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Exclusive: Housing association chief defends right-to-buy deal

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The chair of a group representing London’s largest housing associations has admitted he is “concerned” about the damage done to relationships with local authorities by the row over extending the right-to-buy.

Extending the right-to-buy to housing association tenants was a central commitment of the Conservative manifesto. Last week communities secretary Greg Clark announced the government’s intention not to legislate for the change if housing associations sign up to a voluntary agreement put forward by the National Housing Federation.

However, the government still plans to compensate housing associations for every home sold using funds raised through forcing councils to sell off their highest value housing stock. This has angered many local authorities with some leaders branding the arrangement a “backroom deal”.

In an interview with LGC, David Montague, chair of the g15 group which represents housing associations such as Peabody, Circle and Notting Hill Housing, said he could “understand the strong feeling that exists among some local authorities”.

He said: “I am concerned we find ourselves in this position now.

“That’s why I attended the Labour party conference and spent three days there talking to local authority leaders, Labour party members, and MPs making sure I listened to and responded to their concerns and adapted my own thinking.”

He added: “By everyone’s definition we have got a housing crisis in London and we won’t fix it unless we work together.”

Under the terms of the NHF proposal, there will be a presumption for housing associations to provide tenants with the right-to-buy but they could still block the sale of homes in areas where there are shortages of social housing. If that happened, tenants would be offered the opportunity to purchase a property, or a stake in one, in another area instead.

Mr Montague claimed the NHF proposal, which is supported “in principle” by all members of the g15, was “separate” to the issue of how the extension of right-to-buy is funded.

The L&Q chief executive said the g15 group had “promoted alternatives”, including an equity loan scheme similar to Help to Buy, an idea put forward by mayor of London Boris Johnson. However, Mr Montague said the proposal was not “still in play”.

Mr Montague said he did not “underestimate the problems” the sale of high value properties would cause councils and added: “If I was in their situation I would feel exactly the same as they do at the moment.”

As a result he said housing associations were “determined” to replace every home sold even though he accepted it had been “difficult to deliver” in the past.

Mr Montague told LGC there was “a lot more” housing associations and local, regional, and national government could do to support the delivery of more homes.

“We have got to work together on this,” he said. “What I’d love to see, especially in London, is that we take a step back and look at our combined estates – the housing estates of the g15, and local authorities combined – and see what we can do with that… If we look very carefully at the land that we own then I know that we can do more.”

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Readers' comments (1)

  • I reiterate previous comments that removing rental properties from such housing stock will push event more low income people into homelessness or inappropriate housing. Housing Associations have usually had the opportunity to develop housing on land that cost less than open market priced land so they can afford to provide low cost rental housing.

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