publications and one of the papers featured was by Paul Cheshire. This year I focus on one new paper only and it is also by Paul Cheshire, on this occasion co-authored with his colleague at LSE, Christian Hilber. The paper, Home Truths: Options for reforming residential property taxes in England, is published by Bright Blue and is part of their project on tax reform. This is a thought-provoking piece that explores radical but feasible property tax reform that meets important economic and political criteria. Moreover, proposals of this type could make a progressive difference to taxation, to local government fiscal autonomy and to the housing market.

Their key focus is to reform council tax and stamp duty land tax in England. Problems with both taxes are widely known and clearly set out. They pull together a set of familiar and relevant criteria by which to judge potential tax reforms. This includes criteria such as efficiency, simplicity, equity and automatic stabilization, as well as political imperatives such as public acceptability, the need to transition over time from one set of arrangements to the proposed reforms, and fit with wider government objectives (e.g. carbon reduction targets).

They conclude that the best option is to create a combined tax that will replace the two existing taxes. The combined tax would be a recurring annual proportional property tax and set its rate as a percentage of (an annually revalued) capital value. The levy charged would be a combination of a national tax replacing the revenue raised by stamp duty as well as a locally raised tax which would be instead of council tax. Local government would be entirely free without penalty to set its own locally set tax. The local tax funds local services with grant-in-aid paying for national services delivered locally.

Cheshire and Hilber, drawing on 2019 data for England, argue that a revenue neutral two part tax would amount on average to 0.62% of current capital values (they would add 25% of this to second homes i.e 0.77%). The 0.62% average is composed of 0.11% as national tax replacing SDLT and 0.51% for local council tax. Their approach also includes a tax exemption for low value properties (£50,000) and a green offset where the tax rate faced would vary according to the energy efficiency rating of the home. The authors conduct a set of sensitivity tests around these principles to generate a sense of the distributional and other implications of the shift (which would transition over five years).

Further features of the paper worth investigating are, first, the debate the authors have concerning whether or not to choose a proportional property tax based on the value of property including land, or to work instead with the economists’ favourite tax, a land value tax on unimproved land valued at its best current use. In the end they come down in favour of the former. There are obviously efficiencies in collection of doing both of these together. There is also, second, an interesting trade-off between the welfare enhancing, market failure correcting, benefits of the green offset against the likely regressive nature of such an offset. Could the benefit/tax system help lessen these green transitional justice problems?

I generally find much to support in this paper’s argument and use of evidence. However, the final choice in part turns on the view that public perceptions are less supportive of the land value tax compared to property tax. Perhaps as other authors have suggested (e.g. the Canadian expert, Enid Slack), that this is also a matter about education and persuasion using evidence from elsewhere and the downside of continuing with the status quo.

The authors have an additional focus, important in its own right, proposing replacing Section 106 planning agreements and the Community Infrastructure Levy with a flat rate development charge (20%)  used to fund infrastructure and new social housing. This is a matter close to the authors’ longstanding housing supply concerns, and is of course very topical. But it's a different and narrower focus compared with the broader taxation of the entire housing stock and local government finance.

I also was not clear about their local tax social security solution. This is not discussed in the report but is clearly an important affordability issue for low-income households and one that is currently rather off the radar in the wider debate. The benefit system, be it locally or nationally organised, would need to change in the light of the proposed tax reforms.  I also thought that the paper might have benefited from cross reference to the 2015 Scottish commission on local tax reform which looked hard at many of the council tax reform issues discussed by Cheshire and Hilber.

That the paper is published by Bright Blue does seem to be a progressive step forward in the debate about reform of both council tax and stamp duty. It's a paper well worth reading and reflecting on, even if you don't agree with all of the elements or conclusions within it.

The UK housing crisis: could the Church have a key role in its resolution?

In our last blog for the NHF, my Thinkhouse colleague, Francesca Albanese, looked at how a long-term plan for resolving the UK’s homelessness crisis – including the ‘hidden homeless’ in temporary accommodation – must be part of the UK Government’s post-pandemic recovery strategy.

This blog will focus on a small handful of the 36 reports we have reviewed here at Thinkhouse this quarter, and expands further on the theme Francesca started in the last blog – namely the needs of our rapidly-ageing demographics, and the role of the Church of England.  Yes, I did just write The Church of England - for they are an oft-forgotten key player in the UK property market, owning 200,000 acres of land assets across 42 Dioceses in England, and being an active ongoing stakeholder in 25% of primary schools and over 200 secondary schools right across the country. 

The panel has had a number of high-quality reports looking at how prepared the UK is for the housing needs of an ageing population.  A lot of focus to date has been on downsizing of property, but making existing homes fit and ready to meet the needs of an ageing population is an equally-important part of the nation’s preparedness to the coming change of demographics.  The “Housing Care Grey Paper” by the Association of Retirement Community Operators’ Housing is one of the reports we evaluated in depth.  Each chapter of this report is authored by a different expert in this field, with topics ranging from the key design and financing principles for asset-rich and income-poor pensioners; the need for a government-led ‘housing and care’ taskforce to expand the options and learn from other countries would help capture these elements; and the need to review the pension system model to ensure that savings are provided and can be utilised to give comfort in older age.  The report concludes with 5 key steps towards good-quality older people’s housing:


1)            better planning (‘lifetime neighbourhoods’)

2)            national design standards

3)            investments (a range of personal finance options)

4)            consumer confidence (relevant enforceable standards); and

5)            better advice and information

The Centre for Ageing Better’s short report, ”Getting our Homes in Order” looks specifically at the quality of the homes lived in by the over-55s.  It argues that the very poor situation of many of this demographics’ homes, and the associated long-term health impacts (£513m to the NHS over five years) could be prevented by simple repairs and adaptations; higher standards of regulation on rented properties; and improved access to government grants and quality-assured information and advice.  No rocket science in terms of policy, but all needing a willingness and resourcing from central Government.

The last report on this topic, by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Housing and Care for Older People , looks specifically at the needs of housing for older citizens with dementia.  The vast majority of people living with dementia do not live in purpose-designed housing.  The report sets out the impact of dementia on not just the person living with the condition, but all of those around them with a caring role eg. partners, children, other relatives, friends, etc.  But the report importantly also highlights the situation for those who live alone, and have no family or friends to help them, either in situ or nearby.  It sets out the 20 key issues for older people living with dementia, and argues for the increasingly urgent need within UK government, and society as a whole, for “a dementia-inclusive approach”.

Thinkhouse also took an in-depth look at what we felt was a must-read report, “Coming Home: tackling the crisis together”, by The Commission of the Archbishops of York and Canterbury on Housing, Church and Community.  This is a highly-detailed but inspirational report, setting out the Church of England’s role as a stakeholder in the UK real estate market, and a bold, ground-breaking vision for the Church to mobilise its real estate assets to play their part in solving the current UK housing market crisis.  The report is surprisingly frank and blunt about the current UK housing system: real estate prices are over-inflated and need a managed phased reduction; building standards are “deeply-flawed”, leading to “homes  built to the lowest standards... where cost-cutting is rife”; the UK social security system “fails to provide adequate housing support for a large number of low-income households”.   It berates the ongoing short-termism within UK Government, saying “Simply building more homes without regard to whether people can afford them will not solve the housing crisis”.  It calls for a coherent and sustainable 20-year cross-party strategy that responds to those in greatest need’; and calls for reform of private rental sector legislation to provide long-term tenure security, with an explicit duty of care on landlords.  It concludes that the current housing crisis in the UK is “neither accidental or inevitable”, and that there is an urgent need for every stakeholder – including itself, and interestingly, existing homeowners – to show a willingness to share the costs if resolving this crisis together. 

In considering all of these highlighted reports, along with the longstanding Christian tradition of almshouses, it struck me that the Church of England could do well to look at some of the relatively simple interventions for older-age housing recommended above as a first step to achieving their aims.

This blog is a small snapshot of all of the excellent report the Thinkhouse Editorial Panel reviewed in the first quarter of 2021 – please do go to the Thinkhouse website to check out the many others.

Facing up to reality; the Shared Ownership Market Review 2020, Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing

This article was first published by Inside Housing in June 2021

Shared ownership has been an established part of housing provision in England since the 1980s. But despite its longevity, albeit with endless tinkering by government, it is still frustratingly difficult to get both an up to date and comprehensive view of how this sub-market is performing. Part of the reason for this is the fragmentation of data collection and reporting across a spectrum of agencies but it is also a consequence of the sales and marketing domination of housing association provider input which focusses on new activity rather than longer term trends and insight. 

In that regard we should give a warm but to a degree qualified welcome to the recent MTVH publication  - SO market review 2020. This report effectively consists of an opening summary report which then draws upon two more detailed appended reports – first in Appendix 1 a data led review undertaken by RSM looking at trends in the SO market and second in Appendix 2 a qualitative report based on 14 interviews with providers/lenders/others undertaken by Gemma Burgess, at CCHPR in Cambridge.

Inevitably the report treads carefully around some of the more sensitive issues but overall it does try to highlight both the strengths and the weaknesses of SO and crucially it brings it together in one document and with supporting evidence. A number of highlights emerge including the fact that 85% of recent purchasers are households without children, most homes are one or two bed (72%) and 36% of new provision is by private registered providers. Staircasing is covered briefly with clear evidence the rate is coming down – from 3.55% in 12/13 to 2.5% in 18/19 – this is further split out in tables in the appendix into full/partial  (former over 80%) and by region (highest in London).  Arrears have risen sharply  recently. In terms of sales some 37% of sales in 17/18 were resales. Inevitably much of the data raises questions as well as providing answers, not least as only 24 providers were surveyed and not all answered every question. 

The second appended report on views of the sector also provides some insight not least into the recognition by some respondents that there were weaknesses in the current arrangements. The discussion of the government’s proposals also highlighted concerns about the possible impacts of lower shares on this market as well as the possible tensions that might exist between SO and the still not fully specified First Homes scheme. Demand for SO was seen as strong but clearly there were “headwinds”.  The appended Law Commission submission reflects of some of the areas where that body thinks improvements can be made.

Recently the NHF published its own estimates of the size of the SO sector in England: offering up data for 2018/19: 186,289 current shared owners plus a further 134,458 homes where the owners had staircased out giving a grand total of 320,747 over its 40 plus years life. What this shows is that SO is still a small sector even though it has been an ever present in terms of policy support.

Launched in an era of high inflation it is evident that wages have not kept pace with the rise in house prices and while this increases the demand for shared ownership it does mean that it becomes ever harder to staircase out ( and conversely that providers continue to make good even excessive returns on their unsold shares).

As the website Shared Ownership Resources ( makes clear (as indeed does the MTVH report) shared owners are often disappointed by the experience of SO. Some suggest it is “oversold” and the realities of 100% repairing obligations, the seemingly reducing capacity to staircase out and of course the recent problems of cladding removal and costs have meant that reality is for some is distant from the “dream”.  Providers are aware of these tensions  and the need to address them but are stymied by their own commercial interests. With a reliance on the cross subsidy model to help subsidise development, providers are naturally reluctant to consider anything that erodes current profitability and given demand exceeds supply - why change?  

The fact that there is quite a high level of dissatisfaction amongst shared owners (perhaps up to 40%) and that more are finding they cannot staircase out of what overtime may become homes very unsuited to their current needs. Add cladding issues to the mix plus rents which are high relative to equivalent mortgage costs does suggest that further reform is necessary. Sadly effort to reform SO for example, by the G15 group, ultimately failed no consensus could be found.

As it stands with both First Homes and planning reform on the horizon that will challenge SO and with mortgage guarantees in place to open up the high LTV market as well it is possible we will see an erosion of the SO market at the very time when it should be improved and expanded. The government’s proposed reforms primarily focus on access issues when really the debate should now be shifting to sustainability and re-instating SO as a real rung on the ladder. Surely now is the right time for a proper review and debate. MTVH have made a valuable first step but it shouldn’t stop there. 

The Thinkhouse Review: Are we ready? Safe and suitable homes for our ageing population

This article was first published by Inside Housing in May 2021

During March, fourteen reports were placed onto the Thinkhouse website.  Our collection criterion (research pieces, policy publications and case studies that propose ways to increase the amount and quality of the UK's housing stock and the related economic, social and community benefits of doing this) allows us to highlight reports that cover a range of housing related issues.  This month this includes homelessness, urban design, planning, tenants’ aspirations and demographics. 

I have decided to focus on three reports that look at housing for older people.  Whilst much focus is made on the importance of downsizing in terms of releasing housing capacity there can be less focus on whether our existing housing is fit and ready to meet the needs of an ageing population. These three reports provide some hugely useful insights.

ARCO’s (Associated Retirement Community Operators) Housing with Care Grey Paper is a report from a trade association but provides some valuable policy insights.  It is widely understood that housing with care settings (combining independent living with onsite care and support) has a role to play in the future of care and support for older people – so hearing what sector professionals have to say on the subject is valuable.   It also includes chapters written from the policy makers’ perspective.  Among those writing are Nick Sanderson (Audley Villages) and Jane Ashcroft (Anchor Hanover) who highlight the benefits of and argue for the adoption of new solutions to housing older people. Professor Les Mayhaw develops this by looking at the key design and financing principles for asset rich and income poor pensioners.  Lord Foulkes’ call for a government-led Housing and Care Task Force to expand the options and learn from other countries would help capture these elements.   Damian Green MP suggests we look at a model of the pension system to ensure that savings are provided and can be utilised to give comfort in old age.  It will take time for these benefits to arrive, but they could be transforming. Dr Lisa Cameron MP rightly highlights the need to pay care workers better and creating parity for social care with the NHS.  Jeremy Porteus (Housing LIN) concludes by setting out five key steps towards good quality older people’s housing: better planning (‘lifetime neighbourhoods’), national design standards, investments (a range of personal finance options), consumer confidence (relevant enforceable standards) and better advice and information.


The Centre For Ageing Better’s short report, Getting our Homes in Order,  into the quality of the homes lived in by someone over the age of 55 is scathing in its description of the damp, cold, inaccessibility or physical disrepair suffered by many older people.  This has a huge impact on long-term health conditions of those living in such homes and the demands on the NHS (which they cost at £513m over five years).  The report argues that much of this could be prevented by simple repairs and adaptations.   Tenure affects people’s options around making home improvements. Renters can feel unable to carry out necessary repairs.  The report recommends timely access to government grants and quality assured information and advice.  Importantly it calls for regulation to make properties safe and liveable.

Finally the All Parliamentary Group on Housing and Care for Older People’s report covers Housing for people with dementia and asks “Are we ready?”  It sets out to explore the policy changes needed to help people live as well as possible with dementia in their own homes.  The majority of adults living with dementia do not live in purpose-designed housing. Dementia affects both the person living with dementia and people who are undertaking a caring role such as a spouse or partner, son or daughter, friend or other relative. While many people live with carers, a growing percentage of people live alone. The health and wellbeing of both the person living with dementia and their carers is important. The relationships that people with dementia have are as diverse as the people themselves, some may have no carers in any formal sense and others may have a network of people that they draw upon at different times. Twenty key issues are set out covering access to the best advice and support, including advice on how to adapt their environment to live as well as possible or to identify accommodation and services that better meet their specific needs. With the prevalence of dementia on the rise in the UK the report argues that this can be done now if we all adopt a dementia inclusive approach.

Readers of these three reports can be left in little doubt that more should be done to adapt our housing stock to meet the national need to provide safe and suitable homes for our ageing population.  Almost all the recommendations are cost effective and will undoubtedly have huge benefits.  I echo the call for a government led Housing and Care Task Force to capture these elements and I hope readers of this piece will do so as well.

The Thinkhouse Review: tackling the housing crisis

This article was first published by Inside Housing in April 2021

This month, the Thinkhouse editorial team has reviewed 12 reports from across the UK.  But in a change from my usual practice, this article will focus on just one report, which absolutely stood out for me.

The stand-out report is that by the Commission of the Archbishops of York and Canterbury on Housing, Church and Community, entitled Coming Home: tackling the crisis together”.  This is an immensely-detailed but inspirational read, drawn from engagement and research not just within the Church’s own communities, but with over 100 housing market stakeholders, as illustrated by the independent ‘thinkpieces’ from key housing industry players woven throughout the narrative.  Whilst obviously coming from a distinctly Christian perspective, it sets out a clear ground-breaking vision, with many elements which can inspire and be adopted by all other housing market stakeholders.

Not only is this report a bold statement of aspiration, it is surprisingly frank in its views.  It calls the current system of Building Control and Building Standards in the UK “deeply-flawed”, with a “culture focused on price”, where “homes are generally built to the lowest standards and cost-cutting is rife”.  It criticises the lack of progress on climate change and decarbonisation in the past 5 years, citing the lack of coordination in current UK Government and lack of strong enforced standards (eg. EPC ratings for new homes, only 1% of which at present are ‘zero-carbon’).  It berates the ongoing short-termism and policy mis-steps within UK Government: “Simply building more homes without regard to whether people can afford them will not solve the housing crisis” it asserts, and instead calls for a ‘coherent and sustainable 20-year cross-party strategy that responds to those in greatest need’. 

It is also remarkably blunt in its conclusions: the current UK housing crisis is neither accidental or inevitable, driven at its heart by a “lack of truly affordable housing”, and that there must be “a willingness to share the costs” of solving this crisis by EVERY actor in the housing market – public and private landowners, Government, investors, developers, contractors and, interestingly, existing homeowners. 

From Government it calls immediately for:-

  • a substantial increase in capital investment to create truly affordable housing, with restoration of LHAs to at least local median levels
  • a phased reduction in the price of land
  • reform of the UK social security system, which at present “fails to provide adequate housing support for a large number of low-income households
  • reform of private rental sector legislation to provide long-term tenure security, with an explicit duty of care on landlords
  • improvements in temporary housing; and
  • 100% funding for the immediate removal of all unsafe residential cladding (as used in Grenfell Tower)

But what I like so much about this report is that it is not simply a critique of a failed system.  It acknowledges the Church of England’s duty and potential role in housing the nation, and substantiates this with a set of innovative and detailed commitments.

Firstly, the Church recognises that it has a truly unique position, which it can use to respond ‘creatively’ to the specific housing challenges of the community of which they are a part, and to become a champion and role-model for all other landowners to follow suit.  It collectively owns 200,000 acres of land assets across 42 Dioceses in England, and is an active ongoing stakeholder in all communities in England, including in 25% of primary schools and over 200 secondary schools.  This report sets out how it will use those 200,000 acres of land assets to create homes which meet 5 ‘Core Values’ which it has identified all homes should attain, namely that they are Safe; Secure; Sustainable; Sociable; and Satisfying.  In addition the report includes a detailed framework for translating these 5 Core Values into action, including key performance criteria and references, which it states can be adopted by other housing market players.  To lead by example, the report states that the Church proposes to immediately pivot to proactively favouring development on its assets which align with these core values.  Professional advisors have also been appointed to undertake a strategic review of how this can be best achieved in the longer-term.

To prepare for this the Church of England Commissioners have signed the Financial reporting Council’s ‘2020 UK Stewardship Code’.  This incorporates two sets of 'apply and explain' principles – one for asset managers & owners, and the other for service providers - based around Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues to create the highest standards of stewardship – which is defined as “the responsible allocation, management and oversight of capital to create long-term value for clients and beneficiaries leading to sustainable benefits for the economy, the environment and society”. 

In order to implement this proposal the most critical change required is in the Church’s existing legal framework, The 2011 Charities Act.  The report details a proposal to add a new ‘Social Disposal Power’, which will allow the Church to sell assets for environmental and social benefits, not just economic as at present.  A White Paper recommending this legislation is to be put to the General Synod in 2021, and if passed, then will be put to Parliament.

These strategic actions are augmented by ‘frontline service’ changes within the Church.  The report commits to establishing a new Chaplaincy for Housing; to training Clergy and lay activists in housing-related matters to facilitate a greater involvement in local tenancy & community housing groups; and to enact a shift in focus from crisis intervention to ‘prevention activity’.


In conclusion, this report is one of the most thoughtful yet bold and robust pieces of work I’ve read in a long time.  My personal experience of working with faith institutions – notably the Anglican and Catholic Dioceses of Liverpool on the rejuvenation of the iconic Hope Street – was that they were truly committed partners, who played a key role in mediating diverse stakeholder opinions.  I therefore have no doubt that they can become the exemplar housing market actor.  Let’s hope they can inspire other stakeholders to raise their game by as much.

