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Sell best houses, councils urged

RooftopsThe move would reduce the housing waiting list, Policy Exchange said

Councils should sell off their most expensive houses and reinvest the money in building cheaper homes, the Policy Exchange think tank has said.

Selling top homes when they become vacant would raise £4.5bn a year, enough to build 80,000 to 170,000 new social homes, providing building jobs.

It says social tenants deserve a roof over their heads but not one that is better than most people can afford.

The National Housing Federation said it may lead to a form of social cleansing.

In its Ending Expensive Social Tenancies report, Policy Exchange argues the move could create the largest social house building programme since the 1970s – giving the economy a kickstart.

Housing Minister Grant Shapps has described the recommendation as “blindingly obvious”.

But critics say such a move would push the least well-off out of expensive streets, and into new ghettos.

‘Costly and unpopular’

Expensive social housing – which Policy Exchange defines as housing worth more than the average property in each region – accounts for 21.8% of the total social housing stock in the UK, it says.

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Social housing tenants deserve a roof over their heads – but not one better than most people can afford”

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Author Alex Morton

This equates to 816,000 properties – out of a total of 3.78 million – which the think tank says could raise up to £159bn if sold.

It says London alone has more than £70bn of expensive social housing.

Alex Morton, the report’s author, commented: “Expensive social housing is costly, unpopular and unfair. That is why almost everybody rejects it.

“Social housing tenants deserve a roof over their heads – but not one better than most people can afford, particularly as expensive social housing means less social housing and so longer waiting lists for most people in need.”

About 3.5% of the total stock becomes vacant every year owing to people moving out or dying, the think tank said.

This meant the government could sell a total of 28,500 properties each year, raising £5.5bn a year – the figure would stand at £4.5bn after paying off the debt held against the stock, the report said.

Policy Exchange argued that many hardworking people might want to live in a nicer area or in a bigger house but could not afford to. Allowing one family to live in expensive social housing means leaving many other people on the housing waiting list, it said.

It argued for a regional cap on the value of social properties.

‘Get Britain building’

It also said the move would be “extremely popular” with all sections of society, claiming that 73% of people, including social tenants, think people should not be given council houses worth more than the average property in a local authority.

It said the plan would also raise tenants’ standards of living.

But the National Housing Federation, which represents housing associations, says many towns would be “cleansed” of “hardworking people who can’t afford to pay high prices”.

Housing Minister Grant Shapps – who is in favour of a sell-off – said the government had introduced “radical reforms” to “get Britain building” and to reduce social housing waiting lists.

They included investing £19.5bn public and private funding into an affordable housing programme “set to exceed expectations and deliver up to 170,000 homes”.

Councils could now offer fixed-term tenancies to new tenants to make sure “social housing goes to those in greatest need”, he added.

Do you agree with the think tank’s suggestion? Is it the best way to improve the housing supply? Are you a social tenant? Send us your comments and experiences using the form below.

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