We’re told that 2011 will be all about localism. Which is great, local people dealing with local problems in a local way.
However, not everything can be considered in isolation without taking into account the wider context. In the same way that very few housing issues can be viewed without reference to wider social factors.
This kind of lateral thinking is particularly important when you consider the growing number of local authorities attempting to manipulate the housing market in their catchment using new and extended powers. Of course this is nothing new, planning decisions have long controlled the available supply of housing, targets have influenced the type of units built and infrastructure has determined who wants to live where. But the latest moves by some local authorities seem slightly different.
Using part of the Town and Country Planning Act, a few local authorities including Portsmouth and Manchester to name two, are trying to require all landlords wishing to establish a new small HMO obtain planning permission before agreeing a tenancy.
These ‘Article 4 Directions’ effectively roll back housing policy to a pre-election stage, before the Coalition granted permission across the board for small shared houses, whereby households of three or more unrelated people can only share a home (which had previously housed a family) if permission is granted by town hall.
Ideological matters aside, this kind of policy – assuming the requirement is subsequently used to limit the number of HMOs in a town – is likely to have some pretty far ranging consequences.
The individuals who live in shared houses are a varied group drawn from a variety of backgrounds – key workers, students, migrant workers, recent graduates and vulnerable adults. But the one thing they are all likely to have in common is a very limited housing budget. Unsurprisingly, this means that they are unlikely to be able to move to another type of property.
This type of devolution of authority to local councils cannot be done without also shifting responsibility for decision-making.
Which will present local authorities with a number of very difficult questions.
If local communities do not want shared housing in their back-yard that is their right. But I am far from confident that the people making the decisions locally have considered all of the consequences of barring sharers from local communities, whether they are nurses, students, teaching assistants, street cleaners or shop assistants.
If a person on a low income cannot afford to buy or rent a self contained home of their own, and the option of sharing a safe, secure home with others is removed. Where are they supposed to live?
If they cannot live locally, what happens to the local companies they work for? What will happen to the local businesses which rely on them to stay afloat?
Answers on a post-card anyone?