The Thinkhouse Review: the private rented sector

This article was first published by Inside Housing in March 2021

With around one in five households now making a home in the private rented sector, three new reports selected for this month’s Thinkhouse review of the latest housing research offer insights into the experience of different households over the last year, and present options for change.

A team led by Dr. Kim McKee of the University of Stirling has reviewed the evidence on Making a House a Home in the Private Rented Sector.  Their report acknowledges that what we mean by home is – naturally – subjective, but finds that existing evidence suggests three key elements that can turn a place into a home. These elements are:

  • A comfortable space that is a haven from stress
  • A place to socialise and a source of social status
  • Somewhere that offers autonomy and independence.


Kim and her team focus on ways in which landlords and letting agents can help their tenants create a home. They find that the way in which landlords and their agents manage property condition, the way they select their tenants, and the way they interact with tenants can all have an important impact on tenants’ ability to make a home. The report’s focus on practice is a useful reminder that change doesn’t just come from policy, and of course that sustaining successful tenancies is a win-win for tenant and landlord.

There’s another look at current practice in Who lives in build to rent? a new analysis of the growing number of homes in London that have been built especially for private renting. This publication comes from the British Property Federation, London First and the UK Apartment Association, and is an interesting look at a growing part of the private rented sector that we (so far) know too little about. While the publishers have a particular perspective, the analysis sets out examples of Build to Rent schemes that offer many of the features Dr. McKee’s research identifies as the elements that turn a place into a home. Residents quoted say they felt ‘comfortable’ and ‘lucky’ to be living in Build to Rent during lockdown. While the resident lounges and gyms provided on-site may not have had heavy use, the report notes that property managers had tried to provide social connection through online forums and socially distanced exercise classes. Social status might be derived from having a concierge ‘who knows your name’, and autonomy and independence is also on offer, with ‘family-friendly long-term tenancies’ and ‘predictable rents’.

Such marketing claims are difficult to verify, but it’s clear this is being pitched as a high-quality product that challenges perceptions of private renting. What I was less convinced about was the claims in the report that this tenure is ‘providing housing for all’ – the analysis shows that 94% of residents are in work, and the majority are earning over £32,000. 

That’s a far cry from the families featured in the third report I want to highlight. Jenny Pennington and Hannah Rich of Shelter have conducted an analysis of those who spent lockdown in temporary accommodation. This included speaking to 20 households, who shared their lived experience of being in temporary accommodation during a pandemic.  Shelter’s findings are stark. Over 250,000 people spent the first stages of the pandemic in temporary accommodation in England, and while not all of this accommodation would be classed as private rented, the vast majority is owned, or owned and managed, by private providers.

The three elements of home were in scarce supply for these families.  Far from being a comfortable space offering a haven from stress, residents reflected on their ‘intense fear’ and told how life in temporary accommodation during a pandemic had affected their mental wellbeing. Social status was in short supply - residents said that they had felt ‘reclusive’ and that their life could only really begin once they had ‘a proper home’. Autonomy and independence weren’t on offer – people told the researchers about feeling their life was on hold while they wondered whether they would move or not – ‘there’s no deadline, there’s no time limits. You don’t know how long you’re going to be there’.

Shelter’s report offers a range of sensible policy solutions: more social housing, a realistic local housing allowance without an arbitrary household benefit cap; and bringing temporary accommodation within the purview of the Regulator of Social Housing.

Reading all three reports, it would be difficult not to reflect on the gulf in experience between households living in high-quality build-to-rent developments and people who’ve spent lockdown in temporary accommodation.  It made me reflect that if we could combine security of tenure with the Shelter recommendations on a local housing allowance fit for the future, and the innovation shown by private capital in the build-to-rent report, we might just be able to create a private rented sector that enables people living on a low income to enjoy the elements that make a place a home. That really would be a win-win.

The Thinkhouse Review: Prevention, housing and the right support – turning the tide on rough sleeping

This article was first published by Inside Housing in February 2021

Since the pandemic started we have seen huge efforts directed at tackling rough sleeping to ensure people are not only safe but they can self-isolate and protect themselves and others. Earlier in the month there was a renewed statement from the Westminster government to get ‘Everyone In’ as temperatures have plummeted and the new strain of the virus has increased the risk for anyone who was forced on to the streets or unable to self-isolate because of where they were living.

This month’s Thinkhouse review reports mainly focus on rough sleeping and the solutions that can end it for good.

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government report on ‘Understanding the Multiple Vulnerabilities, Support Needs and Experiences of People who Sleep Rough in England’ draws on survey data from 563 people who have experienced rough sleeping in the last year. It is a rich data set that can help us understand more about the lives of people forced to sleep on our streets, but more importantly provide evidence to better design and improve services and solutions to stop it happening in the first place.

The profile of people who were surveyed for the report shows that many had experienced other forms of homelessness before sleeping rough – 77% had stayed in some form of short term homeless accommodation such as hostels and night shelters and nearly half (48%) had been sofa surfing. This chimes with other evidence that rough sleeping is often not the first experience of homelessness for many, and further supports calls that much more can be done in policy terms to prevent rough sleeping and ensure homelessness is rare, brief and non-recurrent.

The research also identifies childhood and early adult experiences that were common among respondents. Around a third of people had developed a mental health need before the age of 16 and this increased to over 6 in 10 by the age of 25 or under. Nearly half of the respondents reported sleeping rough by the time they were aged 25. Quite far from the assumptions many people make that street homelessness is only experienced by older men. Three quarters of people reported both a physical and mental health need, and alongside over half of respondents also having a substance misuse, this is further evidence to make a case for more permanent housing and support to bring rough sleeping numbers down.

One of the most effective and evidenced solutions to end rough sleeping and homelessness for people facing multiple challenges is Housing First. Homeless Link’s report – The Picture of Housing First in England 2020 – provides more detail on the profile in England. The report is an update of research conducted in 2017 and has found an almost six-fold increase in the capacity of Housing First services across the England since then. Whilst supporting 1,995 people in Housing First services is still a long way from the 16,450 we need to at least address current need, the research shows much progress has been made.

The report highlights some positive changes in the provision of Housing First services in the last three years. More services are using social housing (81% compared to 61% in 2017), and six Housing First services work with women only.

Some things haven’t moved on. Funding is still reported to be short term which raises challenges in retaining staff and for providers to adhere to Housing First principles, which is built on the philosophy that flexible support is provided for as long as it’s needed. There is still a reliance on funding from the Rough Sleepers Initiative (RSI) which is only confirmed for a year at a time and only 15% of services are funded by adult social care or public health. Given the profile of needs for people accessing Housing First there is still some but not insurmountable way to go before it is integrated into wider public services and used a solution to prevent homelessness. Accessing suitable accommodation was still by far the biggest challenge cited by Housing First services.

Finally, the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence’s report ‘Delivering design value: The housing design quality conundrum’ is a really thought provoking contribution to the housing supply debate. The report concludes that the design quality of new homes and neighbourhoods in the UK remains ‘stubbornly low’. The drive to meet targets on numbers, move decisions through the planning system quickly and profitability underpins why housing and neighbourhood design is currently undervalued.

Amongst wider barriers and challenges, the report looks at the role of co-designed and community led ‘bottom up’ design. Whilst the research concludes there is little of this happening it makes useful recommendations about how this can take place in the early stages of the planning process to support co-design. There is further discussion about the lack of confidence local authorities have in turning developments down on design grounds.  The housing supply debate is often dominated by the numbers game and this report by CaCHE helps widen the lens on how we can increase quality and design value as well as volume of housing stock.

The Thinkhouse review of 2020’s best #housingresearch

This article was first published by Inside Housing in January 2021

What a year! It is time to nominate the most influential housing reports of the 2020.

This year nearly 200 reports were uploaded and categorised in our web library and each one was assessed by our Editorial Panel. The panel considers the quality of the research, innovation or the breadth of analysis and whether the recommendations can be translated easily into policy or influence decision makers.

The Panel is made up of 18 members, drawn from a cross section of the housing world spanning academia and research to the not for profit and business sectors. 

The panel assessments translate into a score which we use to rank and then showcase the top scoring reports in the “must read” section on the 2020 page.  Last year we selected 12 reports.

So, here is our top five….in reverse order and why we selected them.  If you want a quick fix of the latest and most influential thinking, these are the ones you should look at.

In fifth place is a report by the Housing Solutions Platform, which is a partnership between FEANTSA (the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless), Fondation Abbé Pierre and Housing Europe. Their wonderfully wide-ranging report that is a true compendium of housing innovation 50 out-of-the-box Housing Solutions to Homelessness & Housing Exclusion was published in January 2020.  The 50 projects focus on providing decent and affordable housing to those affected by or at risk of homelessness. The projects use many different means including innovative construction, making use of the private rental sector, social housing, integrated approaches and more. The innovative housing solutions selected also provide ways to overcome financial and political barriers within European housing systems. Some projects can be debated or contested. But none of them is intended to represent a silver bullet that would solve the housing crisis. All represent ad hoc, local, sometimes very small-scale efforts to fill the gap left by existing housing systems.


In fourth place is Making Land Deliver by Network Homes and authored by Reuban Young, who first came to our attention with his 2019 submission to our Early Career Researchers Prize.  This was reviewed by Anya Martin for our July 2020 inside housing blog who said that the report highlights the poor incentives developers and landowners face, encouraging speculative behaviour at the expense of affordable housing contributions. It proposes some practical measures to take pointless negotiations out of the process by replacing developer contributions with a flat rate tax, which local authorities can use to buy homes at a pre-arranged price on-site, or spend elsewhere. It provides welcome recognition of how systemic incentives determine behaviours and how they can be improved, away from simplistic explanations of market baddies.


In third place is Making Housing Affordable Again: Rebalancing the Nation’s Housing System by the Affordable Housing Commission, published in the Spring. At 262 pages long it was one of the most comprehensive the Panel assessed in 2020. Its main conclusion was that the reason so many households were struggling with disproportionate housing costs was the switch into the private rented sector from both social renting and from home ownership.  This sector has more than doubled in size in less than twenty years.  It generally offers less security and significantly higher rents; and the obstacles for potential first-time buyers have also confined more of them to private renting where they too face less security and, over a lifetime, greater cost.

Our runner-up is a perennial favourite of the Editorial Panel. The UK Housing Review 2020 published in March by the Chartered Institute of Housing.  Unlike almost all the other reports on our site this is published behind a pay wall.  Much of the content is available to download from this link however. Our Editorial Panel felt that the data and analysis within this document is so fundamental to our understanding of why we are not building enough homes that it merited its star billing this year.

…but in first place and the Editorial Panel’s most highly ranked report of 2020 is ….

The University of York and Cambridge House Research Publication, Journeys in the Shadow Private Rented Sector, which our Editorial Panel assessed in September.  This report was felt to brilliantly set out some of the fundamental failings of the private rental sector.  Martin Wheatley in his October blog for Inside Housing said This devastating report lays bare how highly vulnerable tenants are targeted by landlords and letting agents deliberately undertaking multiple breaches of tenancy and housing law in order to maximise their rental profit.”  The report sets out a range of recommendations for how policymakers should take urgent action to tackle the problem of people stuck in the low-income private rental sector. Three themes are highlighted. First, that law-enforcement agencies need to do more to prevent illegal evictions, making better use of existing powers within the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 and taking advantage of temporary powers available to police during the Covid-19 crisis. Second, a new regulatory framework is required to oversee the private rental sector, with a particular focus on providers of low-income tenancies. Third, that poor housing has contributed to the unacceptably low levels of progress towards equality for people of BAME origin – addressing the impact of poor quality, multi-occupancy and insecure housing is an essential part of the response to structural inequalities highlighted by the Black Lives Matter Movement. 

This was truly a report that went to the root of some of the inequalities that dominated 2020 and well deserves it place at the top of the Thinkhouse Editorial Panel reports of 2020. 

Note: for the purpose of this article we include all reports published in the twelve months to the end of November.

The UK “productivity puzzle”: how good placemaking has a role in addressing this

This blog was first published in Inside Housing in December 2020

October was another great month for submissions to the Thinkhouse editorial panel, with 24 publications us to read, digest and evaluate.  As well as the first tranche of annual reviews of 2020, there was a broad and varies range of topics covered, including:-


  • the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, with Place Alliance’s collaborative report “Home Comforts” particularly recommended as a focused and succinct snapshot of the lived experience of 2,500 people across the UK since March
  • the RTPI’s response to the recent UK Government planning White Paper “Planning For The Future
  • two great reports on re-use of brownfield land - a topic in which I have long had an active professional role, but which seems to have slipped in visibility and priority of late; and
  • a fascinating review of Northern Ireland’s “Affordable Warmth Programme 2014-2018”, by the University of Ulster, which provides a baseline methodology for social costs-benefit analysis (CBA) that could be adapted for any organisation looking to improve their Social Return on Investment (SROI) through housing stock improvement


But the publication which most grabbed my attention was that of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Building Communities.  This summarises the response to a call for evidence made in spring 2019 for the connection between placemaking and productivity, made with the support of the Association of Consultancy and Engineering (ACE), who also led evaluation and production of the final report.  As someone who practices as an urbanist and ‘placemaker’, and who has been endeavouring for a number of years now to progress a more robust and empirical justification for good placemaking to be embedded in all aspects of development but both public and private stakeholders, this was music to my ears (and eyes)!


The report starts from the factual basis that there is a 44% difference in levels of productivity in the UK between the most productive and least productive cities.  This figure is all the more stark in the context of that the UK has had an entrenched low level of productivity compared to its G7 counterparts for several decades, and the fact that the speed of this decline in productivity has got worse over the past decade - with the UK having dropped to 31st out of 35 OECD countries in productivity growth between 2008 and 2017, despite being near the top of the league table for ICT-intensive employment where productivity growth has been the strongest (


This “productivity puzzle” has confounded economists for decades, with a range of factors on both the supply-side and the demand-side being postulated as the cause.  It is interesting that a very recent survey of the UK top economists by the Centre for Economics in the autumn of 2020 found, for the first time, a consensus view on the proactive policies that the UK Government should adopt to address this productivity puzzle – which was investment in human capital and in infrastructure.  In other words, there is a growing recognition amongst economists that it is not just supply-side factors such as workforce skills and investment in R&D (in which the UK does lag behind its peers) which adversely affect productivity of a society; but an understanding that the environments in which that society lives, moves, connects and interacts plays a critical role too.  Good placemaking is fundamental in the latter.


The APPG’s call for evidence was made to a wide range of stakeholders in the public and private sector around a number of questions on the importance of infrastructure in facilitating community interaction and cohesion, and the interrelationships with policy and practice.  The full report is fact-filled but, at only 32 pages, very readable; and covers everything from planning policy, economic development, community engagement, fiscal and real estate incentives, health & wellbeing and the role of empirical macroeconomic indicators. 


The publication’s 6 key recommendations reflect this broad range of factors.  They include relatively straightforward ‘quick wins’, such as:-


  • a call for the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to have more robust ‘people-centred’ policies and requirements around the implementation and long-term management of components of good placemaking: for example access to open green space and high quality public infrastructure (or, as they are succinctly referred to in much of mainland Europe, “common goods” - a term to me which better encapsulates their role and value).  I was particularly heartened to see the concept of “stewardship” so prominent in the report - a concept that is thoroughly embedded within the approach and thinking of many of my non-UK clients, yet feels underappreciated in the UK
  • a request that ONS develop a methodology so the that the contribution of “placemaking” to GDP can be measured and monitored.  The report doesn’t touch on it, but there are good precedents and research on this that could be built upon
  • replacement of the Community Infrastructure Levy with a tax which better reflects localised infrastructure deficits and more equably reflects ‘land value uplift’ at the point of realisation, similar to the property sales levies used in the state of New York in the US
  • development of more sophisticated financial appraisal techniques for longer-term, non-linear urban regeneration than currently exist in standard templates such as the HM Treasury Green Book (another area of particular experience and interest to the author)


The report recommendations also touch on more complex, longer-term, multi-stakeholder interventions, for example a call for greater active public sector intervention in the market to reduce land-banking and ‘site flipping’, and associated land price inflation, in areas of high demand for genuinely affordable housing; and greater use of joined-up local economic strategies and joint venture vehicles to incentivise private sector to better involve local communities in urban redevelopment.


The APPG report concludes that the UK needs a significant shift in the way it thinks about and delivers urban development - and that the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has made that need all the more urgent.  Thinkhouse has already amassed a significant body of evidence on this, from a range of sources, all aligning behind this call for a major shift in approach.  The APPG report provides an comprehensive and innovative contribution to how the UK can achieve that.

The Thinkhouse Review: COVID-19 and the ‘seamy underbelly’ of UK housing

This blog was first published in Inside Housing in November 2020

One thing Covid doesn’t seem to have disrupted is the bumper autumn harvest of housing research and policy reports which tends to emerge after the summer holidays, and when authors hope the people whom they are trying to influence may be in a receptive frame of mind.  I have been lucky (or maybe unlucky) to have been assigned the review slot for the 24 reports published in September. They shed very interesting light on lots of topics about housing and its interaction with the economy and society – housing and health, development, homelessness and the implications of the pandemic for housing. Please do browse them on the website. I only have space, unfortunately, to discuss the dominating issue of coronavirus, and a couple of reports on the seamy underbelly of UK housing.

One could sum up the common theme of the coronavirus reports as “we didn’t mend the roof while the sun shone” – we didn’t address vulnerabilities in housing and other aspects of society which were well known and understood.

Starting with the direct health implications, the King’s Fund have produced a review for the Centre for Ageing Better about how sub-standard homes make the people who live in them more vulnerable to coronavirus and contribute to the increased non-coronavirus death and disease we have seen. Among the impacts considered in the report, the effect of cold and damp on respiratory health, of overcrowding on susceptibility to illness, of poorly maintained homes on the risk of accidents, and homes without light or access to outdoor space on mental health, were all known issues before the pandemic. We also knew that they aligned with factors including poverty and ethnicity which so often lead to unequal outcomes, with even more tragic consequences for those affected by coronavirus. We can only hope that, having been brought into the limelight, there is now greater determination to fix existing homes and make sure new ones promote good health.

Other reports look at the indirect and long-lasting economic impacts of the pandemic, on housing and labour markets. Shelter’s “Renters at Risk” characterises the crisis as three-fold: “a global pandemic… a resultant economic crisis .... And these crises are taking place in the midst of a long-standing housing crisis.” A society in which far too many lower income households are financially stretched by the cost of renting in the private sector is going to face severe strains if there is an economic shock which further suppresses earnings and employment.  We also knew that homelessness and joblessness are linked, in both directions.  The Centre for Homelessness Impact’s report shows how the aftermath of the pandemic is likely both to increase the risks of worklessness leading to homelessness, and make more difficult the challenge of getting homeless people into work.  The Affordable Housing Commission’s proposals for a National Housing Conversion Fund offer a good policy answer: public investment not just in new homes, but buying up existing, currently private rented homes.  The Resolution Foundation’s report on the implications for owner-occupation is, to a degree, less pessimistic, suggesting many owners have more financial resilience, though recent, younger, buyers with high loan to value mortgages are, of course, much more at risk.

Last, but not least, a couple of sobering reports on under-researched aspects of the housing market shed light on why we need stronger standards and regulation to stop vulnerable people being ripped off and abused. 

Colin Wiles has produced for the Intergenerational Foundation the first (so far as I know) serious analysis of “micro-homes”, or, as the report title describes them, “Rabbit Hutch Homes.” His report offers a powerful challenge to neo-liberal economists and breathless property journalists who have marketed homes with less floor space than a standard parking space as a “solution” to the housing crisis. As he points out, there is far too little data about this rapidly-expanding part of the housing sector. But the evidence he has pulled together indicates pretty strongly that such homes are, as he puts it, “a short-term solution that does nothing to tackle the underlying structural problems in the UK housing market.”

A partnership between south London housing justice charity Cambridge House and the University of York has taken on the incredibly difficult task of building evidence about the “shadow private rented sector.  Its devastating report lays bare how highly vulnerable tenants are targeted by criminal landlords and letting agents deliberately undertaking multiple breaches of tenancy and housing law in order to maximise their rental profit.” I defy anyone to stay calm reading its analysis of how an inadequate legal and regulatory framework, and under-resourcing and institutional indifference, enable this criminality to flourish.

