Back to the future in local authority housing?

Grant funding, the Housing Revenue Account and Local Housing Companies

Martin Wicks (Labour Campaign for Council Housing) and Paul Watt (Birkbeck,
University of London & LCCH) are presenting a paper at the 2021 Housing Studies
Association Conference – Preparing for the future and learning from the past – on
Thursday 15th April.

Conference information is available here:
https://www.housing-studies-association.org/pages/140-hsa-2021-conference

The paper traces the historical significance of central government grant funding for local authority housing in England since the early 20th century and the role played by Housing Revenue Accounts (HRAs). The current number of local authority homes in England is under 1.6 million due to central government ceasing to provide grant to support building since the 1980s, plus Right-to-Buy sales.

Since 2010, councils aspiring to build rented housing have utilised Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) via
Local Housing Companies (LHCs). These mechanisms have been championed as fostering a 21st century revival of council housing in austere times (Morphet and Clifford, 2021), although critics regard SPVs/LHCs as merely a reworking of neoliberalism (Beswick and Penny, 2018). This paper argues that SPVs/LHCs do not provide an adequate financial basis for local authority building or maintenance, and do not represent a move beyond neoliberalism.

The HRA presents no inherent technical obstacles to building council housing, although HRAs are grossly under-funded, particularly as a result of the 2012 ‘debt settlement’ when ‘self-financing’ was
introduced. Grant provided by the Public Works Loans Board to HRAs remains the only credible means of building council housing at the necessary scale to solve the contemporary housing crisis.

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