Boosting home ownership can and must happen, whilst building more social housing

Following the announcement by the Prime Minister of proposals to extend the Right to Buy to housing association residents, G15 Chair and Chief Executive of MTVH, Geeta Nanda OBE has commented on the vital role of boosting supply of social homes alongside supporting more people into homeownership.

The importance of home ownership has been underscored with the government’s announcement that it intends to introduce a revamped ‘Right to Buy’ scheme for housing association residents. This iconic policy has played a huge role in the housing world for over 40 years, helping thousands of people to buy their homes.

It has, of course, not been without its issues. Therefore, there is a real need to work collaboratively and examine the impact this new policy could have before pressing ahead.

Quite clearly, supporting more people to realise their dream of owning their own home is an ambition all of us in the sector share. I wholeheartedly believe that a safe, affordable and decent home is the platform for people to thrive, to build the lives they wish for themselves. However, this is true whether people are renting or buying. Therefore, as we wait to hear more from government on its proposals, we need to recognise that while boosting home ownership is imperative, it can and must be done while at the same time building more social and affordable homes.

Social housing plays a major role in giving security to millions of people across the UK. It is not just a roof over residents’ heads. It is an entry point to a wider community. It provides a gateway to other services provided by the likes of MTVH, including financial help and social opportunities. Social housing can truly empower people to enrich and enhance their quality of life in so many ways. The National Housing Federation estimates that social rented housing is the most appropriate tenure for around half of the 8.5m people in England with an unmet housing need. Social Housing also enhances local communities ensuring a good, safe rental home for so many to work locally, providing much needed services. The necessity for more social housing is clear.

For many, home ownership is where they aspire to be, and we are committed to supporting more people to achieve this where they can. However, social housing must not be sacrificed along the way. I was encouraged by the government’s specific commitment in its ‘Right to Buy’ announcement to directly replace any housing association homes sold under the new scheme on a one-for-one basis. With the Secretary of State confirming this must also be on a like-for-like basis and within the same local area, to truly ensure that the most affordable homes are not lost from communities. This will be especially important in areas of high cost such as London and in rural areas, where the availability of land and cost of building is especially challenging.

When it comes to home ownership, it is also worth recognising that the Right to Buy is just one avenue for those who would otherwise struggle to purchase a home.

Shared ownership is an increasingly popular and proven model. In 2021, the average deposit for a first-time buyer in the UK was £52,935. In London, the amount was more than double. By comparison, the average deposit for a buyer through MTVH’s shared ownership brand, SO Resi, in London was £27,000. Importantly, the average income of those buying a home through SO Resi is £36,000, demonstrating that shared ownership can most likely provide a route to home ownership, whilst also costing the government far less.

If the government does press forward with a revamped Right to Buy scheme, it must also seek to further address the chronic lack of affordable homes in the UK. This is something we know the Secretary of State recognises and is committed to. At the Shelter conference in April, he went further and accepted there had been a failure to ensure there are homes which are genuinely affordable for all, and that action is urgently needed to address the lack of social housing.

Housing associations are uniquely placed to help the government deliver on both its commitment to boosting homeownership and delivering more and better social housing. Let’s work together.

A version of this article first appeared in Property Week.