Social housing

  • Thunderbolt and lightning: Messages from France for the UK General Election

    arc4 Director, Derek Long, highlights what the French Presidential Election can tell us about the result of our own June 8th contest

    Le Pen’s second place shows the limitations for the harder right
    - Le Pen’s second place does not presage a UKIP surge
    - This has all happened before when the left was divided and Le Pen Père got through in 2002. He lost by a mere 83% to 17% to the revamped Gaulliste, Chirac.
    - The worrying news for Labour’s heartlands is that some of Le Pen’s support comes from Trumpian post-industrial voters in the former metal bashing regions.

    Mélenchon’s stronger show suggests a ceiling for a harder left approach
    - Mélenchon did get 19% of the poll – but …
    - He still came comfortably behind an entirely discredited conservative, a far-right candidate and a Social Democrat/Liberal author of anti-trades union laws
    - He has consolidated the old Communist Party vote (like Mitterand did for the Parti Socialiste (PS) in the 1970s) but, with a good campaign, the PS vote up for grabs, Le Pen on the rise and Capitalism going through a major crisis, he still came 4th…

    Macron’s rise has the whiff of an SDP insurgency, rather than a centrist realignment
    - The Assemblée Nationale elections will give more of a clue whether this was faute de mieux and merely the prelude to US style gridlock (which the AN will win)
    - Giscard d'Estaing broke the Gaullist monopoly in 1974 but was not re-elected
    - So, as in 2010 – can anyone fake the authenticity needed to break through in the UK?
    - And if En Marche doesn’t succeed in France, it may retard UK moves for an anti-Conservative rapprochement for 2022

    Be nice to sensible politicians – it’s getting harder to form compromises out there
    - We are back in the 1930s (as I have mentioned many times). The managerial centrist parties are losing share to the extremes – 40% voted extrêmes this time in France.
    - The first five ‘big’ ‘parties’ share of the vote fell from 94% to 91% - so, even when they win, their mandates are a little less solid than before
    - Mélenchon is consulting on abstention or ballot spoiling rather than support Macron
    - Expect more votes in the UK for very fringe parties like “Get the coppers off the jury”

    The voters are very off-piste about their choices
    - Spoilt papers were up to 2.6% (a 32.8% proportionate increase !)
    - Turnout was down 1.5% (a 2.1% proportionate fall)
    - Despite the strong choices available, some voters are agreeing with Freddie Mercury that “Nothing really matters. Anyone can see.”
    - And the long range forecast for democracy is …
    “Thunderbolt and lightning, Very, very frightening me”

    Category: News, Comment, Housing industry, Property, Social housing, Arc4 Tags: France, French, Election
  • arc4 Director interviewed on Korean Housing Market outlook

    With Korea firmly on the world stage again, Derek Long was interviewed by Asian Property News for his insight into its unique property market.

    - After a major dip in the housing market in 2013, have things begun to improve, or have recent problems - presidential corruption, threats from DPRK, a shift in US policy away from Asia - exacerbated the problem?

    Housing prices recovered gradually from the 2013 setback, picking up sharply in early 2016. However, growing uncertainty has meant prices have plateaued for the past 6 months. It’s early days, but prices look to be slipping below the decade long trend of 2% annual growth. Certainly, a January survey of consumer opinion suggested almost half believed sale prices will fall this year. All of which points to a familiar upwards pressure on jeonse prices, as would-be owners hedge equity losses by chasing ever scarcer jeonse properties.

    - What effect is the glut in the property market caused by the building boom of recent years having on the health of the broader Korean economy (particularly re. household debt and borrowing)

    Household Debt-to-GDP ratio has now reached 90% which has surpassed the UK and is heading towards twice the German ratio. Fuelled by a sharp expansion last year, the housing component is particularly worrying. Already 1.5 million (8%) of households are already technically underwater and are paying an eye-watering 40% of their disposable income to service loans. With mortgage rates at their highest for two years and US interest rates likely to rise, the Bank of Korea projects the next 1% increase in base rate would add another 69,000 households. This is not sustainable in the long term.

