Official ‘affordable rent’ schemes fail to help low-income tenants — new report

Official ‘affordable rent’ schemes fail to help low-income tenants — new report

Fewer than one in four people believe that the official definition of ‘affordable housing’ lives up to its name, according to an opinion poll.

The finding from polling commissioned by the leading think-tank, the Centre for Social Justice, indicates widespread public scepticism about the direction of government policy.

Ministers have targeted funds for social housing on so-called ‘affordable rent’ properties in which tenants pay a charge linked to private rented houses and flats in the locality. But because levels of rent in big cities such as London are so high, the new homes are out of the reach of many low-income tenants.

Supported by the Nationwide Foundation, a CSJ report, Living Rent that Works: Unlocking Genuinely Affordable Homes for Thriving Lives documents how regional authorities are tackling the mismatch by ‘living rent’ schemes linking rent levels to local incomes.

New polling conducted by Opinium finds that just a quarter (25%) of the population think market-linked rents are fairer, whilst far more (close to half at 47%) think income-linked rents are fairer.

The report comes as Secretary of State Michael Gove has admitted that the affordable housing policy has created homes “that are not truly affordable.”

It recommends that future governments should up their ambition and create a new affordable housing tenure by embracing the living rent concept being pioneered by local councils and mayors.

The paper also documents how income-linked rents can enable residents of supported housing to move into full-time work, removing the Catch 22 where working beyond around 16 hours per week leaves them on a cliff edge of benefit withdrawal.

The CSJ recommends that specialist, income-linked ‘stepping stone’ homes should be delivered to enable people living in supported housing to move on into independent living and full-time work without losing either income or accommodation.

However, to deliver more of this accommodation, changes should be made to the Renters Reform Bill now before Parliament. Exceptions must be made to minimum space standards and the forthcoming removal of fixed-term tenancies to unlock a new generation of ‘stepping stone’ accommodation. The latest polling indicates that the public overwhelmingly approve of these schemes.

Sophia Worringer, Deputy Policy Director at the Centre for Social Justice said: “Polling for the Centre for Social Justice shows that the overwhelming majority of people no longer believe that affordable housing is genuinely affordable. While in the long-term it is imperative that the Government increases overall housing supply, there are actions the Government can take in the short term to relieve the pressure now, including by making changes to the Renters Reform Bill to unlock more stepping stone accommodation which allows those in supported housing to move into full time work. The Government should also look at what is being done by city authorities across the country on Living Rent.”

Jonathan Lewis, Programme Manager at the Nationwide Foundation, commented:
“At the Nationwide Foundation, our goal is for everyone to have a decent and affordable place to call home. But as housing costs continue to rise, more and more people face the reality of increasingly unaffordable rents, even when those rents are being offered at supposedly affordable rates.

“In the midst of a housing crisis, we urgently need reforms that will have a long-lasting impact and help create a fairer housing system. The findings of this new report show that introducing a ‘Living Rent’ rent model, which is linked to incomes rather than market rates, could be an effective solution to the crisis of housing affordability for many, providing genuinely affordable rented homes for people who need them and helping them build solid foundations for themselves and their families.”

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