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Alafat: Lack of affordable housing comes at 'very severe cost'

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Not investing in affordable housing and cutting benefits “will come at a very severe cost for the government, our health and social services and for society”, the chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing has warned.

In her speech opening the Housing 2017 conference in Manchester this morning, Terrie Alafat called on the government to do more to invest in affordable housing, “reverse” some changes to welfare policies, and provide councils with the resources they need to implement the measures in the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

Ms Alafat said: “We know that the government has finite resources but this is not about spending more, it is about being more strategic about spending.

“Not investing in affordable housing and saving money on benefits may reduce spending initially.

“But it will come at a very severe cost for the government, our health and social services and for society if more and more individuals – many of whom are vulnerable – are not able to access suitable, affordable housing.

“We need a long-term, strategic plan if we’re really going to solve this crisis.”

Ms Alafat said the general election result “adds further uncertainty into an already very unpredictable and challenging environment”.

The government had, though, acknowledged a need to build more homes “of all types and tenures”, she said and added the housing white paper also recognised “councils will have a crucial role to play”.

Ms Alafat said: “The change in tone from the last government and some of the proposals which followed have been encouraging.

“But that positive shift in language has not been matched with funding and we still have such a long way to go before we have a housing market that reflects the very different needs of people in our society.”

Of the £51bn earmarked for housing until 2021, CIH analysis has estimated £8bn, or 16%, will directly fund the building of affordable housing.

“The vast majority of the rest will support private housing - particularly home ownership,” said Ms Alafat. “We’re calling on our new government to take another look at this imbalance, because the simple truth is, we need direct investment in genuinely affordable housing if we’re going to solve the housing crisis.”

While the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 “is a brilliant piece of work and represents huge progress…it won’t solve the problem” of homelessness, said Ms Alafat. She called on the government to “match the new duties placed on councils…with the right level of support and resource to deliver them”.

Ms Alafat said welfare policies including the lower benefit cap and applying the local housing allowance cap to tenants in supported housing “risk undermining the renewed effort to solve our housing crisis”.

Meanwhile, Ms Alafat also addressed the Grenfell Tower “tragedy” which she said had “stunned the entire housing community”.

She said the CIH met with housing minister Alok Sharma “following this terrible incident to look at what the response of the government and the sector should be, both in the immediate aftermath and in the long-term”.

The CIH has provided copies of its briefings and guidance on fire safety to those at the conference.

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