    - With Park's ouster, and the coming Winter Olympics, will investor/consumer confidence be restored, or can we expect things to remain difficult with regards the Korean economy, and the housing market in particular, for some time?

    The future trajectory for the Republic’s economy appears uncertain. With President Park’s replacement due to be elected in May, ironically the most important election for the ROK’s future has already taken place. It’s President Trump’s reactions towards North Korea that will be key for investor confidence in the South’s economy for the next four years. The lack of a workable Presidential/Parliamentary majority emerging after May could further fuel uncertainty.

    With economic growth fluctuating, the chaebols focussing inwards, growing tensions with China and the trend towards global protectionism, the Central Bank’s 2.6% growth forecast feels a tad optimistic.

    In times of uncertainty, speculative money moves into sound asset classes. The past new build glut makes property less likely to be a go to investment. True, Olympics tend to push up property prices above trend and national averages. However, given Pyeongchang’s size, urban form and remoteness, it is doubtful the competition will make a significant impact on anything but some local prices.

    Which reminds us of the ROK’s key structural challenge, that regional housing markets are effectively decoupled from the dominant Seoul market. Creating measures that are more sensitive to regional markets may be a second order challenge for government – but will be important for the long term health of the housing market and the economy.

    Category: News, Comment, Housing industry, Property, Social housing, Arc4 Tags: Korea, Housing, market
  • Non - starter

    In a year when May came after June, you might have bet that the Starter Homes initiative would also have landed on the new prime minister's bonfire of George Osborne's vanities. Yet, as the government gets set to announce a paradigm lurch towards ownership in planning policy, our new research into the Starter Homes market raises important questions about whether developers and councils can meet Downing Street's aspirations.

    In the next few weeks, the Department for Communities and Local Government will confirm that the National Planning Policy Framework is to be changed so that Starter Homes will form part of councils' affordable housing requirement. Councils will need to achieve a 'quota' of Starter Homes on appropriate sites, including probably rural exceptions. Planners will need to secure Starter Homes as part of their on-site negotiations.

    Add in that Starter Homes-eligible households of first-time buyers under 40 can access a 20% discount and settled conclusions about housing demand go out of the window - as our recent research commissioned by a Northern local authority shows.

    Using primary research, re-analysis of 2013's Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) data, Zoopla's database and Census analysis, we found that the Starter Homes discount could potentially bring 82% more households into buying. This constituted a staggering 4% of the total households in the authority. Three-quarters of this new market could afford two-bed properties, with the remainder being able to access three-bed homes via the discount. However, when the level of savings were factored in, the number of potential households fell back by half.

    The Starter Homes-eligible households appear to have different aspirations than the SHMA analysis would indicate. Our research found that 60% of an (admittedly much smaller) sample of eligible households sought two-bed housing compared with the majority that sought three-bed properties reported by the SHMA.

    As with the previous SHMA analysis, the eligible households expected (but did not aspire) to move to semi-detached properties or terraces. However, the locations they could afford had changed significantly. This suggests that marketing campaigns will need to recalibrate households' expectations of where they might move.

    A worrying finding for registered providers bidding for Homes and Communities Agency grant is that hardly any eligible household had considered shared ownership, and significantly, of those that did, only a small fraction considered it a possible option. This is corroborated by other primary research we have undertaken where target households preferred full over shared ownership. While raising the profile of shared ownership will undoubtedly help, the resistance to the product among informed target households suggests that almost doubling the numbers of shared owners in England by 2020 requires a rethinking of the offer.

    Our survey of eligible households revealed a limited awareness of the Starter Homes initiative and while the product generally achieved a positive response when explained, there was some scepticism that it was 'too good to be true', that locations would be unfavourable and unhappiness that it was only available for new build.

    For housing strategists, there are wider implications. Our analysis found that two-bed Starter Homes would be cheaper than their private rented equivalents. While this price advantage did not extend greatly into the three-bed private market, in discrete communities, Starter Homes developments could very easily create demand problems for private landlords with potential consequences of under-investment and empty homes.

