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Bristol’s housing puzzle: Redefining “Affordable”

Housing will present an unpleasant puzzle for Bristol’s next mayor, whoever they may be. Jules Birch gives us his take.


Housing will present an unpleasant puzzle for Bristol’s next mayor, whoever they may be. We asked three experts for their slant on tackling it.

The national context – redefining ‘affordable’ (again)

The next mayor of Bristol faces a huge challenge to provide enough affordable housing for the city, but things will become even harder once they start work in May.

The Housing and Planning Bill, now being considered by the House of Lords, includes a series of measures with far-reaching implications for the city. Two in particular stand out.

First, the forced sell-off of councils’ highest market value houses as they become vacant, which will subsidise discounts for housing association tenants to purchase their homes under the extension of the Right to Buy. Second, the construction, nationally, of 200,000 ‘starter’ homes to be sold at a 20% discount to first-time buyers under 40 years old, which will be built instead of homes for below-market rents. Some buyers and tenants in Bristol will benefit, but many more people are set to lose their chance of a genuinely affordable home.

The cost of the Right to Buy scheme will be met by councils like Bristol, which still own their housing stock and it will be felt most heavily in areas like the South West where house prices are high. Although there are vague promises to build replacement homes, there are no guarantees they will be in the same area, of the same size or at the same rent.

Starter homes, meanwhile, effectively redefine what counts as ‘affordable’. Last year local councils published a joint Strategic Housing Market Assessment estimating that the wider Bristol area needs 85,000 new homes over the next 20 years including 29,000 for social rent or shared ownership.

But just as existing affordable rented homes will be sold off, new ones will become harder to build. Around half are currently funded through contributions that developers must make in return for planning permission for private homes. The Bill will force councils to approve plans with starter homes instead. Analysis by Shelter has predicted these will be far from affordable for most people in many parts of England.

Jules Birch is a blogger, a columnist for Inside Housing magazine and editor of Welsh Housing Quarterly, based in the South West.



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