At our Homes 2023 Conference I was delighted to be joined by an expert panel who each brought perspectives on the delivery of affordable housing, and how we can do more of it.
The key themes of the conversation can be summed up in two words: collaboration and community.
The current housing crisis is putting pressure on existing communities struggling to provide housing for people who need it. It's well known that there is a shortage of high quality, affordable housing which meets the needs of people in the places they want to live. This is not only an issue affecting people seeking social rented housing in their communities. Some 80% of applicants for Mid-Market rented housing are in employment. The gap between rents (which are in key pressurised areas inflated by demand pressures) and incomes means that for many working households high – quality affordable housing is extremely hard to come by.
The housebuilding community is a big and many faceted one. Housebuilders of both housing for sale (including affordable housing by way of s.75 contributions) and our largest RSLs and most dynamic affordable housing providers who stand ready to deliver largescale developments and challenging redevelopments will put shovels in the ground, but they alone can’t drive forward the delivery of the huge numbers required.
Other key members of the community are needed at the table.
Planning authorities are key. No one doubts that there are massive pressures on planning authorities, not least lack of human resources to take forward applications (not to mention, challenges around the operation of NPF4 and fluctuating s.75 developer contributions). However, collaboration between housebuilders (affordable and for sale) could deliver efficiencies – it was suggested, for example, that housebuilder pipelines could be mirrored by planning authorities having a matching pipeline of applications. Certainty around developer contributions would also support development appraisals, and ultimately promote delivery.
Government – local and national - needs to collaboratively work together with the community to develop more policies which promote housing delivery, both within the Affordable Housing Supply Programme and outside of it. Thorough and wide-ranging consultation and collaboration with all members of the community is required before the implementation of new policies which will have impact on new housing development coming forward. The link between the ability to set and recover rents and new housing delivery (and retrofit of existing stock) is particularly tangible. Any change to the former will have impact on the latter.
Lenders want to (and are) lending to support affordable housing delivery but they can't provide a panacea! However, they can, in collaboration with the affordable housing sector bring forward a pervasive collective view to support the sector in delivering the art of the possible.
Institutional investors are keen to become part of the community, particularly in collaboration with affordable housing providers. Pension fund investment and other forms of patient capital could play a role in unlocking some large scale, mixed - tenure development – but as with BTR in Scotland, the opportunity to deliver additionality needs to be supported by the wider community, including the policy context.
Everyone in this community has a part to play in supporting the delivery of homes at the scale required to meet current housing need. Traditionally communities come together in times of crisis, and that is what is required now if the housing crisis facing local communities across Scotland is to be resolved.
The willingness for collaboration among the members of the panel representing many of the key stakeholder groups within the affordable housing community was evident.