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The home stretch

The independent review of affordable housing supply is due to make its recommendations in April. Lynn Pamment identifies the key themes that have emerged so far.

Back in April 2018 I was delighted to agree to chair an independent review panel looking at the supply of affordable housing in Wales. The review is looking at what more can be done to increase the supply of affordable housing, maximising the resources available by examining:

  • The scope for increasing match funding to maximise the number of homes created by the Welsh Government’s contribution to social housing
  • The arrangements governing partnership working between local authorities and housing associations
  • The potential implications of moving to deliver zero carbon homes by 2020
  • The standards governing affordable housing
  • A sustainable rent policy that will both allow long term affordability for tenants and allow viability of existing and new housing developments.

To help us focus the work of the panel, we established ten workstreams to examine the issues and opportunities that will enable an increase in the supply of affordable housing. These workstream groups have involved a large number of housing professionals and other stakeholders to help the panel consider evidence and ideas for improvement.

We also issued a formal call for evidence back in the summer to help inform the work of the panel. The call for evidence had a fantastic response with over 200 individuals and organisations contributing to our work.

We have held panel meetings around Wales and have heard evidence at our meetings from a diverse range of people representing organisations including housing associations, local authorities, builders and planners. We have also worked with TPAS to obtain insight into tenant views and were pleased to engage directly with tenants at the recent TPAS conference.

At all times, the focus of our work has been on identifying the key things that may contribute to a significant increase in the supply of affordable homes in Wales.

Our work is ongoing and we are due to make our recommendations in April 2019. There are, however, a number of themes coming out of our work to date that we will be considering as we form our recommendations.

We should have a more sophisticated understanding of housing need

Understanding housing need is not just about numbers of units to be built. There needs to be a more sophisticated and consistent understanding of types of accommodation and tenure to be built to enable sustainable communities for the future. There needs to be consistency in trusted data sources both at a local and a national level.

Standards for affordable housing should continue with some reforms

There is general agreement from the evidence base that it is time to review and simplify standards focusing on important issues such as space, adaptability and security.

There is interest in the potential for modern methods of construction to contribute to increased supply

Most respondents to the call for evidence agreed that modern methods of construction may well have a place in contributing to an increase in supply and to zero carbon provided that they meet cost and quality standards. There is more work to be done to increase tenant and public acceptance in the potential that new build methods and technologies can bring to reducing ongoing costs of running homes.

Funding mechanisms should be reformed

There is general consensus that a more flexible system of allocating grant monies could deliver greater benefits in terms of the numbers of affordable houses built. There are also opportunities to make greater use of alternative sources of finance. In addition, the removal of the local authority borrowing cap on the housing revenue account will enable a greater contribution from local authorities to the delivery of more affordable homes.

There is support for continuation of a reformed rent policy

There are a wide variety of views as to what a reformed rent policy could or should look like. What is apparent, however, is that there is tenant support for continuation of a rent policy and for affordability for tenants to be reflected in the policy. Longer term certainty in the rent policy will allow greater certainty in planning for the future by associations and local authorities.

In an environment of scarcity of resources and capacity, collaboration will be key

There are skills and capacity constraints in all parts of the system. Whilst the review panel has seen some excellent examples of collaborative working, there is more scope for better and deeper partnership working and collaboration between organisations.

What next?

The panel is now in its final recommendation forming stage. We cannot thank everyone enough who has contributed to our work to date and look forward to sharing our formal report with you in due course.

Lynn Pamment is chair of the independent review of affordable housing supply and Cardiff office senior partner and the public service lead at PwC

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