The stats don’t lie: we need a plan to tackle the affordable housing crisis

By Cllr Hannah Dalton | 04 September 2023

Last week saw the publication of alarming new evidence from very different parts of the housing world confirming district councils’ worst fears about the crisis in affordable housing.

Research by the National Residential Landlords Association found that an all-time-high 37% of landlords plan to cut the number of properties they let over the coming year at the same time as two thirds of landlords reported that tenant demand had increased.

The annual survey by homelessness charity Crisis revealed that, in 2022, 85%  of councils reported a rise in households experiencing the misery of homelessness.

Sadly this is no surprise.

The District Councils’ Network’s (DCN) own survey in late 2021 showed that 76%  of district councils surveyed had seen an increase in landlords selling up properties.

This echoes concerns from across the sector about a chronic lack of ‘affordable’ private accommodation, leaving many in temporary accommodation for longer than they should be.

Government statistics for the first part of 2023 show that, in district areas, there are 3,500 more families in temporary accommodation than the same time in 2022 – an increase of 29%.

Speaking to our member councils, we know that demand has only increased during 2023 as financial pressures build on local residents and private landlords sell up.

Our homelessness teams are directly experiencing the consequences.

Since 2021 the number of households threatened with homelessness is up by 16%, with the numbers presenting as already homeless up by 17% on 2021 levels.

Now several families compete for a single property, with councils unable to place those at risk of homelessness.

This is at least in part due to out-of-date Local Housing Allowance rates which mean local homes are unaffordable.

The DCN welcomed the boost from the additional £150m Homelessness Prevention Grant announced in June this year to prevent residents and refugees from becoming homeless.

However, the shortage of truly affordable homes in private rented and social housing is a problem requiring a strategic solution.

Short-term funding boosts alone cannot lead the way out of this crisis.

We also face problems with the supply of council housing. Official statistics show that district councils’ housing waiting lists grew by almost 8% between 2020 and 2022.

In district areas over 21,000 more households are now waiting to access social housing.

For 17 district councils this was an increase of more than 50%.

Over the two years from 2020-21 and 2021-22 almost 27,000 social and affordable rent properties were completed in district council areas.

This is a testament to what councils can do with limited resources.

But in the current climate delivery will not be able to match future demand – let alone clear the backlog of families waiting for new homes.

In the same period almost 2,500 homes were sold through Right to Buy.

This is only one of many pressures on councils with housing stock.

Councils must balance a new regulatory regime for social housing – estimated to cost the sector £17.9m in its first two years – with an urgent need to retrofit ageing housing stock.

The current resource drain means many councils will struggle to fund new social housing at scale.

Finally, we are concerned about the impact of the rapid expansion of short-term lets on the affordability of private rented homes, especially in tourist areas.

Our 2021 survey showed that housing shortages were particularly bad in these places.

In one popular tourist destination in South-west England there was an almost 80% drop in the number of open-market, long-term rental properties.

Our member councils tell us that the problem has only increased since then.

But enough statistics!

Recent Government measures to increase regulation of short-term lets and to help councils build new social housing are a start.

We are calling on Michael Gove to go much further.

We need urgent action to give councils the financial firepower to drive a significant increase in social and affordable housing, and to tackle the unregulated expansion of short-term lets.

We also urge the Government to explore ways to address features in the welfare system that make private rented properties unaffordable.

As a result of the cost-of-living-crisis we need a comprehensive plan because everyone deserves to live in a secure, safe and affordable home.

Councillor Hannah Dalton is District Councils’ Network spokesperson for health, housing and hardship and chair of Majority Group, Epsom and Ewell BC

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Housing Homelessness District Councils Network Right to Buy Funding Cost of living