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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord Whitty, for tabling and introducing this important debate. I concur with what he said and the Shelter report. I draw attention to my interests, particularly as a board member of a housing association, and join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Osamor, on her humbling maiden speech.
In the excellent Library briefing on the topic, we are reminded that the number of socially rented homes has been falling consistently in England since the 1980s and that in 2016 only 17% of homes fell into this category, compared to 25% in 1981. At the same time, the number of households in privately rented accommodation has risen and statistics show that private renters spend a much higher proportion of their incomes on rent than social renters. Renters in London, particularly those in younger age group—between 25 and 34—are facing increasing housing costs. This affects in particular key workers in the public sector, who need to be near to hospitals, schools, ambulance centres and other places in which they serve. Crisis argues that insecure tenancies in the private sector have led to an increase in the cases of homelessness and the placing of some young families in bed and breakfast. At the weekend, I looked on the Mayor of London’s website for a socially rented home with two bedrooms in south London. None is available.
The Government acknowledge these issues and in 2017 committed with local councils to build more social homes, as outlined in last year’s Green Paper. The Government say that they will promote ambitious new pro-development deals to build more social housing, yet a quick review of flats for sale in London at reasonable prices—between £150,000 and £500,000—revealed 18,000 properties, some of which were doubtless sold under right to buy. Many such properties are being sold by older people who wish to sell and move to smaller properties, often outside the metropolis, or by families who want to leave London. Could not a government capital scheme be devised to encourage housing associations and councils to buy back many of those homes, possibly at a slightly discounted rate of, let us say, 90% of the estimated value, and refurbish them quickly to house many of those families in desperate need of two or three-bedroomed social rent properties? Housing associations could carry out this regeneration quite quickly while still undertaking to build new homes, including smaller units for people whose families now live independently and are themselves ready to downsize.
While I have used housing in London as an example, it is equally important to consider how redundant stock in rural communities, or stock that has been for sale for a long period without being purchased, could be redistributed as social housing if a capital scheme enabled councils and housing associations to buy back properties. This would be particularly useful in expensive housing areas such as rural villages in Devon and Cornwall, where holiday home ownership has sent property prices soaring. I would welcome the Minister’s response on this matter, as it could provide a catalyst for increasing provision in tandem with the provision of new-build homes.