The Cost of a Five Year Tenancy
The big news in the housing world this week has been the death of the lifetime tenancy for those living in council housing. In an amendment to the housing and planning bill, new secure tenancies will be issued for a maximum of five years. The effect will be a phasing out of lifetime tenancies, although those who currently live with those arrangements will not be affected.
There are a number of virtuous reasons given for doing this, some of which appear to make good sense. One big one is that it allows councils to periodically assess the need of the tenant, moving them on when they have sufficient income to rent or buy privately, freeing up valuable stock for those more in need. Another is that it encourages people to strive for home ownership, an ambition currently very much in fashion for the Government. The policy also falls in line with Tory economic virtues of free markets and small government with minimal intervention.
The view of encouraging home ownership is hotly contested and it’s argued that the reality is that the policy destabilises renting socially, which is something arguably more likely to push people to homelessness than home ownership. The first point about reassessing suitability can also be reversed; by saying it removes people’s confidence in their living arrangements, decreasing their sense of belonging to their local community.
The damage to community strength is the area of highest concern in my eyes. My experience of working with those in social housing in London has been that community spirit and the idea of helping your neighbour is strongest in areas where the residents are settled, with multiple generations of the same families living close by. If that spirit erodes, through cyclically moving people on every two to five years, we may find ourselves losing something that cannot be replaced. For example, if older residents, with lifetime tenancies, are unfamiliar with their neighbours, who will check on them, greet them in the morning, and make them feel part of the community? Will they be fearful, unsure of who their new neighbours might be? As more tenancies recycle into the new fixed term model, the likelihood of hearing stories of lonely, disconnected older tenants will increase.
The arguments will run much deeper than that and for the moment we can be grateful that there is no plan to force housing associations to change their models. That decision is probably as much down to the bruising still felt by recent skirmishes, and in the long term we may still see the scope of the policy extend. Until then the social cost needs to be counted carefully, with action taken if it proves to be much higher than face value suggests.
What do you think? Is there hope for low income communities in London? Does a fixed tenancy for five years make a dramatic difference to the mindset of a tenant? I’d be interested to hear your perspective.
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