Housing strategy: the return

Maggie Rafalowicz, Director at Campbell Tickell,  outlines what a comprehensive and effective housing strategy looks like.

Councils used to be required to produce an annual housing strategy, alongside statistical returns and HRA (housing revenue account) Business Plans. Affordable housing grant was distributed according to the Housing Needs Index, which was either uplifted or downgraded according to the quality and implementation of their housing strategy. In the noughties though, central government scrapped the requirement for a housing strategy – even though homelessness and tenancy strategies are now statutory requirements.

With the re-emergence of housing as a top government priority – cue the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government – more councils are developing housing strategies. So what do they look like and why?

Typically, the initial driver for the strategy is a desire for a prospectus for growth. But as consultation gets under way with a wider group of council officers, elected members and residents, it becomes a comprehensive document taking into account a broader range of issues and challenges. Devolution deals and the advent of
combined authorities have brought the need for a strategic approach to housing delivery and its integration with planning and infrastructure development into sharper focus.

Considering the national, regional and local contexts, an effective housing strategy sets the framework for activity and practical measures to achieve housing priorities that align and complement other key activities. In deciding on a strategy, authorities face some critical challenges.

Critical challenges
• Finding sites to deliver growth
• Demographic changes and ageing population
• Limited financial resources and need to obtain maximum output
• Continuing requirement to support vulnerable households and deliver statutory services
• Affordability

Strategy cornerstones

Traditionally the three main components of any housing strategy were:

  • Supply – ensuring the right supply of homes (in tenures, types and sizes) in the right locations for the right needs and at the right price;
  • Quality – improving service provision including the needs of vulnerable clients, the condition of the housing stock across tenures and neighbourhoods;
  • Affordability – whereas once the focus of housing strategies used to be on those in greatest housing need, the cost of housing now means that this is an issue which touches a much wider segment of the population.

These components remain the cornerstones, but ultimately a comprehensive strategy should support the economic, cultural and community ambitions that create a place in which people want to live, learn, work and play.

So, what does a comprehensive and effective housing strategy look like, and how do we get there?

1. Vision:

This will link to wider corporate priorities and the strategic context in which a council and its partners operate

2. Evidence:

The first stage is to compile a robust evidence base on which to build the strategy. This would include needs assessments, stock condition surveys, historic and planned development programmes, as well as reviewing how these will contribute to the authority’s strategic housing market assessment.

3. Link to other key strategies:

Homelessness, older people, asset management, health and wellbeing, economic development, place-making and regeneration, transport.

4. Consultation:

In order to ground the strategy within the council’s vision and to meet the ambitions of local people, you need to carry out extensive internal consultation with  members and officers, and use various methods to gain intelligence and feedback from residents such as open days, online surveys and social media.
At the same time, external consultation is critical to achieving partner buy-in, and should include housing associations, developers, private landlords, funders and government agencies, in order to inform and shape the approach to delivery.

5. Action plan:

A well prepared strategy will not be something to put on the shelf; it must be a live document with measurable outcomes against which progress can be assessed and the strategy adjusted accordingly.

Hopefully this time we will we learn the relevant lessons and make sure our procurement activity is thought-out and our arrangements robust.

To find out how we can help your organisation contact: maggie.rafalowicz@campbelltickell.com

This article also appears in CT Brief, Issue 35

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