Lazy, facile, and correct

Well, if Mr Jamie Ratcliff, a £100,000 a year housing official at the Greater London Authority, is right, Red Brick is ‘lazy’ and ‘facile’ in our opposition to the ‘Affordable Rent’ programme. Fortunately we are not alone, being joined by an increasing number of commentators, housing officials and people who work for organisations that deliver the scheme.

At the risk of sounding defensive, let’s look at the ‘lazy’ and ‘facile’ charges. Along with other bloggers and writers, we have done dozens of posts on Red Brick about ‘Affordable Rent’. We described the antecedents of the policy before the 2010 Election, when people within housing and within the Tory Party argued for less security of tenure and higher rents. We drew attention to and criticised various think tank reports setting out an agenda for the end of social housing.

After the Election, we pointed out that there was nothing in the Tory manifesto, the Lib Dem manifesto or the Coalition agreement which set out the ‘Affordable Rent’ policy for democratic scrutiny. We noted that the policy had come through the ‘back channels’ of the Tory Party rather than being debated publicly, and noted that it was incubated by the 60% cut in housing investment in the first spending review. We have banged on about it ever since. And, Mr Ratcliff, we are also guilty of calling it ‘unaffordable rent’. Sorry to be so trite.

Facile is another charge that doesn’t really stick. We have looked in detail at the problems the programme causes for providers as well as tenants. We have looked at the rent levels and their implications for housing benefit and work disincentives. And we have criticised the fact that the funding of the programme is dependent on the sale of existing properties and the ‘conversion’ of a proportion (what proportion?) of existing social rented homes to ‘Affordable Rent’ levels when they become vacant.

One of the barriers to being unfacile, if there is such a word, has been the complete secrecy with which the HCA and Mr Ratcliff’s employers, the GLA, have managed the programme. It took Freedom of Information requests to get the most basic of information about the programme, the contracts being let, the number of homes involved, and the rent levels. Information is still very scarce and I cannot remember a housing programme that has produced so little monitoring information about rent levels, size of units, distribution of units, and so on. What have they got to hide?

Secrecy has meant that it has taken some time for people to become aware of what is going on and for opposition to build. But building is what it is doing. More people are arguing that providers should boycott the whole scheme and force the Government and Boris Johnson into a rethink.

Alex Marsh wrote an interesting blog last week evidencing the fact that arguments for a change of gear in housing are growing louder and that a stronger case is being made for the sector to come out fighting.

One such example is that next week sees the launch of the campaign for social rented housing, SHOUT, which aims to be an all-party group making the case for more social rented housing, not less. The group has already put in strong evidence to the Lyons Inquiry and will hopefully have a big influence on the future debate. SHOUT can be followed on Twitter @4socialhousing

No doubt people like Mr Ratcliff will say that the SHOUT campaign is also lazy and facile because it too denounces the ‘Affordable Rent’ regime in strong terms. But then again, I suppose it is possible to be lazy, facile …. and correct.

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