Making Sense of the Evidence

This blog was first published by Inside Housing in October 2020

Housing markets are both fundamentally local but also unquestionably shaped by wider forces. In trying to decide which recent additions to the Thinkhouse library I should discuss here I opted for two different but similarly interesting studies that speak to housing market trends and outcomes, as well as trends in geographical inequality.

Writing for the Resolution Foundation, Judge and Pacitti (Housing Outlook Quarter 3) ask what previous recessions may tell us about housing market performance as we move through the emerging Covid-19 induced economic shock? This indicates that it can take a long time, as much as a decade, for real UK prices to return to previous peak levels (and specific regions will perform worse). Looking forward, the OBR present three scenarios for future house prices though clearly the actual outcome will depend on what happens to the underlying drivers of house prices and there remains considerable controversy around which drivers to focus on.

Judge and Pacitti also focus on the plight of would-be first-time buyers. They argue that future falling prices may benefit this group but they will also hampered by falling incomes. This may be offset by higher savings in recession boosting potential deposits, but  this will require that would be purchasers already had amassed significant savings before Covid-29 struck. The lending market is also sending mixed signals regarding the sorts of loans on offer but in any case, high LTV ratios may be problematic prices fall next year. Judge and Pacitti also make the interesting point that, for most purchasers, the temporary upward revision in zero rates for Stamp duty (and LBTT in Scotland) don’t really benefit most first time buyers since they were already operating at a price point in most cases already at a zero rate.

Writing for the IFS, Agraval and Phillips ask whether geographical inequality in the UK is increasing and why? They find that geographical inequality of incomes is much lower once housing costs are accounted for. Second, regional wealth inequality is increasing, also shaped strongly by housing. Third, they suggest we should look more at local rather than regional inequalities. Fourth, focusing in former industrial towns and coastal settlements, they argue that while they are poorer, they are not necessarily becoming relatively even worse off.


Agraval and Philips ask why does the perception of greater inequality outstrip the empirical reality? First, they think that, slowed inequality more recently does not overcome the longer widening in inequalities that took place in the last part of the previous century. Second, the stagnation in incomes and earnings has made inequality more apparent. Third, they suggest that other forms of inequality – health, education, housing wealth - may be more salient to people than productivity and other economic metrics.  They also think that local issues matter and are too easily missed in the aggregate analysis. All of this suggests that policies to level-up, not only need to consider Covid-19’s impact on geographical inequality but will also require a coherent understanding of the pre-existing forces that generate that inequality.

What the research says about First Homes and permitted development rights

This blog was first published in Inside Housing in September 2020

July 2020 was a bumper month for new reports – the research teams have clearly been busy during lockdown. Unsurprisingly the majority of this month's reports focus on the impact and consequences of the COVID19 pandemic and many look to predict key themes and factors as we move forward.

Inevitably the future of the housebuilding industry and the immediate impact of lockdown on demand provide clear areas of focus but there are some additional themes emerging. It is evident that many feel that recent events have highlighted the increasing inequality between homeowners and private renters as well as providing a renewed focus on the need to increase the supply of affordable housing - particularly housing for social rent.

With sixteen new reports added to the Thinkhouse repository for the month of July it is impossible to highlight more than a small selection. A good starting point is the Commons Select Committee report considering the issues arising from their inquiry into the need to increase affordable housing supply in England. The report concludes that there is compelling evidence that England needs at least 90,000 additional social rent homes a year and that now is the time for the Government to make significant investment. The report estimates that £10 billion in extra grant funding will be needed to achieve this target. The report additionally suggests that both the First Homes product and any introduction of the trailed Right to Shared Ownership should be subject to further analysis to identify their impact on the provision of other affordable tenures.

Linking into many of the themes identified in the Select Committee report, the Affordable Housing Commission (AHC) has published a supplementary report entitled 'Making Homes Affordable after COVID-19'. This report builds on the detail of the AHC's March 2020 report 'Making Housing Affordable Again' - one of the highest ranked reports assessed by the Thinkhouse editorial panel this year. The July addendum to the main report sets out a twelve point housing led recovery plan.

Highlights of the AHC proposals include a significant increase in housing investment – with a suggested return to at least 2010 grant levels. An innovative new Housing Conversion Fund is also proposed for the acquisition of unsold newbuild or unwanted PRS homes to maximise the use of existing supply. In a similar vein, an extension to Help to Buy is suggested for the purchase of second hand homes.

Again the First Homes product is flagged amid concern around its potential to dilute affordable supply. Unsurprisingly, Permitted Development Rights also come into question with the suggestion that individual Councils should have the discretion to determine how they apply in each locality. This approach is also echoed in the call to grant local discretion over the re-investment of Right to Buy receipts.

Looking at recent months from a different perspective, the Resolution Foundation report 'Lockdown Living' shines a spotlight on lockdown living conditions and the inequality experienced by different groups. The report highlights a stark difference between the young and the older generations as well as between different ethnic groups. Their research has found that the younger generation live in more cramped conditions and are significantly more likely to encounter damp. A major factor here is a widening wellbeing gap between homeowners and those in the private rented sector.

Although the report is more focused on the statistical results than on suggesting potential solutions, it does consider some potential policy issues should we head into a second lockdown. Access to additional space for those in cramped conditions is key and the writers do point to the importance of maintaining access to public spaces such as libraries to alleviate the issue.

Finally, Savills and Shelter have collaborated on their report Rescue, Recovery and Reform: housebuilding and the pandemic. It is interesting that at the time of writing some of the most pessimistic predictions of the report around market downturn are not as anticipated. It does remain to be seen however whether the current market boom is a short term bounce or will outlast the current SDLT holiday.

Key recommendations from the report include an acceleration of the £12.2 billion Affordable Homes Programme to create a two-year rescue and recovery package. The report suggests that the bulk of this should be spent on social housing with a realistic and imaginative use of grant funding. With echoes of the earlier reports, Shelter and Savills suggest this could be the ideal launch pad to reach the goal of building 90,000 social rented homes per year as recommended by the Commons Select Committee.

July's crop of reports looks for opportunities to use the shared experience of lockdown to highlight inequality and suggest actions - it will be interesting to see whether these themes continue to feature as strongly as we move to the next stage of our response to the pandemic.

The Thinkhouse Review: Build, build, build?

This blog was first published in Inside Housing in August 2020

With government promising a radical shake-up of the planning system, it’s no wonder the sector has got planning on the brain. Anya Martin runs through some of the latest research in this month’s Thinkhouse Review.

Government is up to something. A few sudden and perhaps quite radical changes to the planning system have just been pushed through as part of government’s plan to “build, build, build” their way out of the current economic crisis. We await with baited breath for a policy paper allegedly coming this month. There aren’t many who wouldn’t say we need a serious look at how we plan for and deliver new homes, but exactly how it should be reformed is a real bone of contention.

Luckily the sector’s diligent researchers and policy wonks have been plugging away at the issue, and June saw a number of reports addressing the issue.

Transport for New Homes’ report Garden Villages and Garden Towns: Visions and Reality looks at how well the utopian visions of garden cities are implemented in practice. It opens by asking how often we spot a large new development plonked in the middle of a field, far from any train station. It investigates a set of metrics for transport accessibility and, alarmingly, finds that across twenty “garden” communities as many as 200,000 car dependent households will be created. While all of the plans presented charming images of walkable, “self-sufficient” places, the reality was very different.


All in all, the report gives the distinct impression that we’ve failed to learn from the mistakes of our car-centric planning past. It does highlight a huge tension at the heart of how we build. There is a predictable backlash whenever development is proposed where infrastructure already exists, because there are already vocal groups of predominantly home-owning residents. It’s no wonder that local planning authorities prefer to avoid the hassle and build out less densely occupied areas. With the result that people are forced into car-dependent lifestyles that they may not even want.


It’s a very interesting report and the effort to measure transport accessibility independently of the plans’ promises is welcome. However, the report’s criticism of housing delivery targets fails to recognise that they exist because of very real need for housing. While it seems clear we often build in the wrong places, we need to address this by determining where the right places are and building there. Getting rid of housing delivery targets without determining how else we boost housebuilding to meet years of backlog need would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.


I would be interested in further research about how and why the link is broken between ambitious visions and the somewhat messier reality of delivering new homes and infrastructure. We would also benefit from looking abroad to the many other countries who address these problems more successfully; there is a strong tendency to insularity in the UK policy world, especially in housing and planning.  

Thinktank Policy Exchange also published a series of essays. Economist Bridget Rosewell’s piece caught my eye in particular, addressing some of the challenges in forecasting housing need. She gives an example of an area which expected substantial growth in jobs and inward investment because of a local logistics investment programme. However, the regional plan’s forecast didn’t propose additional housing for these expected new residents, because it would have been a departure from past trends. If this is how badly we account for future changes we can see coming, imagine how poorly we must plan for changes we can’t see. She rightly highlights that plans can’t be untouchable monoliths: the best plans are flexible to changing circumstances.

Another paper out last month is Planning for the future, written by last year’s Thinkhouse Early Career Researcher’s Prize winner Anthony Breach at the Centre for Cities. This one garnered a lot of debate, because it provides a pretty direct challenge to the fundamental ideas that sit behind our planning system. It takes the interesting approach of using a framework developed to explain shortage-ridden Soviet economies, and comparing this to how we ration developable land in the UK. He argues that this is the predominant cause of the housing crisis and goes on to propose a zonal land-use system to address it. There’s no doubt that some people – especially planners – will find these ideas very challenging. But I would strongly recommend having a look. Whether you agree or not you will certainly come out having considered something in a different light.

Reuben Young and Kayleigh Pearse of Network Homes published Making Land Deliver. It highlights the poor incentives developers and landowners face, encouraging speculative behaviour at the expense of affordable housing contributions. It proposes some practical measures to take pointless negotiations out of the process by replacing developer contributions with a flat rate tax, which local authorities can use to buy homes at a pre-arranged price on-site, or spend elsewhere. It provides welcome recognition of how systemic incentives determine behaviours and how they can be improved, away from simplistic explanations of market baddies.

I would like to see more housing associations produce reports like this, addressing some of the practical challenges we need to tackle before we have a real hope of improving housing affordability.

Housing researchers respond to Covid-19

This blog was first published in Inside Housing in July 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic is causing great uncertainty and disruption around the planet, including to the UK’s housing sector. But housing researchers are already stepping up to the task they face. Providing insight into issues in the short-term which are affecting renters and those at risk at homelessness, and solutions as to how we can build back better from the crisis with new housing supply and fundamental reform, new evidence and research has been crunched as we begin to emerge from lockdown into a changed world.


Wendy Wilson at the House of Commons library published two briefing papers in May. One is with Hannah Cromarty on the new eviction protections and the emergency response for rough sleepers that have accompanied the pandemic. It is an excellent summary of the changes to the law since the start of the year, and outlines the resources and actions central and local government have already committed to help renters, landlords, owner-occupiers, and rough sleepers.

The paper mentions in the brief the idea of cancelling rent arrears. While this may sound attractive to some renters, Wilson focuses on the unintended consequences. Referring to a Housing, Communities, and Local Government Commons Select Committee report published on the same day, cancelling rent outright would hurt the ability of social landlords to do repairs and build more homes, and put undue pressure on small-scale landlords. Instead, the Committee and Wilson point to Spain’s approach, where the Government has introduced interest-free loans to cover rent arrears.


Wilson’s other paper, with Cassie Barton, is about how homelessness policy and data have changed since the new duty for local authorities was introduced in 2018. Whereas previously local authorities only had a duty to secure accommodation for members of “priority need” groups, such as survivors of domestic violence, this duty was expanded to cover both emergency relief and prevention for everyone at risk of homelessness.

Alongside the soon-to-be-abolished Section 21 evictions, the housing shortage is identified as a major cause of homelessness. The lack of supply results in high housing costs and increased risk of homelessness, especially in the most prosperous and therefore high-demand cities such as London.

This underlying problem is why, as Shelter is quoted as saying in the paper, “legislation alone cannot solve homelessness”. Despite the new duty on local authorities to prevent homelessness, 11 per cent of new rough sleepers in 2018-19 in London had previously asked a local authority for assistance before ultimately sleeping rough.


To tackle the problem of long-term supply in expensive places, a new report from the G15 group of housing associations around London argues that we need “Homes for Heroes” in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. Focusing mainly on the capital, the report argues for 100,000 new low cost homes prioritised for key workers, for over 32,000 unsold and under construction homes in London to be bought by the public sector and housing associations, and provides modelling on rental affordability for public sector workers.

Correctly, the G-15 points out that “The release of additional land will require flexibility in the planning system.” More subsidy alone will not be enough – more land must be made available for homes in expensive places. With the planning changes announced by the Government in June as well as hints of a new zoning system for England, the planning reform needed to give a permanent boost to social and private housing supply may be on the way.


Alongside new homes, two separate papers from the Green Alliance and the Green Finance Institute argue for investment to retrofit existing buildings, improving their energy efficiency and thereby reducing carbon emissions. These reports chimes with the policy included in the Government’s Summer Statement which will spend £2bn on covering costs for households up to £10,000 on retrofitting properties.

Not only could this reduce energy costs by on average £300 a year, but investment to retrofit existing homes will have the greatest impact in less prosperous cities and large towns, broadly outside the Greater South East. Our analysis at Centre for Cities shows that the urban areas in England and Wales with the most inefficient homes are Burnley, Bradford, and Blackpool, where roughly a third of homes have an Energy Performance Certificate of E or below, compared to just 10 per cent in Milton Keynes and Crawley. If the Government wants to follow through on its levelling-up agenda, retrofitting homes is a great place to start.


The changes taking place in the economy and politics make it difficult to argue that things should continue as they did before. With the help of more research and evidence, policymakers can make better choices and repair problems that have persisted for decades.


A review of housing reports published in April 2020

This blog was first published in Inside Housing in May 2020

April was a light month in terms of output. It is entirely possible that this was due to the impact of the Covid lockdown working through. Inevitably  both research and report production have been delayed because of the pandemic – partly because it changes the operating context thus triggering a need to rewrite or rethink what any report is saying and partly because new working arrangements had to settle down.  Moreover we are in a kind of market and policy hiatus where trying to raise wider or non Covid specific agendas has become harder and not least because we have no sense of timings or agendas (or financial capacity post the Covid lockdown.  We might all agree on a number of deserving housing causes but seeing those past competing non-housing issues will be a challenge. It certainly suggests that housing issues that link to wider agendas have the best prospects of progressing.

What perhaps was surprising In April’s output was that  two of the reports were current in coronavirus terms  -  a one a relatively brief update from the Resolution Foundation on the income shock and the other Out of Harm’s Way a very thoughtful piece by Craig Gurney at CaCHE in Glasgow reflecting on the meaning of the home ( and harm) in this current environment.  Self-isolation  has further re-inforced the idea of home as sanctuary and highlighted even more the plight of those who do not enjoy what disgracefully remains a luxury.

A further CaCHE report this time on the lived experience of private renters in the UK is a helpful qualitative study and part of a wider project on that diverse sector.  We are slowly building our understanding of the PRS in every sense but it has been a much neglected agenda in terms of both research and policy.  Question as to whether it really is moving up the agenda in terms of the latter or whether we will simply get more warm words while the real focus remains on home ownership.

The Centre for Cities report Sleepy Suburbs on the role of the suburbs is an extremely helpful contribution on another  much neglected  agenda in the UK and in this case as a potential solution to the housing “crisis”.  There is a real tension here between preserving the desired amenity of suburbs and at the same time increasing the density of population and changing the built environment.  It is a most welcome contribution.

The Founders Pledge report on housing affordability was for me a disappointment despite its considerable length. This is despite a useful attempt at estimating the cost of unaffordability on GDP – rightly seeking to join up agendas.  The House of Commons report on Stimulating housing supply is yet another authoritative compendium by the team in Parliament - it is a “go to” report for anyone trying to piece together where governments have gone and to what effect.   Shelter’s  Caught in the Act gives a valuable insight into the impact of the Housing Reduction Act while the RTPI sets out the priorities for planning reform.

Most of these reports were conceived and written for a different context than the one they arrived in. This does not undermine the importance of the agendas they tackle but it does have consequences for the impact they can have. With so much going on it will be for the housing community to ensure their messages are not lost.

Housing exclusion: how can we unlock access to housing for people most at risk?

This first appeared in Inside Housing in March 2020

The right thing to do is ensure we all have access to a safe, stable home. The last few weeks has shown the impact of housing exclusion at its most extreme. Whilst emergency measures are being put in place to address the housing needs of people most exposed to risk, access to housing needs to move beyond temporary accommodation so when the outbreak subsides people do not return back to the streets. The reports published on the Thinkhouse website last month draw attention to the many ways people are increasingly pushed out of the housing market and have their options restricted.

The realignment of local housing allowance (LHA) to the 30th percentile has been welcomed by many people working in the housing and homelessness sector, and a policy change we have long been calling for. The Local Government Association report by Policy in Practice on Evidencing the link between the Local Housing Allowance freeze and homelessness, is a helpful resource setting out the relationship between the gaps in rent and LHA, homelessness and the associated costs to councils of people facing homelessness.

Establishing a causal link between the large gap in rents and LHA, and homelessness is extremely difficult, because of the interrelationship with other welfare policies, housing market pressure and financial resilience in households. It’s a conundrum that has left many researchers scratching their heads to evidence. The report shows that at the point the research was carried out, the LHA was sitting at the 13th percentile of rent. Put another way, out of 100 homes only 13 would be affordable to someone on LHA and in six local authorities all rents were above the LHA threshold. The work shows a correlation between both numbers and proportions of households with an LHA-rent gap and homelessness.


The report also models the impact of increasing rents back up to the 30th percentile and temporary accommodation use by local authorities. A model in the coming months that will prove useful to return to understand how to track and monitor the positive aspects of increasing LHA so it is more in line with market rents.


There are many drivers of housing exclusion – structural, institutional and individual. The second report reviewed this month – Forms And Mechanisms Of Exclusion In Contemporary Housing Systems: A Scoping Study by CaCHE, based on qualitative interviews, identifies a number of mechanisms driving exclusion in the English rental market. It helpfully draws together many of the themes identified over the past ten years with the overarching message that housing exclusion is worsening especially for people most exposed to risk including those on low incomes, BME groups and people facing homelessness.

Two mechanisms of exclusion identified in the report are caused by policy design. Stakeholders spoken to in the research conclude that local choice based letting (CBL) and nomination policies were viewed as being applied and interpreted inconsistently, and in some cases stopping people most in need accessing housing. The research also highlights that welfare policy has often intentionally restricted access to certain types of housing.  Limiting housing benefit has stopped people on the lowest incomes accessing housing they can afford. Affordability is a theme throughout the report and the authors conclude “the scarcity of social housing inevitably introduces some form of rationing, increasing competition for housing and pushing up costs in the private sector.

Other reports this month that are worth a read include the Resolution Foundation’s - Working hard(ship). An exploration of poverty, work and tenure – which asks the question of whether housing tenure plays a role in determining in-work poverty rates. The study concludes that rather than due to behaviour, social renters remain exposed to in-work poverty because of the type of work they can access. Social renters were 2.5 times as likely to work in a minimum wage job than non-social renters.

Groundswell’s Women, homelessness and health is a peer led study which looks at the inter-relationship between health and homelessness amongst women and their experiences of accessing healthcare. Many of the women in the study had experienced violence which had contributed to their homelessness. The report calls for increased funding and resources for domestic and sexual violence to provide early intervention and help support women so they don’t experience homelessness in the first place.  The CaCHE report, Homeless Mothers found that for many women, once homeless, their maternal status became invisible once they were separated from their children. The accommodation they were offered was often unsuitable and further isolated them form support networks and schools, making it more difficult for them to rebuild their family home. 


All the reports reviewed this month show more can be done through policy design to open up access to housing for all. The evidence points to the need for a more generous welfare system, long term social housing investment and tailored support. What the past few weeks has shown is these things are all achievable and we need to make sure once the emergency planning is over attention is turned to designing a housing system that is inclusive and works for all.

Is ‘top-down’ the only way up?

This first appeared in Inside Housing in February 2020

This month was another bumper one for the Thinkhouse editorial panel, with 16 reports to evaluate. 

One of the highlights of our evaluation was a report that has already garnered a fair amount of media coverage - ‘A Housing Design Audit for England’, authored by UCL Bartlett, CPRE and Place Alliance.  The media attention so far has focused on findings that:-

  • of the 142 new housing developments reviewed, 75% should not have gone ahead due to ‘mediocre’ or ‘poor’ design
  • 1 in 5 of these developments should have been refused planning permission outright as their poor design was contrary to advice given in the National Planning Policy Framework
  • a further 54% should not have been granted permission at all without significant improvements to their design having first been made.


