What exactly are the Conservatives thinking with this updated ‘right to buy’ policy?

I’m really confused by the announcement that the Conservatives intend to extend the ‘right to buy’ policy to more people in housing accommodation. And for more than one reason.

Let’s start with the impact on social housing generally. It’s historically accurate to say that when ‘Right to Buy’ was originally brought in for council tenants, there was a promise made that homes sold would be replaced On the whole, they weren’t.

No matter what guarantees the Tories put in place, it’s hard to imagine that this won’t repeat itself this time.

Then we have the question of why housing associations? Although housing organisations own social housing (the majority of local authority social housing has either been sold under ‘Right to Buy’ or transferred to housing associations), they aren’t public. So, in effect, this policy would force these organisations to sell some of their property. Imagine the outcry if private landlords were forced to sell their property under a further-extended ‘Right to Buy’ scheme…

Housing associations will have to sell their properties at less than the market rate (i.e. at a ‘loss’). The Tories claim that this will be made up, so the associations are not out of pocket, but this leads to two problems:

Even if they aren’t out of pocket, it will still take time for them to replace this social housing

The shortfall will be made up by councils being forced (so much for local democracy!) to sell their most expensive council properties as they become empty. Apparently, the councils will then be mandated to build new social housing in less expensive parts of their area. Again, this will take time. Plus, I have to question where the money will come from for this, if they’ve had to hand a wodge over to make up the housing shortfall.

Worse still, this part of the policy amounts to ‘social cleansing’, moving poorer people out of ‘richer’ areas. Great for property prices in those richer areas, no doubt, but this will lead to a loss of social mixing, less social mobility and potentially more ‘sink estates’ of the type seen time and time again.

There are many unanswered questions, including how many people this will actually benefit, how social housing will ever be replenished and whether many of these ‘Right to Buy’ homes will ultimately end up in the hands of private landlords.

Owen Jones’ piece in the Guardian on this issue makes interesting reading too.


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