News: Affordable housing boost for Brits

Mon, 19 Nov 07

Greener, more affordable housing has received a major boost...

A new Bill which will drive forward the Government's pledge to build 3 million greener, more affordable new homes by 2020 to help first-time buyers and families was published today by Housing Minister Yvette Cooper.

New measures in the Housing and Regeneration Bill include legislation to remove barriers to councils building their own social housing, stronger action where tenants are unhappy with the management of their estates, and new rules for councils to tackle anti-social tenants.

The Bill will also establish a new watchdog for social tenants - Oftenant - and give this watchdog a duty to reduce red tape for good Housing Associations, with less paperwork and no routine inspections, allowing them to concentrate on building new housing. Oftenant will also have new powers to step in and penalise landlords who are not giving a good service, such as not getting repairs done.

The Bill will establish the Homes and Communities Agency which will for the first time bring together responsibility for land and money to deliver new housing, community facilities and infrastructure. It will also work with local councils on some of the 10 new eco towns the Prime Minister has pledged by 2020.

The new Bill will help address the shortage of affordable housing for first time buyers and families; make new housing greener to tackle climate change; and give social housing tenants a better deal.

The Bill will also rewrite the rules on financing new council housing, helping councils to build new social homes in their areas where it offers value for money.

New affordable housing

The Prime Minister has pledged 3 million more homes by 2020. The Government has set out plans for more market, social and shared ownership housing on disused public sector land, and in new eco towns, with £8bn for new affordable homes.

The Bill will:

* Make it easier for councils to build council homes. Councils will be able to keep the full rents from new council houses and use any surpluses to help pay for new social homes.

* Allow some councils to opt out of the Housing Revenue Account system, keep future rents and reinvest them in local housing.

* Free the best Housing Associations from red tape and allow them to concentrate on new housebuilding.

Together with new rules announced earlier this year which allow the best performing councils to apply for Housing Corporation grant via special finance vehicles, these changes will enable councils across the country to lever in more private sector investment and make it easier for them to build their own social housing where it's value for money.

It will also bring together the land and the money to deliver new housing - establishing a new agency with responsibility for land and a budget of billions for affordable housing, including shared ownership deals, and powers to revitalise existing communities - the Homes and Communities Agency.

Greener Housing

In advance of our target for all new homes to be zero-carbon in 2016, the Bill will require developers to indicate whether a sustainability assessment has been made, and if it has, provide that information to prospective purchasers. An assessment provides an in-depth green rating for new homes showing how near zero carbon they are, and how they rate for wider green issues such as water usage and waste.

A new deal for social housing tenants

The Bill will:

* Establish Oftenant, the new watchdog for social tenants which will listen to tenants' concerns and have powers to ensure they're getting a good service. Housing Association tenants will be given new powers to trigger inspections of their landlords if they're providing a poor service. The watchdog will be able to take sanctions, including setting and issuing fines, against landlords and Housing Associations which are, for example, taking too long to carry out repairs or are not engaging properly with tenants.

* Where Housing Associations provide a good service to tenants, OFTENANT will cut red tape - where tenant satisfaction is high there will be no routine inspections and associations' paperwork will be kept to the absolute minimum.

* Give local authority tenants more of a say on the future of their homes, including a mandatory ballot on stock transfer and a stronger requirement for councils to co-operate with tenants who want to explore a change of ownership of their homes.

* Give additional powers to councils to tackle anti-social tenants via Family Intervention Projects (FIPs). FIPs are proving highly successful in putting an end to the serious anti-social behaviour caused by a small minority of nuisance families who have previously been evicted, or have moved voluntarily, from their homes. A new tenancy regime is designed to make it much easier for projects to deliver intensive support to problem families in specialist accommodation.

Better deal on social housing

The Bill will also give a better deal on access to social housing and homelessness assistance to servicemen and women by removing rules which currently can put them at a disadvantage when they're applying for housing allocations or homelessness assistance.

Yvette Cooper said: "We need new homes for the first-time buyers and families who are struggling to get onto the housing ladder. We need greener homes to tackle the challenge of climate change. And we need a better deal for tenants in social housing.

"The Housing and Regeneration Bill will help councils and Housing Associations build more homes. And it will bring together responsibility for land and money for new housing, alongside regeneration, to speed up the delivery of affordable housing and new communities.

"We owe it to future generations to act now on more, greener, and more affordable housing."

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