I’ve been following the recent coverage of the cladding scandal with a curious mix of hope and despair.

Like most people who care about housing, I’ve been pleased to see the situation in sharp focus over recent weeks. It is scandalous that more than 3 years after the Grenfell tragedy, both dangerous cladding and the debate about how to fund its removal endure. That finally, there appears to be political will to fix this mess is a victory, delivered by the tenacity of a broad coalition of housing campaigners who have refused to let this lie.

It’s thoroughly depressing to read the awful stories of what people are having to go through. Leaseholders can’t pay, and of course, they shouldn’t have to. No one buys a home expecting it to become an albatross from which there is no escape. Home should be a sanctuary and a source of security, regardless of tenure, but it seems particularly perverse that the tenure people assume to be the most secure has become the riskiest for tens of thousands of people and their families. The £1.6bn billion Building Safety Fund is welcome, but when the full cost of cladding remediation is estimated to be ten times that – £3bn for the G15 group of housing associations alone – it feels very much like applying a sticking plaster to a gaping wound.

It feels even more unjust that shared owners stand to suffer most in this awful mess. They may own 25% of their home, but they are responsible for 100% of the maintenance costs. Long a target of reform, the maintenance debate is centre stage once again as crippling waking watch charges dwarf mortgage costs for many. Remediation costs which stand to run into tens of thousands for many may close the door permanently to any prospect shared owners might have of staircasing to outright ownership, including if loans are part of the Government’s solution.

That Government has chosen to focus on developing new tenures, and fiddling with existing ones rather than addressing cladding has rightly caused huge frustration. Planned reforms to shared ownership might have protected many from the current financial peril that they face, but under these plans, housing associations would be bearing the costs of much of this work instead.

For housing associations to foot the bill, would be a huge injustice too. One of the most frustrating myths about housing associations is that they sit on huge reserves. But as anyone who has worked in housing will tell you, this isn’t an underutilised surplus, it’s working capital deployed to leverage investment to fund the development of new affordable homes.

The first housing association I worked for, was able to keep developing and punch above its weight in development terms, putting many larger organisations to shame, because of a strong financial position that meant investors continued to be willing to lend, during periods of extreme grant scarcity.

It’s great that the Labour amendment to protect leaseholders from fire safety remediation costs passed this week, but we should go further and explicitly protect housing associations too or say goodbye to any hope of building our way out of the UK’s housing crisis.

The rumoured development levy is a step in the right direction, but should be borne by the companies that created this mess and not the majority who operate to high standards. Make the right developers pay. Those who knowingly benefitted, often taking Help to Buy cash with one hand while driving down standards when they thought no one was looking.

The End Our Cladding Scandal campaign by Inside Housing is right, Government must take the necessary action now, so that people feel safe in their homes once again, and have the threat of financial ruin removed after three years of stress and uncertainty. Building safety could be adopted into the national infrastructure plan, it certainly feels like an urgent priority and could be turned into an opportunity to create jobs and apprenticeships, to bring forward measures to improve the energy performance of the affected buildings, and reward developers who have always done and continue to do the right thing with contracts to deliver this work.

With an announcement from the Government expected soon, let’s hope that we can finally bring an end to this national scandal. 

 

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