Policy Exchange taints Housing Day

12 November was Housing Day. Here, SHOUT's Colin Wiles comments on a new Policy Exchange report that was published on the day.

Housing Day on 12 November was tainted by a report from Policy Exchange which purports to give housing associations the "freedom" to unlock themselves from government debt, to set their own rents and to choose the tenants they want. Policy Exchange is, of course, the government's favoured think tank and many of their past policy proposals have been taken up by the coalition government. But this is a step too far and should be resisted by all those who believe in social housing as the bedrock of a civilised society.

The term "Free Housing Associations" is a clever use of words that disguises the real intent of the free marketeers at Policy Exchange, which is to oversee a massive privatisation of public assets. The lesson of the New Era estate is that the market cannot and will not provide for the people at the bottom of the ladder. No doubt there are many well-paid chief executives in the housing association sector who would relish the prospect of a commercial world free from regulatory interference, and it is disappointing to see senior figures in the sector welcoming this report. But if they think that they could survive for long in the cutthroat world of commercial property I am afraid they are deluding themselves.

The overriding message of the Policy Exchange report appears to be that housing associations could double their output of homes if only they were set free from regulation. But it is not regulation that is hampering housing supply, but lack of government investment, and the policy Exchange report is nothing but a cynical ploy to conceal the fact that the housing investment budget was cut by 60 percent in 2010. A key theme of the report is that regulation is overwhelmingly a bad thing, yet it provides security for tenants and stability for lenders and it has created a sector that is a relative success story. Housing associations only exist in their present from because the British taxpayer has supported them for decades past. Their assets should remain under public control and should not be sold off to the private sector.

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