UK ‘ill-prepared’ to handle housing needs post-COVID-19, CIH warns

Affordability has ‘worsened in the age of COVID-19’, while housebuilding, the housing market, and approaches to homelessness are now all ‘in flux’, the CIH says.
The UK is ill-prepared to deal with housing needs that have been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) has warned.

The UK is ill-prepared to deal with housing needs that have been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) has warned.

In an Autumn Briefing Paper published by the CIH’s UK Housing Review, the housing body said that housing affordability has ‘worsened in the age of COVID-19’ as the coronavirus has hit many households’ incomes, while housebuilding, the housing market, and approaches to homelessness and rough sleeping are now all ‘in flux’.

While housing costs such as rent and mortgage payments have not increased as steeply as in recent years, neither have incomes as workers have suffered job losses or reduced earnings, the briefing paper argues.

This has not only made it tougher for renters to pay rents they could afford before the pandemic, but has also limited the impact of government moves to support first-time buyers, as many young first-time buyers still find themselves unable to save enough to afford deposits.

The CIH says its analysis further reveals the UK’s need to provide more genuinely affordable social housing to help people get on and stay on the housing ladder.

CIH’s chief executive Gavin Smart said: “When we released the 2020 UK Housing Review earlier this year, we made it clear that the pandemic would highlight the need for more homes that are genuinely affordable, and our analysis in the Autumn Briefing Paper shows just that.

“While we need more homes of all kinds, we particularly need homes at lower ‘social’ rents. Support for home ownership must not happen at the expense of truly affordable social housing.

“The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown has, more than ever, highlighted the importance of having a place we can call home – a place where we feel safe and secure – and we need to ensure that for all of our population.”

While the briefing paper highlights affordability as a key issue in housing post-COVID-19, it also highlights greater uncertainty to social landlords’ finances.

Social landlords’ ability to invest in new social rented housing has been affected by their financial resources, while they face the added pressures of making their housing stock zero carbon and safe from fire, it says.

Meanwhile, the government does not yet have investment plans that address the scale of emerging housing need, despite cash spending on its new 2021-26 Affordable Homes Programme being at its highest in a decade.

The government’s target of making 1.2 million homes energy-efficient each year simply ‘cannot be met’ without it promising further funding resources, the briefing paper says.

The briefing paper also warns of a looming crisis of evictions and homelessness as the government’s furlough scheme and evictions ban come to an end.

While measures to protect tenants and rough sleepers during the pandemic have been successful, these successes are at risk unless the government embraces ‘more radical’ short-term measures or brings forward longer-term reforms such as a more generous welfare system, it adds.

Mark Stephens, editor of the UK Housing Review, said: “Early government and market responses to the pandemic have largely been effective in keeping people in their homes. But it is now clear that we are in this for the long haul and the next six months will be a real test of government commitment and market resilience.

“Meanwhile, it is important to plan for a country which will have experienced permanent changes in the labour market.”

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has been approached for comment.

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