    Although Starter Homes are private products, the pressure will be on the public sector to deliver. While our research found the aspiration to own is strong among eligible households, flexibility will be the key for planners and developers seeking to make sense of a brittle post-Brexit housing market.

    Derek Long, Director of Housing and Data Consultancy, arc4
    First published in Inside Housing 20 September 2016

    Category: News, Comment, Housing industry, Property, Social housing, Arc4 Tags: Housing, starter homes, affordable, shared ownership, Strategic, SHMA
  • Can Cannes?

    MIPIM – remember the acronym. Pronounced Mip-em, Le Marché International des professionnels de l’immobilier held each March in Cannes, is fast becoming a key date for local authorities and social landlords seeking finance for new development.

    But don’t think Harrogate with sand, or Manchester with yachts. With over 20,000 delegates, this focus for investors and developers now rivals the town’s Film Festival for size. Attracting almost 8,000 organisations from 89 countries, the conference is, in reality, the Davos for development.

    So why have bodies from London, Leeds and Liverpool shelled out scarce rents or council taxes to fund the £1,400-a-head tickets? The answer is simple. Capital looking for an asset. With the decline of central government funding, UK councils and LEPs are looking to attract inward investment to transform their economies and housing markets.

    And they are in deadly earnest. If our Easyjet pilot had turned sharp left into the Alpes-Maritimes, the mayor of Liverpool, his chief executive, Liverpool Vision’s head honcho, plus a former member of the Olympic Delivery Authority would have all promptly checked in to the schmoozefest in the sky.

    The lure is 1,600 investors. Dodging the stands proffering Latvian firewater or Portuguese opera singers are men (and they are overwhelmingly men) with cash in search of an asset.
    Britain is an important target (but not a sure thing). The unchained capital takes many forms, from a diamond-Rolexed Indian family wealth fund manager, to a nervous French crowd funder or a major institutional investor.
    The investors are less concerned with tenure and more focused on the bottom line.

    Visitors to our joint Grant Thornton/arc4 stand showed that interest in UK private renting is not just paper talk. So products like ours, which can analyse the private rented market to a forensic degree for investors, developers and local authorities, attracted significant interest.

    Notwithstanding the benign weather, MIPIM was not plain sailing for the UK pitchers. A staggering 544 local authorities were there competing for funding.

    Striking presences by, for example, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and London, were up against very well heeled contributions from Montreal, St Petersburg, Dubai, Tokyo, Istanbul and Warsaw.

    The US had a large showcase for developing states. And whoever paid to get the key main road outside the Carlton Hotel closed for the evening could give tutorials on how to make a really big impression.

    So can the Cannes property festival supplant conventional routes for development financing? No, It will always be the province for big-city, often signature developments and for the present, substantially London-focused interest.

    However, it is clear that MIPIM-sourced finance will increasingly become a feature of major programmes of social landlords and local authorities’ non-market development across the UK.

    Derek Long, a director of housing and data consultancy, arc4
    First published in Inside Housing Magazine

    Category: Comment, Housing industry, Social housing, Arc4 Tags: Cannes, development, finance, investment, MIPIM
  • Surfing the Third Wave

    Arc4's Senior Consultant Colette Manion shares key discoveries from Australia's new approach to social housing in Inside Housing.

    Australians are known for their surfing prowess. But just recently the country's social landlords have swapped Bondi for the boardroom as they learn how to surf a new wave of social housing policy. A wave propelled by a stance on welfare reform that is sweeping fast through our social sector too.

    Dr Tony Gilmore, CEO of the Australian Housing Action Network, is clear that countries like UK, New Zealand and Australia have now entered a third wave of government support for tenants. The universal provision of the mid-20th Century and the later, more consumer focussed approaches have ebbed and been replaced by a third wave of support, where social housing is required to be ‘step-up’ not a ‘hand-out’.

    The new wave is nowhere more evident than in New South Wales (NSW). (The Australian States play the major role in housing policy.) The ‘Future Directions’ housing policy is a real paradigm shift and has been earmarked as pivotal to changing the face of social housing across NSW forever. The state’s housing Minister, Brad Hazzard's aims are not just to build more affordable housing, but make the housing continuum work better, enable transitions to the private market and reduce welfare dependency.