However the report contained other significant findings which have received less attention, but which are just as damning.   They also chimed with the findings of other reports we have reviewed this month. 

  • housebuilders are capable of creating good quality housing development in England, as the majority had attained audit scores ranging from ‘good’ to ‘poor’ in various locations;
  • this variance in design quality was not due to viability issues; and
  • it was the developments by the largest housebuilders that had the greatest variance in quality. 

I also found the fact that the ‘middle’ of the 3 performance brackets used in this report was labelled ‘Solidly Mediocre’ a shameful indicator of current  performance for a nation which in GDP terms currently sits within the global top 10.

In summary, the Housing Design Audits concludes that some housebuilders - especially the larger housebuilders - are simply choosing not to build better quality housing in England.  And even worse, the report found some evidence that some were using the planning appeals process to force through schemes with the lowest design quality. 

So how is the English planning system being used to enable what appear to be repeated obvious departures from the NPPF?  The clues lie in the report’s recommendations, for which there are 3 sets for each of the 3 key stakeholders in delivery of housing - namely housing developers, local authorities and central Government.  The report asks for housing developers to invest in improves skills and quality standards within in-house design teams, and ‘ethical design leadership’ (especially from the big market players); a more comprehensive and community-level approach to measuring resident satisfaction; and an end to the opacity of the economics of housing design quality.  Local authority are recommended to use independent design reviews (of which the author has positive experience, and on both sides of the fence) for housing development of a significant scale or impact; to have closer integration between planning and highways functions; and to have the courage to refuse applications which don’t meet local design guidelines. 

It’s this latter point that seems to crux of the matter.  At a time where resources (and morale) within local authorities are at rock-bottom, the competing - and sometimes contradictory - demands of meeting housing allocation targets and maintaining design standards are already a challenge in an environment where “house builders (who) have little incentive to improve when their designs continue to pass through the planning system… and highways authorities which rarely recognise their role in creating a sense of place for communities”.  This challenge has been made even harder by a lack of continuity at Ministerial level, with of the 10th Ministers for Housing in the past 10 years just announced (only 2 of whom have held the role for more than 12 months).  It is disappointing that this housing audit only happened at all because the 3 co-authors were able to assemble partners to work on a voluntary basis (as detailed on Page 18 of the report), rather than it being core funded by England’s dedicated housing agency.  The fact that they have produced such a robust, fact-filled, easy-to-read report all the more commendable.

The conclusion of another report the panel reviewed this month, the TCPA’s “Planning 2020 ‘One Year On’: 21st Century Slums?, is even more trenchant.  12 months on from the anniversary of the publication of the final Raynsford Planning Review report, it concludes: “English planning remains in crisis… with multiple and systemic problems caused by a decade of deregulation and disregard by national politicians... The extraordinary fact that planning in England still manages to achieve so much in this challenging context is a tribute to those who operate it and their tenacity in overcoming the obstacles placed in their way”.

Another report the panel evaluated this month, “Living with beauty; promoting health, well-being and sustainable growth” by the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, comes to similar conclusions to the reports already mentioned.  It concludes that England needs to shift from a ‘vicious development circle’ to a ‘virtuous development circle’ (with helpful graphics of each in the report), by implementing a “simpler and predictable regulatory approach to land use planning, under effective democratic control… with a greater role for stewardship and community development models, as well as for smaller firms and self-build rather than a small number of big players”.  Where the report differs is that it concludes that the key first big moves must be made by UK Government: for example, shifting planning obligation to “net gain” from “no net harm”; requiring permitted development rights to have minimum design standards; giving Homes England a greater responsibility for design & master planning and requiring use of quality metrics in their corporate performance measuring and procurement activities; and appointing a ‘Minister for Place’ to provide visibility and leadership of good placemaking.

To me these changes by central UK Government are the key to the issue.  Housing developers are comfortable with the planning system as it is and seem to have found a way to resist demands to improve the quality of their products; and many local authorities are struggling to uphold or enforce design quality. Change therefore needs to be top-down.

Whether it happens or not, given the current post-EU new waters everyone is trying to charter, is another question entirely!

A look at November and December 2019’s research and activity on the site

This first appeared in Inside Housing in January 2020.

I am a ‘baby boomer’ narrowly missing out on being a member Generation X. Gen X sounds so much more exhilarating. I feel more connected to someone whose collective awaking was more shaped by Mrs T than post war rationing. Baby-boomers are often the focus of debates about the social care and housing consequences of the growing ageing population in the UK. Consequently, I am instinctively drawn to ideas about what we as a nation can do to respond and, of course, I am also not keen on the likelihood that my final years may be marked by loneliness, isolation and struggling to find suitable accommodation.  

So from a national perspective and my own self-interest the report produced by the Cambridge Center for Housing and Planning Research, funded by the Nationwide Foundation into Co-Living (generations sharing communal facilities) stood out from the others that hit the Thinkhouse site last month. What could be better to keep me feeling young and future-proofed than co-habiting with a Gen Y or a Millennial or a Centennial etc? I am sure they would benefit from me being around during the day to receive their internet shopping.

This report is a serious piece of research. Running to 85 pages, referencing more than sixty other reports from around the world and conducting new qualitative research into gaps in our understanding. But this is no dry academic tome. Valentine Quinio and Dr Gemma Burgess have created a report, for someone like me (and probably many of our policy-makers?) who has attention span of a gnat. This is easily readable.

The report primarily focuses on a subset of co-living by examining three types of cohousing (community-led governance and management) models. Namely, cohousing communities that were either intergenerational or older people only, homeshare schemes in which an older person’s spare room was used by a younger person in exchange for support and LinkAges schemes that house older people with PhD students who provide support and companionship in exchange for cheaper rents. 

The research explores the benefits, obstacles and regulatory frameworks which surround these models, and explores the role that various stakeholders such as local authorities and Housing Associations play in the development of co-living.

The research finds that the main benefits of co-living models are, that older people make active choices about their later life, it provides them with support and companionship and helps them to feel less lonely. By enabling older people to stay in their own home through intergenerational one-to-one support or through joining a cohousing group, co-living may delay the need for further care, and therefore also bring benefits for families, social services and local authorities. 

However, establishing co-living schemes is often costly and resource intensive. The report identified the need for extensive input of time and resources to establish and manage schemes, access to land, access to finance, but also general awareness and acceptance of sharing one’s living space in later life.  

The role that local authorities and housing associations can have in developing co-living and the steps that can be taken to reduce the barriers to developing this form of intergeneration living is set out in seven policy recommendations covering increasing awareness, funding, guidance and support. There should also be better consideration of land that has potential for cohousing development, in line with the “preferential access to land” systems used in other European countries and specific planning considerations which allow more time for cohousing groups to purchase sites instead of competing in the open market against private developers.

I would have liked more analysis of co-living as well as cohousing models. In particular intergenerational schemes such a siting a kindergarten/nursery within a retirement home/village. Recent fly on the wall documentaries have shown how pairing residents to preschool children can have real benefits at both ends of the age spectrum. Whilst such schemes need careful management, they probably face lower legal and structural barriers than cohousing models. Despite this gap Cambridge Center for Housing and Planning Research has produced an analysis that effectively explains that cohousing can be one of the answers to the housing and social care crisis. A must read for anyone with an interest in this subject.

A review of the 'must read' reports of 2019

This first appeared in Inside Housing in December 2019

This is the 2019 Thinkhouse review of this year’s best #housingresearch. As the year draws to a close it is time to nominate the most influential housing reports of the last twelve months.

Whilst political traumas have restricted legislative capacity there has been no shortage or slowdown in the publication of research pieces, policy publications and case studies that propose ways to increase the amount and quality of the UK's housing stock and set out the related economic, social and community benefits of doing this. In the last twelve months more than 150 reports were uploaded and categorised in our web library and each one was assessed by our Editorial Panel.

The Panel is made up of 19 members, drawn from a cross section of the housing world spanning academia and research to the not for profit and business sectors.  The panel assessments translate into a score which we use to rank and then showcase the top scoring reports in the “must read” section on the 2019 page.  So, here is our top five and why we selected them. If you want a quick fix of the latest and most influential thinking, over your Christmas break, these are the ones you should look at. But first I thought I would summarise the research year from Thinkhouse’s perspective. All our reports are filed into 20 different categories. 

Our top two categories (by number of reports) were, like 2018, demographics/downsizing and the private rented sector/renting. However, this year saw a significant rise in reports that had an emphasis on environmental and design issues, clearly linked to renewed Government focus on this area with its proposed national design code and Future Homes Standard homes standard.

A couple of categories, Social Housing and Homelessness, saw a fall in the number of publications when compared to 2018. Perhaps this is just a reflection of the natural research cycle but also may be because influential reports published last year such as Rethinking Social Housing by the Chartered Institute of Housing and Everybody In - how to end Homelessness in Great Britain by Crisis did seem to have an impact on policy at the highest level. Did this move the research focus elsewhere? However, whilst the quantity in these categories was down there was no shortage of quality, to match 2018, as I report below.

Our Editorial Panel have looked at all the reports and choose those that we think have the greatest scope to influence decision-takers. This could be either for the quality of their research, innovation or the breadth of analysis. This year we have selected 12 reports as must reads

and here are our top five…….in reverse order.

In fifth place is a joint report from Savills for the G15, NHF and Homes for the North (HFN), Additionality of Affordable Housing, which was published in April. It questions the likelihood of the government hitting its 300,000 new homes a year target by the mid-2020s without expanding affordable housing supply with additional grant funding. It presents evidence to demonstrate that relying on the cross-subsidy model used to finance affordable housing and the role of private developers would result in the target not being hit. For a great summary of the state of housing supply in the context of our current approach to public sector intervention, you can find no better read this year.  

In fourth place is the LGA publication Understanding Local Housing Markets. This was a timely report as local authorities, freed from the housing review account borrowing cap, are much more focused on delivering new homes, alone or in partnerships, and embedding housing in health and place making strategies. The report featured in our August blog for Inside Housing, by Editorial Panel member Kerri Farnsworth, who felt that ‘this report provided excellent factual evidence, arranged thematically, with a clear set of recommendations, to aid decision-making and delivery impact at the local authority level. It was a must-reads for all municipal actors, but also national-level policymakers’.

In third place is The Homelessness Monitor England – published in May and authored by academics from Heriot-Watt with the University of New South Wales was commissioned by Crisis and JRF. This is always an eagerly awaited annual publication and one of its key themes this year is the emerging impact for local authorities of the implementation of Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) in England. It was reviewed for us by Francesca Albanese, head of research and evaluation at Crisis and an Editorial Panel member. She noted that the report concludes that the HRA has had mainly a positive impact so far but that the evidence that points to areas that could be improved on: tackling the structural causes of homelessness; and ensuring sufficient supply of adequate, affordable and suitable housing to meet these legal requirements.

In second place was a report that came out the start of the year. Building Our Future: a vision for future housing was the final report of Shelter’s commission on the future of social housing. Whilst we saw fewer reports with a social housing focus than in 2018, this report would have stood out whenever it was published and is my personal favourite.  

It is an in-depth study which is very readable and supported by great academic analysis, but it is also really a campaign rather than a one-off piece of research. It has been fronted by some well-known, media savvy individuals and as a result was able to move the debate about the need for more social homes, forward. This is perhaps a textbook example of how to combine superb analysis with grabbing the headlines with its main message that 3.1m new social housing homes are needed over the next 20 years. I have no doubt they have influenced the policy debate and should be congratulated.

…but in first place and the Editorial Panel’s most highly ranked report of 2019 is ….

The Tony Blair Institute and the Collaborate Centre for Housing Evidence (CACHE) report:

Tackling the UK housing crisis, is supply the answer?  

This is a well-balanced but extremely thought-provoking publication that sets out the case for other factors rather than supply being the cause of the housing crisis. It is published alongside responses from two leading academics.

Increasing supply may just increase the number of empty homes, it argues. Policy makers should focus instead on reversing the erosion of social housing stock and improving wage growth for young people to tackle affordability problems in the rented sector. It urges politicians to better appreciate that high house prices are linked to low global interest rates incentivising high mortgage borrowing rather than a lack of supply.

Professor Peter Williams in his September Thinkhouse blog for Inside Housing described the report as “powerful” with “Ian Mulheirn (Tony Blair institute) offering his views of the housing supply debate balanced off by responses from Professors Meen and Bramley. Taken together it is a useful corrective to the argument/policy stance that more supply alone will deliver the solution to the housing crisis. Indeed most recently Lewis and Cumming from the Bank of England added to this highlighting the importance of factors other than supply. Clearly it is a complex debate – supply is important but other factors are too!”

So there we have it – there is no lack of research, ideas, new policy tools and innovation in the housing world. All we need to add is some non-Brexit policy intent and investment to make it happen.

Note: for the purpose of this article we include all reports published in the twelve months to the end of November.

A look at October 2019’s research and activity

This first appeared in Inside Housing in November 2019

Reading between the lines at Thinkhouse

Each month the Thinkhouse email comes into my inbox. It is a spreadsheet which covers all of the new reports that Thinkhouse has identified for the last four weeks. These are the publications that we consider when deciding which are to be promoted by the website. This month it is my turn to say a little bit about the work that we have been reading in our virtual mailbag. I am, without being disrespectful to the other contributions, going to focus on five specific studies which piqued my interest for different reasons.
The first report is by the Institute of Civil Engineers (State of the Nation 2019: Connecting Infrastructure with Housing). This chimes with arguments that housing should be taken as fundamental economic infrastructure. Their argument is that the UK requires a new way of planning strategic infrastructure for housing at a local, regional and national level. The report recommends reforms to planning, suggesting, for instance, that the National Infrastructure Commission should include housing alongside economic infrastructure. They also propose recommendations that would extend and strengthen the housing infrastructure fund in England alongside the Scottish housing infrastructure fund and that the Welsh Government should consider establishing its own version as well. The report also strongly suggests that strategic options should be identified for future proofing new housing developments and strengthening existing communities.

The second report I want to talk about is by the Centre for Cities and is by Paul Cheshire and Boyana Buyuklieva (Homes on the Right Tracks: Greening the Green Belt to Solve the Housing Crisis). This is one of those policy papers which uses sound logic and expert knowledge to propose a solution for at least one of the many solutions that will be required to address specific housing shortages.

The idea is that greenbelt or agricultural land within approximately half a mile of any train station that connects quickly to a major city core (unless there are strong environmental issues) can be prioritised for new housing. The mechanism that makes this happen is that companies in and around the train hub, such as National Rail or Transport for London, would be given these newly created development right. To do so they would be required to set up new specialist development companies. Supported by new Green Development Corporations (that speed up planning decisions and promote the new development opportunities), the local development companies would be able to develop the nearby green belt or agricultural land, which, critically, they would be able to buy cheaply e.g. at just some kind of normal markup on agricultural value. This will facilitate housing development in well-served locations close to railway stations. In such cases where development subsequently takes place, a land development charge should be set at 20% of the market value of any such development when sold and the proceeds of this charge would be used exclusively for purposes to ensure the local community facilities, infrastructure and funding for social housing. An interesting idea, worthy of further debate and consideration.

Third, I was engaged by a report by housing LIN for the architecture and design Scotland trade body entitled Town Centre Living: a Caring Place. This short visual report is interested in the design principles for developing accessible adaptable inclusive housing and neighbourhoods that have intrinsic demand from older residents and in particular whether it is possible to think of these developments as ways of remaking town centres perhaps through the remodeling of existing buildings, by urban infill or other approaches. This paper is more of a series of case studies looking at specific plans across the UK and abroad but I think it is a useful way of considering these very real urban design issues for the re-purposing of our town centres and meeting and perhaps anticipating the changing age structure of housing demand.

Fourth, and being only slightly parochial, I also found useful the Scottish Housing Day think piece (Housing as a Human Right) co-produced by the Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers, the Chartered Institute of Housing, the SFHA, the Scottish Association of landlords, Shelter Scotland, TPAS Scotland and the Wheatley group. The paper sets out a collective vision regarding what the housing system could look like in Scotland if it was underpinned by the human rights that are enshrined in the International covenant on economic, social and cultural rights. The paper also considers the impact that human rights might have in terms of issues such as victims of domestic abuse. There are also important consequences for housing as a human right in terms of the statutory duties and implementation requirements that would flow from such a right. This is not just a matter of abstract debate. In Scotland the Housing to 2040 consultation explicitly raises the question about housing is a human right in Scotland.

Finally, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have published a report by Karen Croucher, Deborah Quilgars and Alison Dyke (Housing and Life Experiences: Making a Home on a Low Income). The report is concerned with detailed qualitative longitudinal study concerned with the interaction between poverty and housing across the life course. Good housing outcomes can mitigate poverty and support life events but the research also documents how difficult it can be to try to make and sustain a home in the current housing system. This is a fascinating rich account of the challenges faced by people in contemporary Britain experiencing the challenge of maintaining a home and consuming adequate housing while living in around levels of poverty at different stages in their lives.

A look at September 2019’s research and activity on the site

This first appeared in Inside Housing in September 2019

Writing this blog prompted me to think back over the many years I have been engaged in housing research (47 to be precise!) and how the output, scope and content have changed. When I began in 1972 the UK was the leading country for housing research. The government/Ford Foundation funded Centre for Environmental Studies, established in 1967 by the Wilson administration, was in full swing as was the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies at the University of Birmingham (established in 1966). Working papers, reports and more flowed from them in quantity (and with quality) alongside output from the Rowntree Trust and the Department of the Environment which itself had a strong housing research focus. By the 1980s this had been joined by the School for Advanced Urban Studies at Bristol and entities such as Shelter, the NHF or NFHA as it was and the CIH were active. Overall, output was significant (and of quality) but certainly more limited than today. 

There was a sense that evidence influenced policy in significant ways – government embraced research and housing policy attempted to be coherent and comprehensive – we had the Housing Policy Review in 1977 –a green paper for England and Wales supported by three technical volumes and a separate volume on Scotland. Of course by 1980 the government had changed and John Stanley the housing minister was clear research was not needed the priority was action! 

And so to today. That landscape has changed fundamentally. Some of the earlier organisations have ceased to exist or have refocussed, the government’s research capacity and some might say appetite has been reduced though to be fair it is supporting CaCHE, the new housing research centre operating across a number of entities in the UK. However the outpouring of work remains prodigious with all manner of entities putting arguments and evidence into the public domain and Thinkhouse provides a much needed platform for capturing this.  

This month’s list of 12 publications gives a good sense of the current landscape. The Centre for London has now published its remaining 3 reports (on land and planning, finance and delivery and tenure and affordability) of the quartet produced to stimulate thinking around London’s housing challenges – all are short and focussed. CaCHE is also well represented with 3 reports – on alternative housing tenures, the aspirations of private renters and the role of housing supply – I shall return to these last. Then we have an interesting scatter – the Children’s Commissioner, Housing LIN, the Residential Landlords Association, Shelter, LSE and the Centre for Social Justice ranging across topics such as employer housing, the social value of regeneration and the impact of welfare reform. 

For me the most powerful are the CaCHE report on housing supply and the two reports on the PRS. Ian Mulheirn now of the Tony Blair institute offers up his views of the housing supply debate –fundamentally is there a shortage balanced off by responses by Professors Meen and Bramley – taken together it is a useful corrective to the argument/policy stance that more supply alone will deliver the solution to the housing crisis. Indeed most recently Lewis and Cumming from the Bank of England added to this ( highlighting the importance of factors other than supply. Clearly it is a complex debate – supply is important but other factors are too! 

The two papers on the PRS are also timely. Simcock and Kaehne offer up some very helpful empirical evidence on landlord behaviour in the light of welfare reforms while McKee and colleagues do the same on the aspirations of older private renters aged 35-54. With such dramatic change working through our housing arrangements in the UK we need to know more about what actual people are thinking and doing – evidence is needed upon which to base policy and strategy. However while the former was based on over 2200 responses the latter drew on 17. Inevitably this poses questions about the latter but it must be viewed as a can opener to further work. 

