The community right to buy

How housing acquisitions can regenerate left behind communities, improve standards, and decarbonise homes

In conjunction with the Homes For Us alliance of grassroots organisations and campaigners, the New Economics Foundation (NEF) is developing policies to fix England’s broken housing model. Our report, Beyond New Buildargued that, alongside building more social homes, the government should encourage the upgrading and repurposing of private rented sector (PRS) properties as social homes.

This paper outlines a range of policy levers which would encourage a flow of transactions from the PRS to the social sector. These would enable social landlords to provide much needed social and affordable housing at speed, targeting need, including more than 100,000 families in temporary accommodation, and rebalancing our broken housing system. First, we outline a community right to buy: pre-emptive first buyer rights for social landlords and community-led housing organisations. This would empower communities to take control of poorly maintained and empty homes in deprived areas with low property values. It would also give them a necessary competitive advantage over buy-to-let, often absentee landlords, who continue to extract wealth from left behind communities. A national acquisitions programme to support such organisations would catalyse regeneration, injecting jobs, economic growth and pride of place in England’s so-called left behind towns.

Second, local authorities should be empowered to acquire properties from landlords who are unable or unwilling to let their properties to required standards, be it in relation to energy efficiency ratings, the Decent Homes Standard (DHS) — which is due to be extended to the PRS — or any other specified forms of regulatory non-compliance. We therefore propose new rules whereby landlords should be prevented from selling non-compliant properties on the open market, with only local authorities being permitted to purchase them as the buyer of last resort. This would incentivise landlords to invest in better, greener homes and encourage local authorities to acquire them at a reduced price where standards are not met.

These policy levers will only enable acquisitions to occur on a significant scale if they are backed by investment and central government grants. The 10% acquisitions cap on the affordable homes programme (AHP) should be raised and a national housing conversion fund should be adopted and geared towards low-demand areas to inject economic growth and prevent high value property markets from becoming overheated. This fund should include grants for non-registered providers, such as community-led housing groups. Only then can these proposals empower social landlords and grassroots housing organisations to tackle housing need, act as a vehicle for regeneration and economic growth in left behind areas, and help raise standards and energy efficiency in the PRS.

Image: Unsplash

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