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‘Right To Buy’ Heads Up The Housing Agenda Again

April 30, 2010

Apparently ‘Right to Buy’ – a key policy in Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s time – is with us once more. It seems Conservatives in Wandsworth are keen to re-introduce the sale of council housing to tenants as a serious element in civic regeneration strategy. And there may also be other local authorities with the same idea, which some of us hoped had gone for good.

I struggle to see how Right to Buy can claim to be an effective element of any inclusive strategy for regeneration.

Right to Buy may have worked initially for some areas where ex-tenants bought houses, but this has probably been at the end of the tenant spectrum where, with support and advice, other routes to owning a home were available. Indeed, the current Labour government has initiated schemes which provide that sort of support.

Failing where it matters
But if reports from housing practitioners and community activists on the ground are to be believed, Right to Buy failed to work for most areas where the accommodation is flats or apartments.

And it has been disastrous for those ex-tenants who purchased naively and found they simply could not afford (and may not know how) to maintain their properties, once acquired – sometimes with disastrous effects also for the local community, as houses are left in visible disrepair or even abandoned.

Housing shortage
Given the current acute shortage of affordable housing in many parts of Britain – not least, London – can Right to Buy be a responsible answer to any of the housing and regeneration challenges we face?

Additional council-owned mixed housing? In appropriate contexts, probably yes. Selling off what scarce accommodation is currently owned by local authorities? Definitely no.

Passing the buck?
Or is Right to Buy really an exercise, for local authorities who plan to adopt it, in making a quick buck or two whilst also passing it?

A version of this article was first published on the New Start Blog, on 30 April 2010.

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