Ken Gibb: Stepping out on to the road - the Housing to 2040 roadmap
UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE) director Ken Gibb welcomes the launch of the Housing to 2040 roadmap and, after reading it several times, reflects on its intent, actions and aims for positive change.
On Thursday, March 18, I participated in a panel session run by the Chartered Institute of Housing that discussed the strategy, the challenges and the range of issues within such a broad and comprehensive statement of intent. The event involved cabinet secretary Aileen Campbell and housing minister Kevin Stewart, with Tony Cain from ALACHO and me providing an initial response to the cabinet secretary’s summary and analysis of what the priorities are from Housing to 2040.
I welcomed the launch of Housing to 2040. A huge effort has been made to deliver a long list of actions and interventions designed to deliver comprehensive and sustainable positive change. Justice can only be done here to a few of the key points.
The actions are largely front end loaded and most will be initiated in the next Parliament (excepting the longer term affordable supply programme, the net zero housing programmes and the homelessness proposals). We can divide up the actions between those that are well-defined near-time proposals and those that require further development, review and analysis. I was happy to welcome many of these proposals, particularly:
- The commitment to delivering green retrofit and net zero new build (and its integrated status within climate change commitments to 2045)
- The affordable supply programme that aims to deliver 100,000 social and affordable units over the next two Parliaments
- The unitary renting sector strategy proposal
- The commitment to higher standards, improved housing quality and consistent regulation across all housing tenures
- The homelessness programme of action
- Tenemental reform
- The wider opportunities created by the proposed audit of all housing and homelessness legislation, ostensibly to map the human rights implications of what is and is not fit for purpose
- And the broader philosophy of connecting housing policy performance to the National Performance Framework and indeed to other connected public policy spheres.
I was asked to reflect on the strategy as it impacts on the housing system. When we think of housing as a system, it is of course not just about considering the whole sector in a strategy, it is also about how it analytically fits together, about system dynamics, emergent properties, unintended consequences, the boundaries, drivers and resilience that the system has to wider shocks.
A key idea within systems thinking is leverage and the idea that the more effective interventions overcome possible implementation gaps. For housing strategy, this requires that we fully understand the interactions and interdependencies of the housing system, its transmission mechanisms, causality and otherwise unanticipated consequences. It also allows us to align our informed conceptual understanding with performance metrics, data, finance and incentives in order to follow these transmission mechanisms through the housing system when we intervene.
Within Housing to 2040 the challenges identified by systems thinking include:
- Developing and operationalising a framework for monitoring progress through this transmission mechanism of the wider and often quite complex housing interactions that arise from multiple, cumulative interventions;
- Taking account of the significant enforcement and compliance tasks associated with many of the new regulatory tasks being proposed by the government (e.g. across standards, quality, private rented sector), all of which require significant regulatory enforcement. Is there sufficient capacity, resources and integration to do this effectively (much of it will fall on local authorities)? Does the strategy need a new workstream to think through a proportionate, effective and efficient regulatory framework which is properly funded and organised to take on these significant additional tasks to get the housing system delivering what is intended?
I made a few further points. The first concerned the immediate issue of local rent pressure zones, which the government says it will reform in order to make them effective. How this will be done is still internal work in progress. Second, I recognised the commitment to tenement reform. The capacity to deliver tenement retrofit in order to reduce carbon emissions and retain that important iconic part of the housing stock does also require more substantive reform to the tenement model in Scotland. The government has indicated that it supports the proposals associated with the recent parliamentary working group on tenement maintenance so one hopes that this will be progressed.
Perhaps the element of the underlying principles of Housing to 2040 that is least developed in the new roadmap concerns principles two, three, and four. These aim to de-speculate the housing market, produce stable house prices, help people diversify wealth holding out of housing, and provide other forms of saving for tenants and owners. We are promised a tax review after the election but there was little sense so far of well-developed ideas to take this critical way of supporting long-term affordability that much further forward. I have said before that this is both ambitious and challenging, as well as welcome. We must keep an eye on progress with this radical, potentially system-level, reform.
Finally, I raised the work CaCHE has recently completed – a study for the Centre for Ageing Better (in press) – about the range of initiatives and recent developments in England associated with private sector repair and improvement policy. We also look at possible options for new programmes to help tackle cold, hazards and other risks associated with poor quality housing owned by older and often lower income households. This seems to be highly relevant to the quality theme of Housing to 2040.
Everyone should try to read Housing to 2040 and contribute to the debate. It is an important document and one which makes a welcome attempt to deliver wide-ranging housing policy change over the necessarily longer period of time required to make such policies stick.