With the volumes of work emerging we cannot ignore the questions of quality and impact. There is a real danger that the absence of core research by government and other key agencies and the somewhat fragmented and limited nature of policy interventions alongside the real sense of crisis that pervades housing agencies and organisations working not least with the most disadvantaged forces has meant that many have sought to add their voices and argue their cases. The risk is that this work is under –resourced and not well targeted and thus fails to secure the impact all desire. Most have policy recommendations but do we ever think who is meant to receive and use these? 

I am as guilty as anyone else in this but in looking at this month’s output I was left with many questions as to what was being achieved. In the old days it was all paper based and typically with launch events. Now it is electronic and immediate – but even more easily overlooked. We must be on our guard here. We are lucky to have the commendable House of Commons Library team constantly scanning the horizon to feed knowledge and ideas to Parliament and Thinkhouse also helps us in the journey. But we housing researchers also have to play a part working to ensure impact and effectiveness.

A look at August 2019’s research and activity

This first appeared in Inside Housing in September 2019

This month was yet another bumper month for the Thinkhouse editorial review panel, with 22 reports put forward for our consideration (and there was me thinking peak holiday season would be quiet!). Extra summer holiday ice-creams go to CACHE as authors of no less than five of these publications.

The crop of reports clustered around several specific topics, notably design and sustainability and the role of local authorities in delivering improved volume and quality in housing . There were several ‘manifestos’ for improving the quality of our built environment, both for existing and new residential development. These included the excellent RIBA report “A home for the ages: Planning for the future through age-friendly design”; The Prince’s Trust “Housing Britain: a call to action” (which should also be credited for its design & layout, which makes it an easy pleasurable read); and Policy Exchange’s “Building Beautiful Places”. Housing for the over 55s was the dedicated focus of two fact-laden All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) reports.

There was a surprising degree of commonality amongst key findings and recommendations between these reports, despite the wide variety of themes and foci. For example, several make the point that the community NIMBY-ism which fights, and sometimes blocks, much needed residential development is often rooted in a concern by local residents that their communities will be ruined by mass-built ‘lego boxes’, with no provision for the consequential additional capacity required in community infrastructure and facilities, such as highways, schools and health: or, as the Policy Exchange report bluntly but succinctly comments, there is “a fear of the ugly…. where houses are built, not places”.  

Another shared recommendation is for a clear definition of ‘good quality design’ and acceptable standards to be set by local authorities, in consultation with local citizens, as part of either the Local Plan or where applicable at Neighbourhood Plan stage – the logic being that this would provide certainty and transparency for both communities and developers well before it becomes an all-too-often confrontational matter at planning consent stage.  

It was interesting that there was so much crossover in conclusions and recommendations in many of this month’s reports that didn’t have a design standards as a core focus - including the excellent report by Centre for London on the capital’s ongoing housing crisis. The RIBA report also contains some startling facts that should prick up the ears of anyone involved in the construction industry: for example the fact that a quarter of people over the age of 55 (ie. 18m) are actively considering ‘right-sizing’ - ie. moving to a property which better suits their space & lifestyle requirements, thereby freeing up valuable family-sized housing stock; but that almost half of those 18m feel deterred from doing so because of a lack of viable (affordable) options. On the surface this seems an obvious long-term ‘win-win’ scenario for those on the supply side. The reports identify barriers on all sides, but - as someone who lives & works mostly outside the UK, and sees many of these being actively surmounted in other countries - it still baffles as to the lack of substantive change.

Scotland was the subject of two reports focused on housing wealth inequalities in Scotland (by CACHE and the Poverty & Inequality Commission), and was also strongly referenced in another CACHE review of homelessness prevention. All three highlighted the disparities in adopted legislation, policy and strategy across the 4 current members of the United Kingdom (sometimes to Scotland’s advantage, but not always). Having in my career to date achieved an almost full ‘home run’ of long-term roles in the UK (apologies, Wales) I can personally attest to the surprising divergence across the home nations on many facets of the built environment, which is much greater than in many countries in mainland Europe, despite their strong tradition of strong federal/regional governance. 

The final reports we’d like to highlight from our submissions this month are both focused on the role of local authorities, by the Local Government Association (LGA) and one jointly authored by the Association for Public Excellence (APSE)/Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA). Both reports provide excellent factual evidence, arranged thematically, with a clear set of recommendations, to aid decision-making and delivery impact at the local authority level. Both are must-reads for all municipal actors, but also national-level policy-makers to deliver the enabling actions.

In conclusion the clear theme emerging from ThinkHouse this month is that whilst all actors within the UK built environment professions have a clear understanding of our future housing challenges, based on robust analysis and forecasting, and we seem to have a range of clear, sensible and deliverable solutions to these, there is a sense of progress being stymied by a lack of action at national governance level. The consistency in the increasingly urgent pleas for immediate action on a range of housing-related topics - none of which are new - is startling. Given that the current turmoil in the national political climate looks set to continue for some time to come, how to overcome this leadership inertia is greatest challenge facing our sector since the post-war period. For practitioners, we may need some challenging self-interrogation as to whether we can break this impasse by being bolder, braver in initiating direct action. There are plenty of international case studies to show the way. Perhaps it is time for some literal home truths.

A look at July 2019’s research and activity

This first appeared in Inside Housing in August 2019

July was a bumper month for the Thinkhouse review panel with a number of notable research reports and publications. However, the one which drew particular attention was the recent report into social lettings agencies by a large team assembled from the Universities of Sheffield Hallam, Birmingham and Liverpool. 

The report was funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Nationwide Foundation and is a highly comprehensive report drawing on an extensive array of data and sources to provide an insight into the opportunities to scale social lettings agencies up across the UK.

The report was particularly notable as it is one of those rare reports which focus on answering the question of how to develop a fairer and more accessible private rented housing sector. Whilst we are regularly awash with reports and publications which, understandably, lament the private rented sector for poor conditions, unfair practices and unaffordability, few reports surface which provide a positive alternative to address these shortcomings. 

The authors identified 99 active schemes which met the definition of a social lettings agency. Of these they found that SLAs were playing crucial roles for people in the private rented sector in the way they were: helping tenants to access accommodation not otherwise available to them; making rents more affordable to tenants; ensuring a set of minimum standards for properties they let; and providing stability for tenants whilst in the PRS. 

As well as these clear benefits to tenants the report brought to light the clear benefits felt by landlords which included, importantly, guaranteed rents and more active property management. 

It is (or should be) an age of innovation in the private rented sector. Some of the changes needed will likely only be possible through regulation. However, it is clear that without thinking and doing things different will only perpetuate and further inequalities. The role of social lettings agencies and initiatives by the funders such as the Nationwide Foundation in their Fair Housing Futures project are a necessary and crucial part of this solution. This report should be read with interest by those working to foster a more inclusive role of the private rented sector as part of the tenure mix in communities which are desperately in need of housing. Whilst the authors acknowledge that the size of SLAs are modest and not yet large enough to radically overhaul the PRS their existence make a real difference to those in most need.

A look at June 2019’s research and activity

This first appeared in Inside Housing in July 2019

The Thinkhouse Review: What can we learn from housing policy across the UK? 

There are nine reports in this month’s Thinkhouse review and two themes jump out. The first is the renewed focus on quality and design of housing, reinforced by last week’s announcement by Theresa May calling for mandatory design standards for new houses. The second is the role devolution has in housing policy and how we can share evidence based learning across the UK. 

Starting with design, New London Architecture has published a report - Public Housing: A London Renaissance – which is well worth a read to understand the historical context of the role of public housing over the last century. The premise of the report draws attention to the renewed focus on public house building by local authorities, stimulated in London by the urgency of the housing crisis and access to funding. The central thread throughout is the focus on good design of public housing and provides useful case studies showcasing new housing developments and effective estate regeneration.

One of the reports most insightful sections addresses how local authorities and developers can work with communities, shifting from a ‘top-down’ approach to putting residents at the heart of the regeneration process. Central to this process is good quality and well-located housing.

The commentary from the Town and Country Planning Association on their calls for a ‘Healthy Homes Bill’ also puts housing standards and liveable spaces at the heart of its draft legislation. A mainly technical note which sets out how the principles of a healthy home would be enacted in law, gives food for thought on how these would be enforced and how they fit into current planning standards and regulations.

This month there are also a number of reports which have looked at aspects of housing policy across the UK. They provide interesting reflections in the context of devolution and act as a tool to encourage policy and decision makers to learn from best practice and build on these in developing and implementing new policy.

Housing need and supply is a debate that has been very active in England, and the Independent Review of Affordable Housing Supply in Wales, commissioned by the Welsh Government, draws out recommendations which policy makers in England can learn from. These include consistent methodologies, data and timings of Local Housing Market Assessments (LHMAs) to understand housing need and taking a longer-term view to meeting this need.

Similar to the other reports on design this month, the recommendations from the review look beyond the numbers and have explored how to increase the supply of quality affordable homes considering both design and the skills and capacity to deliver this. The main question being whether these recommendations are enacted in policy and practice. 

Two reports from CaCHE on reforms in the private rented sector in Scotland - Stakeholder engagement on the private rented sector and changing housing aspirations and Overview of private rented housing

reforms in Scotland – also highlight learning that be applied to the rest of the UK. The PRS in Scotland has rapidly expanded and both reports point to the increase of Buy-to Let mortgages, as well as demographic changes, being a major driver of this. Where Scotland differs from the rest of the UK is the implementation of a landlord registration scheme in 2006 and the recent introduction of open ended tenancies and measures to control excessive rent increases. Whilst the reports highlight it is too early to tell about the impact of the latter, commentary from stakeholders make the case that increased data has been generated through landlord registration which potentially could produce a rich source of high-quality evidence on landlords and help inform the impact of regulatory reforms. If acted on, improved information on the PRS could help inform PRS regulatory debates that are currently taking place in the rest of the UK.

Finally The homelessness monitor England – authored by Heriot-Watt and commissioned by Crisis and JRF – again draws our attention to lessons learnt in devolved housing context. A series designed to be a cross UK comparison, one of its key themes this year is the emerging impact for local authorities of the implementation of Homelessness Reduction Act in England. Whilst mainly positive so far, the evidence points to areas that could be improved on in the upcoming policy commitments in Scotland to introduce a stronger prevention duty. Namely tackling the structural causes of homelessness and ensuring sufficient supply of adequate, affordable and suitable housing to meet these legal requirements.

A look at May 2019’s research and activity

This first appeared in Inside Housing in June 2019

I was approached to join the Thinkhouse editorial panel in July last year. This is an opportunity to read new research every month, reduce the chance of missing something, and review research and reports outside my normal day-to-day focus. This is shown in the three reports I’ve chosen to showcase for this month’s review, which all attracted my interest for different reasons.

The first is Fixing the Care Crisis by Damian Green MP for the free-market think tank founded by Sir Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher – the Centre for Policy Studies. Given that heritage, it’s perhaps unsurprising the report attracted some adverse media attention when it was released recently, with Labour Party figures labelling its funding proposals as ‘a tax on getting old’. However, that was one of the reasons the report interested me. It examines an issue that is divisive and difficult but everyone agrees needs to be addressed. It also has strong links to housing – a connection repeatedly made in the report and the reason for its inclusion on the Thinkhouse website.

The author argues that the current system is financially and politically unsustainable, opaque and unfair. Problems in social care have a huge knock-on effect on the NHS, as highlighted by a 2016 National Audit Office report that ‘delayed discharges’ from hospital cost the health service £1bn a year.

Mr Green suggests a guiding principle of “a good level of care, free at point of use” to achieve a social care system that works. He identifies two priorities: stabilising the current system and building a workable framework for the future. His main proposal is the adoption of a ‘state pension model’ through the introduction of a new ‘universal care entitlement’. People could then pay for additional, more expensive care by purchasing a ‘care supplement’. This model would require a shift of funding from councils to Whitehall. However, Mr Green argues that such a shift has advantages, including preventing the current ‘dementia lottery’ and people being forced to sell their homes to pay for care. Most importantly, from my perspective, a call for public and cross-party consensus around tackling this key issue is among the report’s recommendations.

The second report that caught my eye focuses on another current crisis – the rising levels of homelessness – reviewed through the lens of Local Authority (LA) funding. WPI Economics Report wrote Local Authority Spending on Homelessnessfor St Mungo’s and Homeless Link, pulling together data from a range of different sources, including desk analysis, local authority out-turn data, interviews and a roundtable, to produce this concise and well-argued report with eight clear policy recommendations.

The report focuses on the impact of the significant reduction in spending on homelessness between 2008/9 and 2017/18, calculating that £5bn less has been spent on single homelessness than if funding had continued at 2008/9 levels. As ever however, it is the statistics that quantify the human cost that hit the hardest – 4,500 people sleeping on the streets in England, 80,000 households in temporary accommodation (not counting hidden homeless households) and 600 street sleepers dying in 2017.

The report acknowledges some of the policy initiatives taken recently, but highlights the crippling effect of cuts in funding and importantly, the knock-on impact this has created on how services are delivered. It argues an appropriate response should be built on three principles: sufficiency, certainty and directed. The latter point is that there needs to be a mechanism to ensure funding reaches people experiencing homelessness, rather than being spent on other local political priorities or budgetary pressures. The report’s conclusions focus on the need for greater clarity from the government about desired outputs matched to funding, a plea for long-term funding with exceptions only for genuine pilots, and improvements in data for monitoring activity and outputs.

My final recommended read is The Impact of Universal Credit – Revisited by the Northern Housing Consortium (NHC). I believe it’s important that housing associations continue to engage, sponsor and invest in research and the NHC’s focus on this important area is pleasing to see. It’s also a particularly good report – short, focused and well written.

It builds on the evidence from the NHC’s year-long longitudinal study of its membership, originally published in Dec 2017, which collected evidence on their residents and their experience of dealing with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The chancellor announced several changes to Universal Credit in the 2018 Autumn Statement on the back of widespread criticism. As its name suggests, the report revisits that earlier NHC work, supplementing it with roundtables, reflections from other studies and a survey of NHC members.

The findings suggest that although the DWP has taken positive steps, many issues raised by the initial study are a continuing concern. These include inconsistency of information, increases in rent arrears and waiting times still going beyond five weeks. Again, it is the human element that has the most impact and the various case studies included throughout the report make sobering reading.

The Impact of Universal Credit – Revisited concludes with NHC again calling for a pause in the roll-out of the benefit, to give DWP the opportunity to iron out the flaws and make the system workable for all concerned. A delay to the timetable would not be a huge setback. But the “DWP must learn from its own experiences, those of claimants, and those who support them.”

A look at April 2019’s research and activity

This first appeared in Inside Housing in April 2019

March saw a proliferation of reports addressing the challenges posed by high value inner city living and which considered the various options and challenges to be considered in outer city suburbs and town centres. Most of this month's reports focus on the inner/outer London challenge but many of the issues covered will also apply to the towns and suburbs surrounding the majority of the cities in the UK. It is perhaps unsurprising that we are seeing this particular theme dominating the current crop of research papers as they fit well with the recent publication of the outcome of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee's “High Streets and Town Centres in 2030” report and the announcement of the £675 million Future High Streets Fund.

Turning first to the Smith Institute's report by Paul Hunter entitled "The Unspoken Decline of Outer London" which seeks to address the question of why poverty and inequality is increasing in outer London and what needs to change. The report concludes that London's approach to economic development in recent years has led to a growth of prosperity and value in inner London with a corresponding decline in the outer boroughs. As a result the report concludes that 1.4 million people are living in poverty in outer London. This is primarily driven by the intensifying of pressure on housing costs and a decline in job density rates, which has corresponded with an increase in inner London jobs.

The report makes a number of recommendations for future reform including the redirection of Crossrail 2 funding to support grown in outer London, the appointment of an Outer London Deputy Mayor to lead an Inclusive Growth taskforce and a clear focus on revitalising outer London town centres. A real theme of the report - and the outcome of the consultation with the focus groups - is on the creation of local jobs and a more vibrant localised economy - both key targets in the wider topic of suburban and town centre regeneration.

A second short and colourful report from KPMG looks at the same problem from a very different angle and suggests that the creation of temporary container villages could create a useful boost for local provision - whether for housing or for small businesses. The examples cited such as Hatch in Manchester and Bristol's Cargo have so far focused very much on retail and restaurants which in turn support community events. The KPMG thesis is to take that model and push it further to outer city/suburban areas and into alternative uses including housing for the homeless and low income groups. The report acknowledges the challenges in attracting the right interest - both from occupiers and land owners but does consider some useful initiatives including engaging volunteers in return for reduced rents. The report does not go into the detail of how the container model might be utilised to provide a truly attractive housing model for such a varied group of occupants but does start to consider the question of funding.

In a similar vein, the Policy Exchange report written by Jack Airey and Richard Blakeway entitled "Tomorrow's Places" chooses to look at the potential to build a generation of new millennial towns on the edge of London. In seeking to tackle a similar issue to the Smith Institute report, the authors suggest that the current approach to housing delivery in London will inevitably fail the wider interests of society. They suggest an alternative approach based on creating new towns along the five updated London growth corridors. This approach would create an expansion rather than an intensification of London using the main transport routes to drive growth. Development Corporations - which are also being promoted more nationally in areas such as Stockport and Ebbsfleet- are proposed as the delivery vehicle in order to drive land acquisition, planning and partnership working with the private sector.

This proposal to create new towns at scale - with a minimum of 30,000 homes to be provided in each of the 5 areas - would require extensive development of employment and other amenity spaces to support growth. The report suggests a new national approach to co-ordinate development of this type which also nods to the work being driven across the south-east as well as the Midlands Engine and the Northern Powerhouse.

All of the three reports are suggesting a significant level of change in order to address the growing problem we are seeing in and around London - and also in the other major cities in the UK. Each takes a slightly different approach whilst at the same time acknowledging a core policy objective of combining community engagement with the creation of attractive, functional spaces for the town centres of the future.

A look at March 2019’s research and activity

This first appeared in Inside Housing in Mar 2019

The nine housing-based research reports released last month cover a huge range of topics, but if you are looking for a piece to read, I’d suggest the one I picked up last and then read cover to cover: Homelessness in 2030 by the Y-Foundation, first published on the FEANTSA (European Federation for Homelessness Organisations) website.

This is a collection of very short but creative and well-researched essays. All are engaging and some are inspiring. They focus on what homelessness will mean in 2030, and are all written by experts from different countries. They are all distinctive, giving creative insight on different aspects of homelessness and housing policy.

There is an essay to suit everyone, including a tongue-in-cheek analysis of the social and economic benefits of homelessness, based on sociologist Herbert Gans’ 1972 analysis, which argued that the European ‘smart cities’ miss now they have eradicated homelessness. Another looks at a dystopian world after homelessness is made illegal and where that leads. One essay is written from the perspective of a previously homeless person. It tells how he still has flashbacks of the feeling of cardboard as a mattress and contains commentary on practical aspects such as a world where access to social services is app-based, yet you cannot get a grant for a smartphone. Some of the essays are positive – these credit the eradication of homelessness to a number of options. One being a universal income and another the creation of an NHS for housing, called the “Housing Stabilization Service”.

The essay by Suzanne Fitzpatrick focuses on homelessness in Great Britain in 2030, although not through imagined scenarios, because in her words we don’t need to make “speculative guesses” – we have the research base to know what it will look like in 2030 (spoiler alert: for England, it isn’t good). Ms Fitzpatrick also focuses on the dangers of talking about the issue as complex, and on the fact that it could happen to anyone. She concisely demonstrates that research shows a direct causation between poverty, especially childhood poverty, and homelessness. So while it could happen to anyone, it is 71% more likely to happen to mixed-ethnicity females who experienced poverty in childhood, left school at 16 and were brought up by a lone parent. She demonstrates that tackling homelessness is difficult but not unfathomable, as so much quality research has been done showing the trajectory and causes of homelessness in the UK.

Alongside Homelessness in 2030, there were some other noteworthy reports published last month. Some are short, such as the National Housing Federation’s briefing on poverty and the private rented sector. In 12 pages of text and statistics, it effectively demonstrates that housing costs in the private rented sector increase poverty and argues that 71% of households in the private rented sector would be better off in social housing. Some are more substantial, such as Alison Wallace’s in-depth and detailed research on the shared ownership market outside London and the South East.

It’s worth a read for housing providers operating in that market, as it provides insight into the motivations of potential buyers and current constraints of the shared ownership market. However, be warned that full stops were used sparingly! St Mungo’s Home for Good is a well-researched, well-articulated case for floating support services and how they are needed to end rough sleeping.

