By Paul Smith, Associate
In June last year Robert Jenrick, then Housing Secretary went to Bolsover to open a pilot project of First Homes and declared,
“Enabling more people to buy their own homes is at the heart of the mission of this government, and First Homes will offer a realistic and affordable route into home ownership for even more people who want to own their own home.”
First Homes have already gone further than the ‘Starter Homes’ programme which was effectively buried when Kit Malthouse, another previous Housing Secretary, admitted that not a single one was built.
First Homes are being sold at 30-50% discount to first time buyers with the discount percentage being retained each time the property is resold. Unlike Help to Buy, First Homes are classified by the Government as ‘affordable housing’ [for my previous blog on affordable housing see: https://cratus.co.uk/but-its-not-really-affordable-is-it) and the target is for it to constitute 25% of affordable homes from Section 106 agreements. This is a significant change (if section 106 agreements remain a thing) as Help to Buy was not classified as affordable housing and therefore didn’t eat into affordable housing delivery.
In my day job we recently had a small affordable housing allocation challenged by the developer. They wanted First Homes instead of the affordable homes agreed in the planning permission. They picked the wrong council, which took a strong stand and even issued an injunction to halt the development until the affordable housing was allocated. I wonder in some other areas whether councils might take the First Homes and quietly move away from their policy?
It is quite audacious to claim that discounted housing for sale is ‘affordable’. The main criticism of such programmes is that they discount house prices for those using the scheme but push up house prices in general as they don’t address the mismatch between supply and demand. Also, developers will want to protect their profit margins and to protect the overall sales value of a project house prices will rise to cover the cost of the discount.
Analysis of First Homes raises a real issue about their affordability.
Research by Savills concluded
“The initial pilot scheme will be in Bolsover, where a 700 sq ft property with a 30 per cent discount is affordable for 59 per cent of households. But in an area where affordability is already stretched, the scheme will benefit fewer people. In St Albans, for example, we calculate that only 22 per cent of local households could afford to buy a 700 sq ft property with a 30 per cent discount, and in London, that falls to just 12 per cent of households.”
Camden Council is the first one to publicly declare
“The Council does not consider First Homes to be a suitable form of affordable housing for delivery in Camden, and will not seek the inclusion of First Homes in developments in the borough, or expect 25% of affordable homes to take the form of First Homes.”
Shelter have gone much further declaring that First Homes
“…poses a huge threat to the supply of social housing…our analysis shows that across the whole of England, only the richest 28% of private renting households earn enough money to be able to access a First Home. The vast majority of private renters – 3.3 million households – will miss out”
First Homes is the wrong answer to the question “how do we solve the housing crisis?” We need homes to be cheaper for all, whether buying or renting. This requires an increase in the supply of new homes in general and genuinely affordable homes in particular. Every report and investigation concludes with largely the same answer, WE NEED MORE HOMES, and WE NEED MORE SOCIAL HOUSING. The schemes to increase home ownership generally just act to push up house prices and make housing more unaffordable to most people seeking homes.
First Homes are a manifesto commitment, however they are identified with Robert Jenrick. Michael Gove has shown he is prepared to revisit housing policy, hopefully First Homes are on his review list.
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