Pandemic pandemonium in housing ?
Have the economic consequences of the Covid pandemic helpfully (or unhelpfully) reset the dial for those with the greatest unmet housing needs?
Many expected the anticipated economic downturn could result in a housing market slump which could potentially generate a perverse improved opportunity to meet unmet housing need.
However, as autumn approaches there appear to be factors at play which could make the job of helping those in housing need more challenging. Below are outlined three such factors which we’ll be tracking in the coming months.
“Covid flight” fuels price buoyancy
Rather than experiencing the anticipated housing market downturn there appears to be anecdotal evidence of something different happening. The housing market in places like Cornwall – which are perceived to have been less affected by the coronavirus lockdown – have experienced market buoyancy. Indeed, there may be evidence of a growing “Covid flight” of property owners seeking to relocate from wealthier metropolitan areas – which experienced a tough lockdown – to places like Cornwall. Agents have cottoned on that buyers – many who’ve been locked-down in garden-less flats in high house price areas who now anticipate a future working more from home than previously – have discovered they will get more home (and perhaps more importantly garden) for their money if they move to the country.
A favourable mortgage lending environment is supported by the Bank of England lowering the base rate to a historic low of 0.1% and which is expected to remain until at least 2022. Coupled with the stamp duty cut the ingredients are pushing in one direction.
The housing market saw its busiest month in July in more than 10 years in terms of volume and rate of house sales. Anecdotal evidence suggests this trend is continuing with house prices remaining high and with a relatively quick turn-around.
This trend has been picked up by the media. This included a recent report on the BBC Countryfile programme (16thAugust) which tracked a family moving from London to the country and contrasted this to the challenges faced by local families who couldn’t afford a home in the same area.
Of course, no one can confidently predict what is likely to happen but communities hoping for more affordable land or property to help deliver more and better affordable homes for locals in need may be disappointed. We at CCLT will press on with our ambitions and projects for the benefit of those in need but we are not currently anticipating the Covid aftermath will deliver a more favourable property market.
Planning: A “shake-up” or “shake-down”
Proposals for what has been described as “the biggest shake-up of planning for decades” has generated enthusiasm and concern in equal measure. Some in the industry have described the proposals as “a developers charter” or that it will “create a generation of slums”.
It is however perhaps too early to say. The proposals and white paper are out for consultation until October*. Indeed, there appear to be many potential merits, including to promote good design, to respect place, protect public space, create tree-line streets, simplify development levies and to respect biodiversity.
Yet the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) described the proposals as “shameful” and said they would do “almost nothing to guarantee the delivery of affordable, well-designed and sustainable homes”. “While they might help to ‘get Britain building’ – paired with the extension of permitted development rights – there’s every chance they could also lead to the development of the next generation of slum housing,” said RIBA president Alan Jones.
We’ll be responding to the consultations and making the case to protect the interests of community-led projects to deliver the homes our communities need most.
There are renewed concerns that recent Government proposals on the lifting of tenant protections from eviction will add pressure on local authorities and social housing providers.
As Parliament rose for its summer recess the government published an amendment to its rules on evictions during the coronavirus crisis, detailing how repossessions may resume after the government lifts the moratorium on 23rd August. [NB – this article was written before the latest 4 week extension of the eviction ban until 20th September. However, apart from the 4 week delay the concerns remain]
Campaign group Generation Rent criticised the plans, claiming that they will not give judges sufficient power to protect renters and prevent mass evictions.
Alicia Kennedy, director of Generation Rent, said: “As it stands, these rules will not help the vast majority of renters who are at risk of losing their homes, and judges will not have the powers to prevent Section 21 no-fault evictions or Section 8 evictions for rent arrears built up during the pandemic.”
Pressure has built on the government to put in place protections for renters to avoid a wave of evictions. Added to a market which may tempt more casual landlords to realise the market value of their properties there’s a very real concern the rule changes could encourage a spate of tenancy terminations.
Taking these factors together we do not therefore anticipate a more favourable climate for the work of Cornwall Community Land Trust and our community, charity and housing association partners as we grow accustomed to a ‘new normal’ and the quasi-lifting of the covid restrictions.
Nevertheless, the prospects are still bright for those who fight for communities to deliver their own solutions to the deep and endemic housing problems faced by a very large proportion of our communities. Our enthusiasm, commitment and ambition is matched by the kindness and energy of community leaders and the shared commitment of many charitable and private organisations in Cornwall and the support of our local authorities. We have a full pipeline of activity and the energy and talent to deliver more.
*There are three consultations currently open for comments on Changes to the current planning system (closes 1 October), the Planning White Paper (closes 29 October) and Transparency and competition: a call for evidence on data on land control (closes 30 October).