The research I found most useful, working in the retirement housing business, was the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation’s The Last-Time Buyer, which considers data on household, financial and demographic trends to make a number of recommendations to support a greater focus on housing for those aged over 65 in order to provide more suitable accommodation and free up family housing.

So this month, if you work in a certain part of the sector, read the publication on the topic relevant to you. If you are a politician or civil servant, please read them all, but if you have time to read only one, read Homelessness in 2030.

A look at February 2019’s research and activity

This first appeared in Inside Housing in Feb 2019

…akin to asking a fish why it swims?

How many of our European neighbours would respond to the headlines in the recent Shelter report.

In last month’s blog Richard Hyde investigated the currently vexed question of just how much social housing the UK really needs in future, triggered by the publication of a slew of reports over the last few months giving widely-varying estimates including Shelter’s “Building Our Future: a vision for future housing”. This report gained a significant amount of media coverage, largely focused on the headline of 3.1m new social housing homes being needed over the next 20 years.

As someone who frequently works in mainland Europe it is interesting to see that whilst many other countries are grappling with the same problems as the UK around housing supply, the approach taken there is often very different to that being pursued by the current UK government. This is partly enshrined in statutory frameworks: for example legal rights and protections for tenants in most European countries are much stronger than they are in the UK, and municipalities have generally had a greater degree of autonomy and power over borrowing, etc. But to me it increasingly reflects a different mentality, notably at a national governmental level. It sounds crass but quite simply, provision of social housing is perceived in almost all European countries as a fundamental duty of the state, to which the private sector contributes rather than leads. My detailed questioning about their social housing project financing, viability, tenure mixes, quality, volume, etc, are often met with bafflement and a quizzical look that translates into ‘but why wouldn’t we/shouldn’t we do this’? Akin to asking a fish why it swims.
And many European towns & cities start grappling with that question from a much more informed and unanimous baseline. On the basic question of ‘how much social housing is needed?’, many have small but dedicated teams gathering, analysing and modelling intelligence on population change with impressive levels of depth and accuracy. This is the result of a prevailing attitude that every citizen has a right to good quality housing whatever their income levels, and that social housing is a community asset in which to invest and to retain - hence why many of my European colleagues cannot compute the UK concept of ‘Right to Buy’.

Two good examples are Vienna in Austria and Nantes in France, both of which are already delivering the additional housing (social and private), transportation infrastructure, schools, health facilities, etc, that will be needed in a decade’s time. In Nantes the same futurist teams are actively involved in the management of social housing stock too: this ensures that all new housing development is occupied within the first month of completion, and that voids in existing stock are minimal (with Nantes achieving an impressive average of <2 days) - hence maximising social housing revenues and capital receipts. The intelligence also avoiding ‘over-burdening’ access points for some public services, for example local schools or older-age facilities. In fact Nantes is so comfortable with its competence in understanding and providing for future housing needs that it is actively pursuing faster and greater population growth, both indigenous and inward.

Luckily, for those with less exposure to practice outside of the UK February also sees the publication of another report commissioned by Shelter, “Learning from International examples of affordable housing”. Intended for internal use by its 16 commissioners for “The Big Conversation” on the future of social housing in England, I would suggest this would be a worthwhile read for all policymakers, practitioners and community stakeholders active in the UK housing scene. Whilst recognising the structural differences between the UK and each other individual country in the report (mostly European) it does highlight some potential solutions that can be adapted and used within the UK, including some of the key recommendations of the Shelter’s ‘Building Our Future’. For example Vienna’s ‘Mietermitbestimmungsstatut’ (tenant’s participation statute) could provide a useful role model for the establishment of a new tenant participation models. Translation of the Scandinavian models of cooperatives could provide a politically-acceptable solution to what in the UK is largely a binary - and, as the Shelter report highlights, socially-judged - choice between renting or owner-occupation. Public-private SPV models from Bilbao and Montpellier are amongst the most effective and efficient in Europe in creating maximum leverage and benefit from public sector assets in true partnerships with private developers and contractors.

But this report is one of many capturing the valuable experience inn housing from around the world. With UK homelessness rates amongst the highest in Europe - in fact only surpassed by some countries formed from the break-up of the former Yugoslavian state still struggling with ethnic tensions, and associated displacement and translocation – and some of the lowest satisfaction rates amongst homeowners, it seems increasingly surprising to me – given the consequential impacts upon NHS-borne health costs, well-being, economic engagement and productivity, etc - that there isn’t a more open embrace at a national policy level to learning from other countries who are clearly doing things better than the UK.

A look at January 2019’s research and activity

This first appeared in Inside Housing in Jan 2019

So exactly how many social homes do we need? Trying to unpick the different explanations in recently published reports.

2019 has kicked off with social housing being able grab a good share of the non-Brexit airtime. This was due to coverage of Shelter’s Commission on the Future of Social Housing and its call for 3.1m new social homes in England over the next twenty years (155,000 a year).  

The Thinkhouse Editorial Panel will review this report alongside all the other reports published in January and whilst I do not want to prejudge their assessment it is good to see the focus again on social rather than just affordable homes. This blog will concentrate on reports that came out at the back end of 2018. Two of them looked in detail at housing numbers and help to improve our understanding of how many social homes we need. This is important given that Shelter’s figures have attracted significant attention and represent a stepped jump in potential need.

Tackling the under-supply of housing in England was published by the House of Commons Library in December. It was written by Wendy Wilson and Cassie Barton and starts by asking how much total (not just social or affordable) new housing England needs. It does this by using the Office of National Statistics (ONS) household formation projections, issued in September 2018. They conclude that the number of households will rise by an average of 159,000 per year to 2041. London, the South-East and the Midlands seeing the highest growth.

However, these latest household formation figures are 51,000 per annum lower than the previous data set issued in 2014 (210,000 per year). This fall is caused by lower births, less net migration, slower improvements in life expectancy and average household size not declining.  So if the growth in total households is falling and the total housing demand is 159,000 a year why the housing need totals so much higher? As we all know there is an historic under delivery of housing that needs remedying.  

A shortage of supply has led to declining affordability which in turn has the capacity to suppress household formation (e.g. the kids not leaving home). Crisis and the National Housing Federation (NHF) looked in detail at this in their December report, Housing supply requirements across Great Britain for low-income households and homeless people which presents the findings of a study by Professor Glen Bramley of Heriot-Watt University. The report adds to the existing evidence base on housing need by making an assessment of the existing backlog of unmet housing need and by providing a new methodology for the assessment of housing requirements.

Glen Bramley has produced a hugely detailed bottom up model, flexed for a number of scenarios. It starts by using existing data sources to arrive at a total of 4 million English households who are in housing need (according to a range of indicators including affordability, suitability of accommodation, and core and wider definitions of homelessness). This figure is then adjusted using the household formation figures to address the needs of existing households and allow for new households, adding another 1.1m households. Finally, the report looks at the mix of tenure to arrive at a forecast of need (in England) of 340,000 homes per annum over the next fifteen years including 90,000 social rent, 25,000 shared ownership and 30,000 intermediate rent.  

So how do these figures compare to those in the high-profile Shelter report which states that we need 3.1 million social homes over the next 20 years or 155,000 per annum?  

Even by adding the social and intermediate rent figures in the Crisis/NHF report to get 120,000 there is clearly a gap.  

Whilst finer minds than mine will, no doubt, be able to explain this better than I can, it is noticeable that the Shelter report is quite ‘vision driven’ and then produces an estimate of the number of homes to meet this vision. For example it adds 35,000 social homes per annum to meet the need of old renters struggling in the private rented sector. This area of housing need has less emphasis in the Crisis/NHF report.  

Perhaps different time periods (there is a school of thought that ‘housing need’ more than 15 years out will actually fall) or different definitions of what is a social home may also help reconcile the figures?

Of course, when we are building only a handful of new social homes a year, a debate about whether we need to increase this to 90,000, 120,000 or 155,000 feels somewhat academic and there may not be much to be gained by answering the question I set. Nevertheless, all these reports clearly explain the necessity of providing more social homes and play an important role in informing the debate. What we really need is the political will and national resources galvanised to increase delivery.

Review of 2018

This first appeared in Inside Housing, December 2018.

In the sections below, the chair of the editorial panel, Richard Hyde, discusses the main themes from the key reports of 2018.

As 2018 draws to a close it is time to nominate the most influential housing reports of the last 12 months. This was a bumper year for housing research, with more than 130 reports uploaded and categorised in the first full year of our web library. 

We know from the feedback we have received that our database of reports into how to build more and better homes and the related economic, social and community benefits of doing this is really helping link ideas to those that can use them to make a difference.

Our Editorial Panel have looked at all the reports and choose those that we think have the greatest scope to influence decision-takers. This could be either for the quality of their research, innovation or the breadth of analysis.  

This year we have selected 12 reports as must reads and highly commended a further eight.

At the start of the year our Editorial Panel selected Ending Rough Sleeping: What Works? by Crisis. This well researched piece provided an international perspective on ending rough sleeping and asserted that current approaches to rough sleeping are not as effective as they might (and need) to be as they are not focused enough on prevention. It highlighted the need for solutions to be housing-led, not least swift access to permanent housing without pre-conditions (“Housing First”). With the NAO and the Public Accounts Committee also examining homelessness and rough sleeping it widened the understanding among policy makers of the extent of (as described by MPs) our national homelessness crisis.

In February the House of Commons Communities and Local government Committee reported on their investigation into Housing for older people. One of the startling facts to emerge (from Housing LIN) is that there will be a shortfall of 400,000 units of purpose-built housing for older people and 200,000 care beds by 2035. Our panel member Professor Ken Gibb, highlighted in a review of the committee’s report that the evidence focused on key deficits in areas such as the adequacy and sufficiency of housing supply, repairs, maintenance, adaptations and access to financial advice. In turn, these sorts of problems require greater responsibility on planning and housing functions, developers, lenders and providers of information and advice.  

  Spring 2018 brought us a report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF); Using incentives to improve the private rented sector: three cost solutions recommended: a Rental Incentive Allowance (allowing landlords to offset a proportion of their rental income against tax if they let their property to households on LHA); boosting incentives to improve the quality of properties by allowing specified improvements to be tax deductible against income tax rather than CGT; and enabling local authorities to issue vouchers to priority households guaranteeing the payment of rent. The Ed Panel was also extremely impressed by Crisis and JRF’s Homelessness Monitor. As Suzanne Benson put it in our May Inside Housing blog ‘It highlighted the affordability difficulties faced by young people seeking to move into their own homes, and the lack of affordable, good quality private rented sector stock as a viable alternative to social housing’. 

Early Summer saw two major reports that were among the best that the Ed Panel looked at in 2018. Rethinking Social Housing by the Chartered Institute of Housing and Everybody In - how to end Homelessness in Great Britain by Crisis. If you only read two reports these are the two you should look at. Gemma Duggan in her Thinkhouse blog for Inside Housing described Rethinking Social Housing “as focusing on the role of social housing as a product, rather than just the role of the provider. It demonstrated through research that social housing has a unique and positive part to play in housing people, helping to create thriving, mixed communities and meeting needs that the market will not”. This analysis was supported by the paper written by Anya Martin, the winner of the Thinkhouse Early Career Research Prize. In the Impact of Social Housing on Child Development Outcomes  she uses the Millennium Cohort Study data to compare the cognitive, health, emotional, and behavioural development outcomes of children living in social housing compared with those living in private rented housing in England. Her research showed that children of social housing tenants are no worse off than the children of private renters. This challenges research which has previously found they tend to be worse off, even when controlling for various socioeconomic factors. Further support for the role of social housing came from the Hyde Group in its report in The Value of a Social Tenancy. This report was a hugely thorough one with data analysed external and audited by PWC. It concluded that nearly £17,000 of social value per social tenancy was provided each year and clearly sets out the services that are provided and which create value for individuals and society.

Everybody In - how to end Homelessness in Great Britain was a tour de force piece made up of 16 chapters. It covers public attitudes to homelessness and presents evidence-based solutions related to prevention, rapid rehousing, and rough sleeping. The report looks at some specific solutions in detail, including reforms to welfare and housing supply and considers what contribution its evidence-based intervention can be expected to make.

Finally, we selected three impressive reports that focused on land: What Lies Beneath, How to fix the broken land system by the New Economics Foundation (NEF), Land Value Capture by the Communities and Local Government Select Committee and The Invisible Land: The hidden force driving the UK’s unequal economy and broken housing market by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).  

The NEF report suggests England should set up a land commission like Scotland and that the rather non-transparent viability test used by developers should be reviewed alongside a revisit of land value taxation and the setting up of a land bank. It rightly flags up the paucity of good data reminding us that the government scrapped the series produced by the Valuation Office Agency in 2010.  

The IPPR report was subject to a Thinkhouse blog by Martin Wheatley in September which described the report as convincingly placing housing policy issues in a wider economic and policy context and showing how policy failure on land supply is linked with other UK policy ills, increasing wealth inequality and macroeconomic instability.

Between 2018 and 2017 there has been a change in focus in the research we reviewed. In 2017 research and ideas related to devolution were our top category. In 2018 devolution does not even feature in the top ten. Instead, the hot research topics of 2018 have been demographics, the private rented sector, homelessness/rough sleeping and land. The majority of our must reads reflect these four categories. So, if devolution, and in particular the benefits of lifting the Housing Revenue Account cap, caught the ear of Government last year will this year’s focus on homelessness, downsizing, PRS and land do the same? 

So there we have it – there is no lack of research, ideas, new policy tools and innovation in the housing world. All we need to add intent and investment to make this happen….it is on my list for Santa.

A look at October 2018’s research and activity

This first appeared in Inside Housing in October 2018.

With the social housing green paper consultation closing next week, this months’ publications reviewed by Thinkhouse draw attention to the growing evidence base on the need for decent, secure and affordable housing for low income households. They raise a number of questions on the extent to which policies and practice are meeting current housing need.

Starting with two reports by Geoff Mean through CaCHE - Policy approaches for improving affordability and How should housing affordability be measured? – these add to the growing debate about supply and demand for housing, how these impact affordability and the effectiveness or otherwise of policies to address the problem. A review of the current literature on affordability, the report helpfully highlights that whilst increasing housing supply does play an important role in addressing affordability this is not the only way of addressing the issue. The paper suggests that market provision alone is unlikely to be adequate in addressing affordability for low income households, thus making the case for expanding the social rented sector. Further, the latter of these two reports provides a comprehensive and concise overview of current definitions of affordability. Importantly, the report offers new measurements which are worth considering in practice as they are more applicable to low income households and first time buyers. Both groups we know are most likely to experience affordability problems.

Affordability has always been a key debate underpinning the role of the private rented sector (PRS) across the UK. The Nationwide report by Julie Rugg and David Rhodes - The Evolving Private Rented Sector: Its Contribution and Potential – is a timely reminder of the growth and reliance of the PRS to meeting the housing needs of many people who cannot afford or access homeownership or social housing. Ten years since the original review of the PRS was conducted by the same authors, the latest report gives useful insight into landlord behaviour and the changing profile and geographies of renting. Crucially, there is a section which addresses how the PRS meets the needs of low income renters and can offer useful context for what policy makers should do to address the needs of this group. Alongside many commentators at the moment, the report discusses the likely impact of Universal Credit on financial precarity, but it also draws attention to the growth of ‘help to rent’ schemes to facilitate access to the PRS, albeit without stable funding. Finally the report couches the caps and freezes on local housing allowance as a form of rent control but makes the point that these have taken place to detriment of tenants due to the mismatch between LHA levels and rent.

A number of other reports this month focus in on specific groups affected by affordability. Unison’s report on home ownership and public sector workers uses case studies to demonstrate earnings to house price ratios across housing markets in England. The analysis shows that a nurse in London as a first time buyer will need 13 times their salary for an average mortgage, and even in less heated housing markets, such as the North East, a mortgage is still four times their salary.

The Cambridge Centre for Housing planning have produced a report for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the CHS group - Developing income linked rents for CHS Group - on how they can set genuinely affordable rents for their tenants beyond 2020 including JRF’s living rent approach. The report reinforces a pattern seen across the country, that the income of social tenants in full time work is low. In Cambridge, three quarters of social tenants had a gross household income, including benefits, of less than £24,000 per annum, while a quarter had less than £14,500. The report echoes other analysis in concluding that single people and childless couples in full time work would benefit from lower rents. However, it raises the question about how the current welfare benefit system can support social landlords the flexibility on consistently setting low rents. Whilst some solutions have been proposed in the report they only tinker round the edges and demonstrate that more fundamental policy solutions need to be adopted by housing providers and across government departments to offer a long-term solution for low rents for everyone who needs them.

There were a number of reports this month that touch on other areas inextricably linked with the ongoing problem of affordability, access and supply of the right type of housing which I would recommend reading. These include International Evidence Review of Housing Taxation, The Value of a Social Tenancy, Made for London: Realising the potential of Modern Methods of Construction.

A look at September 2018’s research and activity

This first appeared in Inside Housing in September 2018

It’s been a lively few weeks, with MHCLG civil servants’ summer holidays put on hold to produce a green paper and, for the first time, a PM going to a Nat Fed conference to say housing is her “personal mission.” Nor has the summer break has stopped research and advocacy landing on Thinkhouse’s metaphorical doormat. This piece takes a quick look at some of the recent crop.

Starting with supply, land and affordability, IPPR’s The Invisible Land argues that “the house price problem” is actually about land, caused by the UK’s approach to land use regulation, the buying and selling of land by the state, and tax. In its analysis and policy proposals, the report does not break particularly new ground (see, for example, Daniel Bentley’s 2017 The Land Question). Nevertheless, it is a very useful report, not least because it very convincingly places housing policy issues in a wider economic and policy context. Part of the IPPR’s big work programme on social justice, it shows how policy failure on land supply is linked with other UK policy ills, increasing wealth inequality and macroeconomic instability.

Policymakers and sector professionals will learn much from two pieces of academic research out this month. Paul Hickman and others have produced a major report for CaCHE, The Impact of Welfare Reform on Housing Associations, which should be required reading for all board members and executive leaders. Though it modestly describes itself as “exploratory”, it (to my mind) very clearly and comprehensively sets out how the transition to Universal Credit, on top of earlier more specific changes, has been a profound challenge for housing associations as businesses. But it also drives home that what matters even more is the effect on people who live in housing association properties, which is singled out as a priority for future research.  

Proposing solutions, Anna Clarke and Michael Oxley have produced, for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Using incentives to improve the private rented sector: three costed solutions. Drawing on international evidence, they put forward ideas to tackle two widespread problems with the private sector, “No DSS”, and poor condition, the former by a tax allowance for landlords who let to households on HB, and a council-guaranteed voucher system, the latter by allowing improvements to be set against income tax. I’m sure there is a good answer to my question about how the voucher system would interact with housing benefit, and I hope that policymakers in MHCLG, Treasury and DWP will take these proposals seriously. They are not likely to transformative, but could be very useful steps along the way to the more fundamental rethink needed of policy towards the private rented sector.

A report by Citizens Advice on retaliatory eviction uses polling and interviews with renters to assess whether the 2015 legal changes intended to prevent it have worked. Unfortunately, its conclusion is that they have not. Crucially, this reflects the deeply unbalanced market position of renters and landlords, so long as six-month tenancies remain the norm. It recommends both stronger protection against retaliatory eviction and more fundamental reform of private renting, establishing three-year tenancies as the norm.

Addressed at practice more than policy, Centre for London’s Borough Builders surveys the renaissance of local authority building in London. Following two England-wide reports on council development outside the HRA last year from the Smith Institute and Janice Morphet, it is good to see an more in-depth examination of London, whose particular economic and social challenges (as on so many housing topics) make it so different from the rest of the country. It brings out the scale and ambition of what many London councils are doing: these ventures likely to produce eight per cent of London’s housing output over the next five years. It also describes the different ways councils are mixing and matching the housing market and revenue-raising benefits of developing housing directly. The report would have been stronger, however, if it had discussed in more depth the downsides and risks associated with council direct development. It rather glosses over the extent to which in London, in contrast to other parts of the country, this kind of activity has been politically controversial, and the potential risk, for the most ambitious boroughs like Croydon, of the sheer volume of development planned for the post-Brexit housing market.

HACT’s Rethinking customer insight, moving beyond the numbers, produced in partnership with 18 housing providers, is a very useful attempt to bridge the gap which often opens up between the strategic preoccupations of boards and leadership teams and the technical business of obtaining and analysing data about customers’ perceptions. With listening to and meeting the expectations of customers being such an important aspect of the Green Paper, it is very timely.

