The History of Affordable Housing

Following the AGM on 18th February the Chairman introduced a mystery speaker. Tony Taylor of the Waterloo Housing Association, based in Sutton Coldfield, was our guest on this occasion and would be talking about the history of "Affordable Housing" and of what this term means to tenants, first time buyers, landlords and government.

Tony told us that prior to 1914 92% of rented property was owned by private landlords but by 1990 this proportion had dropped to just 8%. In 1979 owner occupation had stood at 53% but by 1990, following the government's 'Right to Buy' legislation this figure had risen to 66% and rented housing in the public sector stood at 26%. In recent years little affordable housing had been built and the better quality housing of the public stock had been sold leaving mostly the poorer housing in public ownership. The freeze that had been imposed on the financial resources of local authorities had severely limited the replacement of social housing stock. The escalation of house prices, followed by the recession, had left an estimated one million house purchasers with negative equity - a mortgage debt that was higher than the current value of their house. Demographic changes with an aging population, family break-up and an increase in the number of one-parent families had further increased the demand for affordable housing and by 1991 146,000 families were homeless - 10,600 in London and 375 in Lichfield.

Currently mortgage interest rates are the lowest for 24 years but few people are able to buy a house. Local Authorities are still the largest owners of rented property. Private landlords have been discouraged by the system of rent controls while banks and building societies have been reluctant to finance houses for rent.

However 2,000 Housing Associations - non profit making - have been set up, but only about 80 can be regarded as active in the West Midlands. These associations are under the control of the Housing Corporation and are managed by voluntary membership and professional staff. The activities of Housing Associations include renting, shared ownership, first time buyers, sheltered schemes and selling for the aged, buying older properties and improving them. There is also a tenants incentive scheme which encourages those able to move out to buy with the support of a grant. The central aim is to provide affordable rented accommodation for the lower paid.

Local Authorities are currently able to spend 100% of new receipts from the sale of council owned property. Most members present appeared to feel this legislation to have been too late!

Mr Taylor's survey of the housing situation was fluently delivered, documented with detailed statistics and provoked many questions and much thought. Our understanding was greatly increased by this talk and members felt that the efforts of the Chairman and Programme Secretary to secure a last-minute replacement speaker on the advertised topic had been well rewarded.

Ivor Mitchell
February 1993