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

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 (https://bankunderground.co.uk/2019/09/06/houses-are-assets-not-goods-taking-the-theory-to-the-uk-data/#more-5400) 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 thinkhouse.org.uk 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

Thinkhouse.org.uk 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 info@thinkhouse.org.uk 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.

Thinkhouse.org.uk - 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.