A look at August 2018’s research and activity

This first appeared in Inside Housing in August 2018

In the August round of non commercial research reports up for review by ThinkHouse there were 15 to evaluate and rank , a sign of how active this industry is in terms of researching and reporting on the very wide range of housing issues that exist. Our blogs offer a member of the editorial panel the opportunity to highlight their personal choices. 

My report choices were: New Economics Foundation: What Lies Beneath - How To Fix The Broken Land System At The Heart Of Our Housing Crisis and the Local Government Association: Sustainability of Right to Buy, Summary Report. 

The land market is a neglected topic when it comes to housing policy debate. It is implicit in the constant debate on planning and housing supply but it has rarely been at the centre of the analysis. The OFT reviewed the market in 2008 and separately Paul Cheshire and Laurie Macfarlane have written extensively on it –the latter have just published a review for the Scottish Land Commission. Macfarlane was previously at the New Economics Foundation which produced the What lies beneath report. At times this report does feel like a bit of a polemic but they have drawn together references and research and it provides a useful run through of the issues. NEF suggests England should set up a Land Commission like Scotland and that the rather un-transparent viability test used by developers should be reviewed alongside a revisit of land value taxation and the setting up of a Land Bank. NEF rightly flags up the paucity of good data reminding us the Government scrapped the series produced by the Valuation Office in 2010. The paper doesn’t really reflect on the impact of its proposed measures which would be hard fought over. However let’s not forget the Westminster government has promised a consultation on land value uplift. 

The LGA report with Savills is on the equally hot topic of the Right to Buy (RTB). Clearly this was written in advance of the Government’s recent announcements in the Social Housing Green paper (eg, local authorities will no longer pay a levy on vacant higher-value council homes and fixed-term tenancies will no longer be mandatory for new council tenants . In addition note the consequence of the non-implementation of the forced sales levy means there is no source of funding for one possible policy that remains -the extension of the Right to Buy to housing association tenants).The report examines the complex rules around local authority RTB receipts, borrowing caps and the number of homes that can be built 

The analysis suggests that assuming the availability of borrowing to the cap, and without changes to any other factors within the agreements, there is the potential to provide for c39,000 new affordable homes over a 5-year period, even though this would still mean a net loss of c22,000 social homes over that time. Strikingly 52% of the total 141 receipts arising over that period (£1.5billion) would be sent to central Government! 

The paper suggests that the lifting of debt caps must be a pre-requisite to achieving a One for One replacement programme at the national level. The Social Housing Green paper did not go as far as the paper suggests but it did increase the borrowing cap by £1billion which local authorities can bid for. The LGA papers offers up a number of other suggestions as to how local authorities can play a bigger role but to date there are no further signs of movement. It is quite clear that a bigger local authority role is an essential pre-requisite for really boosting housing supply to the levels needed but the old ideological anti-council housing stance remains inside the government and the party – and despite the rhetoric of the green paper. 

The LGA paper provides a useful technical extension of the debates around the Right to Buy nailing down some of the very practical impediments that remain. This is an agenda that deserves much greater attention from both analysts and government. 

These are two very different contributions but both lift the lid on neglected issues and ones which highlight the technical complexities of getting to grips with housing issues. 

A look at July 2018’s research and activity

This first appeared in Inside Housing in July 2018

Between the promise of policies, strategies and green papers from the government on homelessness, social housing and supported housing funding and their materialisation, the UK housing sector has been busy. Busy filling this gap with dynamic, interesting and challenging reports to support the government in their thinking, and to support the sector in addressing the UK’s housing needs.

The first two reports I am focussing on are the CIH’s report ‘Rethinking Social Housing’ and the ‘Building Homes, Building Trust’ report by the Future Shape of the Sector Commission (FSSC), made up of various Housing Associations. These reports were borne out of the need to respond to the terrible and tragic fire at Grenfell Tower. Underneath, there is also a clear desire to influence the ‘soon’ to be published Social Housing Green Paper. Both aim to take advantage of an apparent political consensus that there is a housing crisis to position social housing providers as essential to solving that crisis. Both of these have very similar themes and ambitions that the sector needs to increase supply, earn back support and trust, ensure the sector’s housing is well managed and good quality, reshape the contract with customers and increase the tenant voice.

Building Homes, Building Trust is focussed on the role of HA’s in all this and what the HA sector will look like in 2020. It therefore also looks at where HAs can make the biggest difference, the diversity of the sector and where HAs can take advantage of the political consensus. It is fairly light touch in its research base but clear in its messages on where the HA sector should be in the future. It is surprisingly challenging to the sector on standards, governance and role, but uses case studies and some great ‘questions and challenges’ sections to allow HAs to use it as a tool to think about their future. I personally also love the drawing on the history of the housing association sector that will be useful for all new board members and the government alike.

The CIH report Rethinking Social Housing has a much more robust and extensive evidence base. Underneath some rather bland headings are some powerful and insightful points and objectives, backed up by both existing and new research. Rethinking Social Housing focuses on the role of social housing as a product, rather than just the role of the provider. It demonstrates through research that social housing has a unique and positive part to play in housing people, helping to create thriving, mixed communities, and meeting needs that the market will not. It also provides the challenge back to the sector that this is the case when ‘done right’ and that we don’t always do it right. Chapter four of the report looks at what the CIH and the sector can do to reclaim social housing as a pillar of the society, but it also makes specific asks of government on standards, regulations, funding and understanding of the role of social housing’s role. It will be interesting to see if the Social Housing Green Paper response to these asks.  

The third report I have chosen to focus on is ‘Everybody In’ by Crisis. This is not born out of the Grenfell Fire but in response to the 250,000 people in Great Britain who are homeless. At its core is the belief that everyone should have a safe and stable place to live. It demonstrates that, with the right momentum, policies and political will, Britain could end homelessness in 10 years.

Unlike the two previous fairly snappy and focussed reports, this is an extensive plan with the detail needed to execute it. It does not try to suit current political favour but instead provides evidence-based solutions for rough sleeping to get everyone housed and to prevent homelessness. It doesn’t say this will be simple but provides detailed recommendations on the costs, legal changes, policy changes and practice changes needed across England, Scotland and Wales. ‘Everybody In’ should be read by governments, local authorities and housing providers.

What reads across all three reports is an understanding that everyone should have an affordable andsafe good-quality home. What is also clear is the end to the recent consensus not to mention ‘social housing’, as these reports all champion it.

A look at June 2018’s research and activity

A look at June 2018’s research and activity

Thinkhouse has now been running for over a year and our weekly trawl for new UK and international work is increasingly being supplement by more and more researchers, thinktanks and academics alerting us to their publications. This means that the Ed Panel is seeing a good number of new reports each month. We still aim to select only about a dozen each year to showcase and will be looking for reports which are most likely to influence and inspire policy makers through detailed analysis and explanation, all underpinned by excellent research.

A couple of the reports that have gone onto the site in the last month have a focus on more effective land use and in particular the promotion of mixed use sites (residential alongside employment and retail). Given the importance of land in the house building equation I would recommend that readers have a look at ‘Better Brownfield’ from Policy Exchange (PX) (authored by Susan Emmett - who has recently joined Homes England, Nicholas Boys Smith and Alessandro Venerandi) and The Royal Town and Planning Institute’s (RTPI) ‘Settlement Patterns, urban form and sustainability’ .

Starting with the RTPI report. This is an extremely well researched macro view of the impact that settlement patterns have on economic productivity, climate change, health and an ageing population. The RTPI commissioned extensive research to gain a better understanding of urban form in twelve English cities and mapped planning permissions for over 226,000 new homes granted between 2012-17. No small task and resulted in an analysis that could measure the relationship to existing built up areas, employment clusters and transport nodes. This was then used to understand how these patterns of growth impacted on the sustainability of these city regions in relation to the challenges noted above. The importance of mixed use sites close to transport hubs is strongly supported by the evidence.

As a result this piece of work explains the impact that planning can have in helping to manage these issues. The report also includes an excellent insight into green belt policy. But…..despite the breadth and depth of the analysis I was left waiting for the killer stat. or break-through idea that would stir policy makers. This is not really a criticism of this excellent report but I know from reading the many reports that we see at Thinkhouse that grabbing the attention of the reader (who may, like me when busy, have the attention span of a gnat) is a task the authors should not underestimate…..which brings me to the Policy Exchange report.

The PX report is much weaker than the RTPI report on its research but captured my imagination with its focus on turning urban big box retail sites into mixed use communities. The report is written to influence the Mayor of London’s Housing Plan, which has set a target of 650,000 houses over ten years (66,000 houses per annum) but is equally applicable to any urban/semi-urban area which has warehouse retail or logistics operations/sites.

Actually, it took me a bit of time to warm to the PX report. I appreciated the well-argued explanation of the sustainability of inner city mixed use sites but I felt that underpinning it with a desk top study that used OpenStreetMap to provide an estimate of 1,200 relevant sites covering 6,000 hectares was pretty broad brush. The proposition that these sites could accommodate 250,000-300,000 new homes alongside the existing commercial activity worried me. At this point I should declare an interest as I run a sales and distribution business that needs its three warehouses to meet our customers next day delivery demands. Yes our sites could be bulldozed and houses put on them but what will I and my team do then? Maybe our customers will miss us? Putting viable companies out of business hardly seems a practical policy idea. However I think the report (eventually) recognises this and the focus shifted to highlighting the changing face of retail. We have seen many of our out of town/edge of town warehouse retail shops close (Toys R’Us etc) as the pure internet and click and brick retailers change shopping habits. Almost every town must have empty ‘big box’ retail sites looking sad and weed infested. I know my area does and I also know the local council say they do not have space to build new homes. Well maybe they do if they read the PX report and I for one will be evangelising about the opportunity that this simple idea, put forward by PX, offers. Almost all the empty warehouse retail stores in my locality are next to or close by existing residential areas. Many are not far from transport hubs. Councils, housing associations and developers need to analyse the options and possible housing gain and how such development could be funded and delivered. The retail world has changed and those interested in providing more homes in sustainable areas need to recognise this and take advantage of it. Thank you PX!

A look at May 2018’s research and activity

This first appeared in Inside Housing in May 2018

May saw the publication of a number of interesting research publications – four of which are of particular relevance in the context of the issues I am seeing our housing clients faced with.

The Homelessness Monitor: England 2018, commissioned by Crisis, monitors the impact of social and economic policy on levels of homelessness throughout England. The overall trend is upwards. Rough sleeping has increased by 169% since 2010, and this significant increase is why eradicating homelessness is moving up the political agenda and why it is a key mayoral policy challenge in my home town of Manchester.

Of particular concern for housing providers is the sharp increase in reliance on expensive temporary bed and breakfast accommodation (such placements are now 250% higher than in 2009).

The challenge for housing providers is how to assist in achieving the government’s stated target of 2027 for the elimination of rough sleeping and this paper provides an interesting analysis of this increasing problem faced by local authorities.

“Of particular concern for housing providers is the sharp increase in reliance on expensive temporary bed and breakfast accommodation.”

The Homelessness code of guidance, issued under the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, provides an accessible legislative framework to assist those tasked with providing accommodation for homeless people in the UK, but the report acknowledges the difficulties faced by such authorities.

Two of the issues highlighted in the Homelessness Monitor: England 2018paper as a potential cause for the notable increase in rough sleeping are the availability and affordability difficulties faced by young people seeking to move into their own homes, and the lack of affordable, good quality private rented sector stock as a viable alternative to social housing. These issues are researched further in the papers Home Improvements: action to address the housing challenges faced by young people (published by the Resolution Foundation’s Intergenerational Commission) and A Sustainable Increase in London’s Housing Supply? (published by LSE London).

Both these papers provide wide-ranging recommendations for policymakers to address the housing crisis, including improving access to housing for those on middle incomes (particularly younger people), and introducing a much greater level of flexibility to enable housing providers to react to housing markets when making strategic housing decisions.

In particular, the Home Improvements paper suggests wholesale reform to the private rented sector by increasing regulation and requiring private landlords to grant long-term tenancies. This would change the landscape of private rent dramatically but the research suggests that such a change would see a sizeable reduction in the number of young people who are currently unable to access good quality private rented housing, which it is hoped would help relieve the pressure on affordable housing providers.

The final piece of research I want to examine in this article is entitled Planning risk and development: how greater planning certainty would affect residential development. It is a joint piece by the London School of Economics, University College London and the Royal Town Planning Institute. It is a timely piece considering the closure of the government consultation on the National Planning Policy Framework on 10 May.

The paper examines whether a mechanism to enable developers to obtain planning permission in principle (PiP) would have a beneficial impact on new developments to deliver the housing required to deal with some of the issues raised in the papers discussed earlier in this article. As the paper ascertains, there are many policy and practical issues which may affect the efficiency of the PiP proposal.

One of the concerns the paper raises is whether PiP would deliver any cost efficiencies if developers (who often already build a planning uncertainty contingency into their pricing) use this as an additional opportunity to increase their profit margins by requiring post-planning financial viability assessments once full permissions are granted. The other significant issue is whether the limited local authority resources available are best applied to dealing with another layer of planning process.

As a lawyer, I find it interesting to note (as the paper points out) that there are already a number of ways to achieve more certainty in the planning process before a permission is granted – such as outline planning permission and pre-application consultation with the planners. It does appear from this research that policymakers acknowledge that in practice these existing options do not always offer the certainty that may be required to kick-start development, particularly on more complex or controversial sites.

The analysis in this paper will be of interest to any housing provider that develops its own housing stock as it examines a potential new solution to planning uncertainty which could unlock tricky stalled developments. Although this article examines only four publications, there are several other interesting pieces of research on the Thinkhouse repository. Please get in touch if you would like the panel to consider your research for the next edition

A look at April 2018’s research and activity

This first appeared in Inside Housing in April 2018

This month, several pieces of research made it to my shortlist of articles to publish and review.

The first, by Sheffield Hallam University, is Better Housing, Better Health: The Lambeth Standard which provides a cost-benefit analysis for Lambeth’s housing standard. There are numerous studies of the adverse impact on health of sub-standard housing conditions, yet there are relatively few which investigate the health gains from housing improvements. The research, carried out by the Centre for Regional Economic Research, attempts to answer this complex issue.

This is not a particularly easy task given the limited time and resources often available to researchers and the limited nature of existing evidence relating housing to health. However, the report offers a sophisticated quantitative risk assessment model based on the Housing Health and Safety Rating System signalled by the 2004 Housing Act.

It is important to note that Lambeth’s housing standard only covers ‘bricks and mortar’ elements of housing, not the support. Still, the analysis suggests huge social benefits: investment to raise energy efficiency levels alone produces £78m of savings as a result of reduced cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses; home adaptations £12m as a result of the reduction in trips and falls; and new windows £137m as a result of reduced demand on the NHS and criminal justice system.

Read together with the health and housing memorandum of understanding, housing practitioners could utilise this research to clarify their offer to other sectors (while I imagine the researchers in housing associations will enjoy the in-depth technical calculations in the appendices).

This month’s second publication, by the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University, explores how the housing, care and support needs of older people in Greater Cambridge can be met. The dominant approach in estimating the demand for older people’s housing adopted by local authorities is the SHOP@ model. However, it is reported that only seven local authority areas in England have reached the prevalence rate used by the model, and only 12.5% are within 50% of the target.

“Six months after the government’s announcement for sheltered housing, now is the time for the sector to think about the range of options to fill this gap.”

The research provides a new model: it identifies 100 English local authorities with the highest supply of age-exclusive housing, specialist housing and care beds per 1,000 people aged 75 or over. The model assumes that these areas are more likely to have achieved a better (but not perfect) balance between demand and supply. It suggests that sheltered housing is currently undersupplied to meet the demand which it represents and highlights a particular gap in the provision which is a step below extra-care in terms of the care and support offered.

Six months after the government’s announcement on sheltered housing, now is the time for the sector to think about the range of options to fill this gap. As the research suggests, this could include streamlining home modifications and adaptations, using assistive technologies and local authority assets to build age-tailored/age-exclusive housing.

Sitting alongside this is the new report by charity Independent Age about the barriers faced by older private renters. The challenges facing older private renters are not dissimilar to the wider population. However, older people experience additional disadvantages as a result of insecurity of tenure, unaffordability and poor conditions.

“The most alarming statistic perhaps is the prevalence of loneliness among older private renters.”

The report shows that older private renters have challenges in getting adaptations to their rental properties or finding properties near specific social care services, and unsurprisingly are more likely to be affected by chronic illness and disability than owner-occupiers.

The most alarming statistic perhaps is the prevalence of loneliness among older private renters, who are 2.5 times more likely to be lonely than homeowners, with 16% of them reporting the highest loneliness scores. Given research shows that loneliness is a comparable risk factor for early death to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, it is vital that the housing sector takes action now.

In this article, I have focused on three reports that I found most interesting, but there are also several other pieces of research on the Thinkhouse repository. Please get in touch if you would like the panel to consider your research for the next edition.

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A look at March 2018’s research and activity

This first appeared in Inside Housing in April 201

The editorial panel members all look at research from different perspectives. Mine is one of how useful a piece of work is. To assess its usefulness I consider the following questions:

• Does it help improve practice in the sector?

• Does it give providers and government (local, national and devolved) more knowledge about the best ways to improve housing?

• Does it create a debate about the things we could do better or new things to explore? 

This month several pieces of research have been released which tick one or all of these boxes. 

The first I have to mention is the Institute for Fiscal Studies report on the decline of homeownership among young adults. For a relatively short briefing, it tells the reader a lot. It provides an up-to-date analysis of falls in homeownership, and which groups of young adults have seen the sharpest falls. And it meets the second criteria on my checklist, in that is gives detailed knowledge of the relationship between young people and the homeownership market. Its main conclusion is that a dramatic rise in house prices relative to the incomes of young adults fully explains the falls in homeownership, and that this phenomenon has been geographically widespread. At the age of 27, those born in the late 1980s had a homeownership rate of 25%, compared with 33% for those born five years earlier (in the early 1980s) and 43% for those born ten years earlier (in the late 1970s). The work found that the fall in homeownership is entirely explained by the fact that young adults’ incomes are now much lower relative to house prices on average.

 Why did I have to mention this first? I am certainly not a believer that home ownership is the only option for a stable, healthy life; after all, I work in social housing. But I am also a child of the 80s (although the early 80s) and the analysis gives more meaning and depth to my own lived experience. What I see is my friends overloaded with high monthly mortgage costs, with terms outlasting their likely employment age, for homes they are quickly growing out of. Or they are still in house shares, or other unstable private rented sector options. The report also looks at the difference in the homeownership rates of young adults from different socio-economic backgrounds, and it finds that young adults from more advantaged backgrounds are significantly more likely to own their own home. Between 2014 and 2017, 30% of 25 to 34-year-olds whose parents were in low-skilled occupations owned their own home, compared to 43% of those whose parents were in higher-skilled occupations (e.g.: lawyers or teachers). This suggests we need good quality housing provision for those in that lower socio-economic band who cannot afford to buy a home. It also moves us neatly on to look at the three reports out this month on social housing. 

With many explorations on the future of social housing, we are likely to see more and more interesting pieces of work looking at social housing through different prisms. This month we have The JRF’s excellent and succinct briefing note , which covers the inequalities of the housing market and provides a high-level cost-benefit analysis to argue that investment in social housing is a way to right this imbalance. It also argues that this should feature as part of the Government’s Social Housing Green Paper due to be published in the spring. 

Sitting alongside this is an exploration by the London School of Economic of ‘Overcoming the Stigma of Social Housing’ . This is much more than its title suggests. It provides a detailed analysis of the changes in tenure and housing management over the last few decades and how this has impacted on social housing tenants. Aimed at providers and government, it uses census data and the latest English Housing Survey data to provide a picture of the general composition of social housing, who lives in it, and their social and economic backgrounds. It also examines the trend towards greater residualisation over time. 

This month’s third publication focussed on social housing is Setting Social Rent by Capital Economies . This research paper provides a detailed but accessible analysis of different social rent policies. It takes into account impacts on the government’s fiscal position, social landlords’ operating margins, landlords’ ability to invest in new housing and tenants’ ability to afford the rent levels evaluated. 