    The 23,500 new and replacement homes put English housing policy in an interesting contrast (albeit Future Directions is a ten year strategy.) The intention to transfer up to 35% of social housing stock to community housing providers and create mixed communities sounds more 1980s on British shores. There will also be a 60% increase in the use of support to occupy private rented accommodation. (Maybe news of our ballooning bill for private rent support has not reached Sydney yet.)

    However, beneath the shiny spin-doctored headlines lie a chilling distinction. Social tenants are to be divided into a 'safety net group’ whose members will need support in the long term, and the ‘opportunity group’ that can be helped to live an independent life free of welfare subsidies and living in the private market. As Minister Hazzard announced, it will do the children in social housing "good to see their neighbours in private housing going to a job each day”. A sense of the Victorian (and arguably Frank Field's) 'deserving’ and the ‘undeserving’ poor seems to be the ideological driver.

    Yes, perhaps a modest 10 percent of Australian social tenants have a reasonable income or might reasonably be expected to progress to work. But the harsh reality is, even in growing Australia, that for many, there are no suitable local jobs and the private rental market will prove just too expensive.

    Like the Aussie stereotype, their social landlords sound more entrepreneurial. A trait which the Future Directions strategy emphasises by encouraging new multi-faceted ‘vehicles’ that cater to a range of needs from finance to community support, perhaps a trick we have missed? Adopting the more commercial and somewhat market savvier approach Australian to housing could be the new path for many UK housing associations.

    The Australian engagement of Government is different too. Yes, there is a strong market component to what New South Wales is doing. But, there is also an overt commitment to joined up government (and with targets) !

    For example, there is a strong focus on education and employment. Improving the educational performance of social tenants is an overt goal. So interesting measures like trialling changed allocation processes so young people and families with children can be placed in dwellings that are close to better educational and employment opportunities are part of this housing strategy.

    So, as the third wave breaks over UK’s social landlords, maybe we should drawn on the lessons from the champion social housing surfers Down Under!

    During February 2016, Colette was Housing Action Network’s thinker-in-residence, based in New South Wales.

    Category: News, Comment, Housing industry, Social housing Tags: Social housing, arc4, inside housing, affordable housing, Welfare Reform
  • A conference devil’s in the dictionary

    Veteran Conference speaker Derek Long, has drafted “another page from the housing textbook for the University of Life” to help you get through your next conference. “Whether you’ve been caught resting your eyes just too long in the morning plenary or returning from an important break out session in a nearby pub, these are the topics to distract your boss with,” he says.

    SAP RATING:
    The degree to which you believe the government will honour commitments on renewables funding

    BENEFIT CAP:
    A poorly designed item whose headroom shrinks over time

    HANDCART:
    The vehicle that social housing is currently travelling in

    HARROGATE:
    What older housing professionals call Manchester

    EFFICIENCY SAVINGS:
    Cuts

    CUTS:
    An ill-considered reduction in your budget

    SAVINGS:
    The judicious reallocation of your colleagues’ under-used resources

    THE PUBLIC SECTOR:
    Whatever the prime minister says it is today

    COUNCIL HOUSING:
    What housing associations hope the TV reporter calls their stock after a gas explosion

    ALMO
    A trial separation (see also The Crimea)

    AWAYDAY:
    An event with an overnight stay in an expensive hotel so the chief executive can get to grips with … a colleague. (Derived from the original phrase Have it Awayday)
    NB Awaydays often result in ALMOs

    NOVATE:
    To downgrade the chief executive’s lease car deal from a Jaguar to a Vauxhall

    RENOVATE:
    To replace the chief executive’s lease car with a bicycle allowance

    PEAK DEBT:
    A statement incomprehensible to modern students

    STAKEHOLDERS:
    Colleagues who are always ready to hammer their points home (See Dr Van Helsing)

    BOILER REPLACEMENT PROGRAMME:
    A male chauvinist chief executive’s solution to his mid-life crisis
    NB Boiler replacement always results in an ALMO

    CONVEYANCING:
    The act of transfering a valuable commodity – i.e. money – to your solicitors

    VALUE FOR MONEY CONSULTANT:
    A person who borrows your watch to tell you the time … and then recommends you buy a new watch, but more cheaply.

