If housing associations get behind Voluntary Right to Buy, everyone could benefit
Just as the recent green paper propelled the social housing sector to the top of the news agenda, the Government has finally launched the Voluntary Right to Buy (VRtB) pilot scheme across the Midlands.
The scheme, which has been in the pipeline for some time, will offer housing association tenants the opportunity to purchase their homes for a discounted price. Social housing is a drastically underfunded and often neglected market, so this could potentially be the boost that the sector desperately needs.
The arrival of the social housing green paper saw a major piece of proposed funding for VRtB being put in jeopardy, with plans to allow councils to sell off properties in high-value areas being scrapped. While this has raised a question regarding the viability of future schemes, the Midlands pilot is definitely now up and running.
This should be welcome news for both housing associations and their tenants. For families who have been living in affordable rented accommodation for a number of years, the scheme offers a previously unobtainable route to ownership. Furthermore, the opportunity secures greater financial security, and the necessary support to make long-term plans for themselves and their families.
Similarly, housing associations will also benefit from VRtB, with the sale of their properties providing them with the opportunity to improve their housing stock. The VRtB agreement stipulates that housing associations must be prepared to replace their properties once sold, whether that be with more housing in the same area or in another location where there is additional need. The older properties sold off will be replaced by new stock offering better homes with improved efficiencies.
The scheme also aims to account for any potential time lags between the sale of one property and the building of its replacement. As soon as a sale is completed housing associations will be able to apply for a refund of any money they lost by offering the discount, allowing construction on new homes to begin.
The later living market will surely be one to watch as the scheme progresses. Challenges surrounding accessibility mean that there is already a shortfall in the availability of suitable homes for this market and they are more difficult to replace. Considering this, providers may choose not to sell off any of these properties and their involvement with the scheme might only extend to their ‘general needs stock’.
The scheme guidelines clearly state that it will not be compulsory, any housing associations that do not wish to participate will not have to. However, if providers do decide to unite and engage with the scheme en masse, it could potentially improve the lives of many tenants, allowing them ownership of their homes and giving the desperately under-funded sector a push in the right direction.