Its appendices also feature a useful analysis by region. Its main finding is that the 1% rent cut was unsustainable. The government’s proposed policy of consumer price inflation plus one per cent after 2020 is broadly appropriate in much of the country, but differences in regional housing markets mean a single national policy cannot achieve an optimal impact on different stakeholders (government, social landlords and tenants) in all places. It also finds that the sustainability of real increases in social rents is dependent on corresponding increases in the overall benefits cap. It argues the longer-term settlement on rent is needed, and it makes some recommendations about these features. 

For me, this last report ticks all the boxes. It gives providers information to nuance their rent setting, gives governments knowledge on what the trade-off is for social rent setting and stimulates debates on how we set social housing rents in the future. 

I have focussed on the reports I found most interesting, but there were also several other quality pieces of research produced this month. They included pieces on Housing First , planning loopholes and policy settings, and institutions relevant to the Australian private rental sector . If you want to have a read of these, or any I have mentioned, please take a look at the website. 

A look at February 2018’s research and activity

This first appeared in Inside Housing in February 2018

Help to downsize ?

It is number of years since Aster Living published their case studies into the capacity release benefits created by older people downsizing. These studies demonstrated that for every person rehoused in more suitable accommodation, capacity for two-three people was released. I like to call this the downsizing multiplier effect and it is pretty logical that if you are downsizing from a large to smaller home a factor of at least 2-3 could be expected. But it does make you think that if we wanted to allocate our scarce resources to improving the supply of housing rather than boosting housing demand perhaps funding for Help-to-Buy would be better spent on help to downsize/rightsize? More on this later.

Two reports published this month take a look at housing for older people and come up with a number of interesting recommendations.

A paper edited by Jenny Pannell for the Housing Learning & Improvement Network (Housing LIN) focuses on the need to provide more market rent (private rented sector, PRS) housing for older people. This subset of housing is usually overlooked in the debate regarding suitable housing for people in later life. Housing LIN felt they needed to explore all aspects of choice, especially given the poor reputation that clings to parts of PRS. The report demonstrates that there is demand for later life and all-age PRS, especially for longer-term/assured tenancies but that this often ‘crowded out’ by a focus on ownership or part share ownership.

The attractiveness of moving into a retirement property but without initial capital outlay, stamp duty, conveyance fees, etc, especially if it is brand-new, is clearly going to resonate with many older people. Given the demographics will the PRS market catch up or is it going to need a nudge?

The second report is from the CLG Select Committee . Generally, I like Select Committee reports. They pull in heavy-weight witnesses and the links to the underlying evidence is always insightful. On their way towards endorsing a new national strategy on housing provision for older people this report lists forty recommendations that the Select Committee felt are needed to improve all aspects of policy affecting housing for older people. Interestingly increasing the availability of PRS is one of them and they suggest that the Disabled Facilities Grant should be better used to help landlords adapt their homes. One of the main recommendations is to fund a national advice service to provide telephone support, advice and signposting to such services as the Energy Saving Trust, who help with home heating and home adaptions to prevent falls and advice on moving. Finally, they recommend that the national planning policy framework should offer greater encouragement for the development of housing for older people.  

This is all sensible stuff, but I was left wondering whether they could have been bolder and picked up some of the creative ideas from KPMG’s recent report “Reimagine Housing” . KPMG looked at older movers who have high levels of equity and suggested that tax and legislative incentives could be created to allow a four-way distribution between investing in a smaller home, paying care costs, providing an income and passing on a legacy. Thereby motivating an earlier move. This compares to the current position where older people may opt to continue to live in their large home, receiving free domestic care and delay selling up so that either their children benefit or end of life residential care can be funded. What about those movers who do not have high levels of equity? I think the Select Committee could have been more forceful on challenging the Government to focus Help-to-buy towards older movers who cannot afford to move to specialist housing.

…and this all really matters. The Office for National Statistics says that the proportion aged 85 and over is projected to double over the next 25 years . Housing LIN estimate that by 2035 there will a shortfall of 400,000 units of purpose-built housing for older people and 200,000 care beds.  

So, whilst the Housing LIN and the Select Committee reports are helpful in focusing policy makers on the problems linked to older people’s housing and suggesting some new policy tools, not least a national strategy, the scale of this challenge is significant. But if the ‘Aster’ downsizing multiplier effect is correct, and we succeed in providing the support, incentives and capacity needed for older people to downsize/rightsize we will be also making a significant improvement in the overall supply of housing. I along with all those other 1960s babies, who come 2035 could be slap-bang at the centre of this national challenge, certainly hope so. 

A look at January 2018’s research and activity on the site

This first appeared in Inside Housing in January 2018

One of the most cited consequences from the shortage of housing is the rise in homelessness and this month two major reports have been under the Thinkhouse spotlight.

The Editorial Panel has just published its review of the recent National Audit Office (NAO) report into Homelessness . This report produced some stark data and concluded that the ending of private sector shorthold tenancies is main cause of homelessness, which has risen from 11% to 32% in last seven years. Local Authorities spent £1.15bn in 2015-2016 on homelessness. There are 77,000 households in temporary accommodation, a 60% rise since 2011. Homelessness is more likely in areas with the least affordable housing; ie there are wide regional variations. Private rent accommodation costs have increased three times faster than earnings and in London this is x8. 

Beth Watts, from our Editorial Panel and Heriot-Watt University said in her review of the report;

The NAO report chimes with consistent evidence from Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s the Homelessness Monitors series regarding the impacts of welfare reform, and the household survey based explorations of the drivers of homelessness that point to the absolutely central role of poverty. In relation to costs, the NAO highlight the manifold impacts of homelessness on those experiencing it and on wider public services……The controversy so soberly described in this report continues, as reflected in the recent Public Accounts Committee report , which pulls no punches in describing a current levels of rough sleeping as “appalling” and the extent of homelessness in England a “national crisis”.

The Government will point to the Homelessness Reduction Act, passed in April 2017 and to be implemented this year, as a key part of their policy response. The Act has the potential to transform the way homelessness services are delivered and ensure that all eligible applicants are given the help they need. It requires local housing authorities to help all eligible applicants – rather than just those with a ‘priority need’. It builds on the preventative approach in the 2002 Act, by requiring public authorities (such as the NHS) to notify the housing authority if someone they’re working with is facing homelessness. Of course, it will take time before there is evidence to assess whether the Act is making a difference. Our Editorial Panel look forward to receiving and reviewing it in due course.

A report published just days before Christmas and being assessed in the January round of reports by our Editorial Panel, stated that more needs to be done to resolve Homelessness and uses very detailed research to demonstrate those interventions that work. “Ending Rough Sleeping: What Works?” by Crisis provides an international perspective on ending rough sleeping. It reports that current approaches to address rough sleeping are not as effective as they might (and need) to be as they are not focused enough on prevention. It highlights the need for solutions to be housing led, in particular offering swift access to permanent housing without pre-conditions - “Housing First”. Housing First is person-centred support provided on a flexible basis for as long as it is needed. Housing First marks a significant departure from ‘treatment first’ and has had modest uptake to date in the UK. It has been developed to a much greater extent in the USA and supported by a strong randomised controlled trial evidence base. The evidence demonstrates the success of housing first compared to treatment first. However, Housing First is not a low cost option and no analysis was provided in this report to assess whether the short term costs are recovered in the long term with savings in the health and criminal justice systems.  

The report also looks in detail at the effectiveness of the hostels and shelter (H&S) model that is the UKs predominant accommodation-based emergency/temporary response to street homelessness. It struggles to find really compelling and clear evidence and draws on expert perspectives to conclude that; 

First, H&S can be ‘dangerous places’ that ultimately cause harm to individuals who stay there. Several interviewees described how people were ‘choosing’ to sleep rough rather than access shelter provision. Second, there are concerns that the model is not suited to a significant range of groups, many of whom need more intensive support. Interviewees suggested that H&S are not suited to those with highly complex needs and who could sometimes pose a risk to staff and other clients. Equally, the intervention is often not suited to groups facing multiple forms of exclusion such as ethnic minorities, young people, people on the autism spectrum and those from the LGBTQ community. A number of gaps in provision were also highlighted for couples and those with pets. Third, H&S can be difficult to manage from a staffing perspective with high turnovers of staff as a result of the very challenging work environment.

As result the report recommends that H&S needs to be provided as part of a longer-term solutions that could include; “Housing First”, person-centred support with personalised budgets (support workers have control over a budget for each rough sleeper), swift action such as “No Second Night Out” (assisting those new to rough sleeping), cross-sectoral support, for example “Common Ground” (vulnerable rough sleepers accommodated alongside this who do not have a history of rough sleeping) and assertive outreach to target those with complex needs and entrenched rough sleepers.

Our Editorial Panel is in the process of assessing this report and others that have recently been published. All the reports will be held on the site but those that the panel consider are supported by high quality research and evidence and offer practical solutions will given a high profile and the Panel will write a review to give site users an understanding of the reports key content and importance.

Review of 2017

This first appeared in Inside Housing, December 2017

Richard Hyde, discusses the main themes from the key reports of 2017 and fellow members of the editorial panel highlight some of the surprising gaps in research produced this year.

The seminal work produced in 2004 by Kate Barker defined the number of houses that needed to be built each year to support macroeconomic stability, labour market flexibility and provide more affordable housing at between 195,000-245,000. This was referenced in many of this year’s publications, including the Government’s own housing needs analysis in the February White Paper “Fixing our broken housing market” which set a figure of 225-275,000 homes per year. Since the 1970s there have been on average 160,000 new homes built each year.  In 2016-17 we built 183,570.  This increases to 217,000 if change of use is included.   

There was no shortage of solutions offered to resolve the lack of supply in total and across particular forms of tenure, including social housing – some of which may have helped influence the Governments renewed interest. Housing our ageing population and the implications of not doing this was the focus of a number of papers. 

Before I dive into an examination of the best of these reports I want to look at the implications of not building enough homes; the ‘so what’ question. Perhaps a pertinent starting point given that some voices have questioned whether we actually have a housing crisis.

So what?

Two reports on how homelessness and rough sleeping are linked to the shortage of affordable homes stand out. The NAO report for DCLG in September produced some stark data. It stated that the ending of private sector shorthold tenancies is main cause of homelessness which has risen from 11% to 32% in last seven years. Local Authorities spent £1.15bn in 2015-2016 on homelessness. There are 77,000 households in temporary accommodation, a 60% rise since 2011. Homelessness is more likely in areas with the least affordable housing; ie there are wide regional variations. Private rent accommodation costs have increased three times faster than earnings and in London this is x8.   In March the CSJ looked at housing led solutions to rough sleeping and homelessness .  There are 4,000 rough sleepers out on any given night and this is up 130% since 2010.

The impact of housing supply not meeting demand was looked at by the Resolution Foundation in its Homes Affront report which said that the millennials, who are financially locked out of house ownership are four times more likely to rent than they were two generations ago. 


Solutions offered to help resolve the housing shortage

Land availability and the scope it has to impact on the ability to deliver housing was looked at in a number of papers. The IPPR and Michael Lyons edited collection of think pieces offered a variety of imaginative and thoughtful analyses. This report covers a wide variety of areas and the Editorial Panel praised the strength of its analysis. The section on land reform challenges the boundaries and quality of the current greenbelt provision where no real changes have occurred since 1955. It questions why, if we can reform the NHS, the greenbelt is sacrosanct.  It has an insightful chapter on the German success at land assembly – something that Nick Boles, MP picks up in his housing thinkpiece published in the autumn.  Civitas develops this further in its Building Homes Faster Report and its very recent update which proposes amending the Land Compensation Act to remove “hope value” which they believe is increasing the cost and slowing the pace of construction.  The Financial Times series on UK infrastructure looked at how high land values work against the public sector’s capacity to provide affordable homes. Whilst the private sector can benefit from land value capture (values rise once permission is given) to finance the construction of affordable homes the public sector has to pay prices that take into account potential planning permissions and infrastructure, rather than just the current use value. It proposes that the law needs to change to allow councils to benefit from the uplift in land prices.


Planning and its liberalisation was a common theme with many proposing this as an important way to get more house built but we were reminded in "Lyons2" of the evidence from the Spanish and Irish property crunches that planning freedoms were contributory causes .  


Local Authorities and their potential to increase the supply of housing was reported on by many.  Toward the end of 2017 the Association of Retain Council Housing and the Nat. Fed. of ALMOs published an analysis that concluded that lifting the housing revenue account (HRA) borrowing caps would allow local authorities to deliver at least 15,000 new homes. This would be achieved by allowing councils to manage the HRA in line with the existing Prudential Code for public borrowing.  Localis also looked in detail at the benefits to housebuilding by lifting the HRA cap. The rise of local housing companies (LHC) was reviewed in October by the Smith Institute . They suggested that LHCs offer councils a “triple dividend” in the form of much needed extra housing, a greater stewardship role in place-shaping and a financial return to the council. There are now probably as many as 150 LHCs in England, most formed in the past few years. On the current trend, this could increase to 200 by 2020.


One of the more imaginative ideas was on funding and Respublica’s proposal for a National Housing Fund.  This would boost housing supply by utilising the government’s ability to borrow money at historically low rates. It calls for £100bn of investment over ten years which would build up to 40,000 more rental homes per annum. The money is invested in homes for rent, managed by housing associations (who also own a share of the fund). Rents are used to repay interest costs and management costs. It is noteworthy that this report seems to be underpinning some of the current Government ‘chatter’ on the way to radically boost supply. The Editorial Panel questioned whether all the new houses would really be additional.


Structural constraints caused by the decline of small building companies and over-centralisation were well covered. Two reports on devolution stand out. The Smith Institute suggests ways that the new metro mayors can use their powers to the best advantage and what other powers could be devolved. At times this does become a bit of list of government asks but the analysis picks up on some of the more creative and innovative proposals. An example is the Cambridge-Peterborough combined authorities’ approach that should demonstrate that real flexibilities are not just confined to London. There is also the £1bn Tees Valley equity based investment vehicle. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation looked at how the new city regions can tackle poverty though their housing and planning policies. JRF have identified that at present only a small number of small city and town local authorities are addressing inclusive growth through direct intervention. JRF conclude this is a key missed opportunity, and that the small number of proactive interventions being pursued at the moment could be easily scaled-up and pursed at the metropolitan level.


The need for the house building sector to modernise its methods of construction was picked up in the government’s white paper which followed the comprehensive analysis produced last October by Mark Farmer This 80 page review had a 'by the sector, for the sector' feel to it. As a result there are sections that focus on the minutiae of what trade bodies need to be doing to respond to a stark picture of low productivity, poor skills and old fashioned procurement. If the built environment sector wants to see a change in behaviour a detailed prescription is probably needed and here it is!


Rent controls/regulation have reappeared on the political horizon and Thinkhouse selected three reports that shed light on the subject. Alex Hilton’s ‘How to repair the housing market’ for the CWU , IPPR looked at the German rental market and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s review of the Irish regulation system for their rental market .


.. and finally housing our ageing population 

2017 saw a steady flow of reports that assessed the consequences and costs of not housing our ageing population in appropriate housing. Many analysed the impact on care support services. In September KPMG in their Reimagine Housing report took a look at sharing the value of an elderly persons existing property between the costs of buying a new smaller flat in a modern care complex, their relatives, future living costs and future care costs. It also considered multi-generational living ie students offered cheap accommodation in exchange for acting as a ‘buddy’.   The LGA along with Housing LIN produced Housing our Ageing Population which offered some useful statistics and best practice case studies. The number of people aged over 65 is forecast to rise over the next decade, from the current 11.7 million people, to 14.3 million , a 22 per cent rise. This means that one in five of the total population will be over 65 in 10 years’ time, which will become one in four by 2050. In the UK, the vast majority of over 65s currently live in the mainstream housing market. Only 0.6 per cent of over 65s live in housing with care, which is 10 times less than in more mature retirement housing markets such as the USA and Australia, where over 5 per cent of over 65s live in housing with care. The suitability of the housing stock is of critical importance to the

Linking policy makers to the best ideas and research

This first appeared on the Housing Studies Association's website in July 2017 was launched this spring. It is a web library of research papers, policy publications and case studies all of which propose ways to increase the amount and quality of the UK's housing stock and the related economic, social and community benefits of doing this.
Thinkhouse is curated by an independent Editorial Panel. It Lheadlines and helps develop and publicise the site. The objective is to provide easy access to innovative and potentially influential papers. It is aimed at housing policy makers, practitioners, front line staff, directors, councillors and parliamentarians. Thinkhouse has no ties to or funding from any interest group. We are politically neutral and the Editorial Panel is made up of a mix of political persuasions and none.

Our Editorial Panel wish to deepen and strengthen our links with the academic world to help ensure that we are aware of forthcoming publications and can include all work that meets the aims noted above. So please email us or contact us on twitter @thinkhouseinfo to alert us to pieces you are working on or have recently published. We will include them in the repository section and the Editorial Panel will then discuss and determine whether we want to showcase the piece in the yearly headline sections. Our annual sections have a top ten approach. The Editorial Panel will select the pieces that they feel are ‘must reads’ by those engaged in housing policy. The Ed Panel will also produce a brief comment piece (peer reviewed by the Panel) of each report selected. We use our twitter feed to alert followers about all new reports included in the repository and if a report is moved to the annual showcase section and again when a review is written. Site followers are also able to submit comments which the Editorial Panel will assess before they go on the site. For highlighted papers we will also link to related content such as Select Committee Hearings or blogs.
We think we really need the great content being produced by HSA members and in return we will help to get it to policy makers. - why and so what; from the policy makers perspective.

We are not building enough houses and the economic and social impact of this is well known and captured in many of the reports on the site, not least Kate Barker’s seminal report ; still unfortunately relevant today as in 2004.

What are the potential benefits of Thinkhouse? Here are four:

valuation of the latest ideas. The Editorial Panel will select the pieces and provide an independent review. Convenience of having the best reports all in one place that is easy to access. Sharing , Thinkhouse will be reaching out to as many housing policy makers and practitioners as possible. Inspiring, we hope we will be the catalyst for more debate and more ideas and so make a positive difference to the national challenge of building more and better homes and the related economic, social and community benefit of doing so.

More than just Blue Sky Thinking

This first appeared on the Housing Studies Association's website in July 2017

Thinkhouse was launched this spring. It is an online source of the best research pieces, policy publications and case studies ( from across all political persuasions and none) which propose ways to increase the amount and quality of the UK's housing stock and to improve social mobility. Sounds a bit dull, but it isn’t. Richard Hyde, the sites founder and chair of the editorial panel, believes it is important these thought provoking pieces reach as big an audience as possible.

The site is curated by an independent editorial panel. They select publications, review and write the brief introductory headlines and help develop and publicise the site. The objective is to provide easy access to a few key pieces, which are sorted by year, to help housing non-executive directors, councillors, parliamentarians, policy makers and housing practitioners/front line staff who are interested in understanding how we can build more and better homes. Thinkhouse has no ties to or funding from any interest or political group. 

Thinkhouse, as an idea, came from my belief that there was a lot of great analysis and thinking about housing that I should be reading to help me in my day job (I run a company selling construction tools) and my non-executive (NED) roles (that have been focused on housing and regeneration). I wanted to be able to reference what I heard and I wanted to be able to challenge and act as an effective sounding board. To do all this I needed to have the best think pieces and reports to hand. So I started to collect my favourites, such as the 2004 Barker Review, the 2012 Montague Report and Aster Living’s extracare case studies. I eventually built up an online store of about 20 reports. 

It was suggested that if this was helping me as a housing NED, it could help other non-executives or policy makers such as parliamentarians, councillors and housing practitioners. So we decided to test the theory. The starting point was to recruit an editorial panel to give the idea and the library a good intellectual going over. Once it had passed that test it was a case of getting it out there and see what the response was. The panel has been incredibly pleased by the feedback and we are now focusing on getting more exposure with our key audiences. We currently have a bit of a bias to the not for profit/housing association sector, not in the reports we have curated, but with our twitter following and on our editorial panel. It is something we are now looking to address.

Thinkhouse may not change the world overnight but we are hopefully beginning to make a small difference. We will certainly be generating new readers for some of the innovative thinking that is emerging. This is particularly true of research that comes out of the Universities which can sometimes struggle to reach wider audiences.

I close with one of the key message from an important 2016 report; the Farmer Review. Farmer notes that the acceleration of the wider digital revolution combined with a shrinking traditional construction workforce creates both an opportunity and a threat to everyone engaged in providing more and better homes. I hope Thinkhouse will play its part in getting this (and other) messages to those who need to hear them and have the ability to make a difference; ie more than just blue sky thinking.