    Category: Comment, Housing industry, Social housing, Arc4 Tags: Cuts, Housing, Welfare Reform, Council Housing, Public Sector, Benefits
  • Are you in the market …?

    Delegates never return from the Federation’s Annual Conference saying they have seen something genuinely historic that will unlock new market opportunities for them. Yet, the opening of Grand Central – the new shopping mall above the redeveloped Birmingham New Street Station – has changed all that!

    In other news, from the Fed’s 2015 Annual Conference, Minister Greg Clark’s foisting of a voluntary Right to Buy regime onto the housing association movement is genuinely a historic shift, on a par with the 1988 Housing Act. Every significant association is now operating in the home ownership market. Regardless of size or inclination, they will be selling a chunk of their best rental properties and replacing them with sale or shared ownership products. The result of the NHF’s eight day “vote” on the voluntary code is a foregone conclusion. The large providers have already given their support and the counting will be by the amount of stock held.

    So, what are the key implications for associations?

    - All associations are in the home ownership business now. They will need to really understand their markets and their customers to a far greater extent than ever before. That will be a challenge – especially for those who are not already developing.

    - Decisions to reinvest in stock will have to be made in the context of the market – will this asset transfer as soon as the kitchen fitter has walked down the path?

    - The question of whether to renew sheltered housing assets has become even more difficult to determine.

    - Understanding the reaction of existing tenants will be pre-requisite intelligence for any major board decision. “Pay to stay” tenants will be at the front of the queue – and in some parts ethnic groups may also be very active in buying their homes.

    - Larger providers will use the receipts to spread risk and relocate their businesses into better markets thereby undermining the market where the RTB occurred.

    - Downstream, there will be much more competition for the remaining social rented stock as RTBs slide into private landlords’ hands.

    - This is going to produce interesting responses from the retail mortgage companies. Will red-lining of estates reoccur once defaulting follows the inevitable interest rate rises? Might this be a commercial opportunity to diversify into the private rental market?

    - The Minister’s two year replacement turnaround is very tight. Achieving the misleading 1 for 1 replacement will become a political and therefore regulatory issue in a couple of years.

    - And so on. This is a genuine paradigm shift. Government, regulator and the sector have only the broadest of ideas where the Birmingham announcement will end up.

    Lemonade?

    Given the housing crisis, RTB2 is clearly a daft policy. History will regard spending hundreds of millions of Pounds to end up with many fewer homes as immense folly. To disrupt the last remaining delivery mechanism for volume building in a recession will haunt future government’s economic policy. And undermining probably the strongest part of the third sector in Britain represents a cultural vandalism that weakens our civil society profoundly.

    So can associations make lemonade from the huge lemons they’ve been handed?

    Yes, but it will all hinge on using what government will pay in compensation quickly and effectively. Quickly, means replacing the lost property within two years, or the significant hole in rental income will be made deeper by the Treasury clawing back the compensation. Effectively, means using this opportunity to diversify into new markets – both locations and products – before the social rental base becomes too small to support significant growth. This can only happen where associations have a real and very precise understanding of their local housing markets. This forensic understanding can only be gained from real-time intelligence about what it costs to rent or buy down to street level and who their public and private competitors are.

    Like it or not, we’re all in the market now.

    Derek Long is a director at arc4, the housing and markets consultancy

    Category: News, Housing industry, Property, Social housing, Arc4 Tags: Social housing, Housing, natfed, right to buy
  • Arc4 assesses opportunities and challenges for registered providers

    With the Chancellor's Summer Budget adding momentum to the "Northern Powerhouse", Arc4’s Derek Long was invited to analyse the future opportunities and challenges for the new grouping of the Chairs of Greater Manchester Registered Providers. The group will now complement the longer-standing Chief Executive led providers group in the city region and will be a focus for non-executives' development.

    Category: News, Social housing, Arc4 Tags: Housing, Social housing, Registered providers