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John O’Connor, The Housing Agency: Foreword

Prioritising affordability and sustainability

Later this year will mark the completion of my term of office as Chief Executive of The Housing Agency. When I look back over the last 10 years, I can see some great progress resulting from unprecedented public investment in housing. Last year, about one-third of all new homes were for social housing and there is a strong pipeline in place to further increase the construction of new homes. Much needs to be done to deliver the housing we need for everyone in our society.

Affordability and sustainability are the two key challenges.

The publication of the Affordable Housing Bill marks a monumental milestone. There are three main features to the Bill:

  • a scheme of direct State-built affordable homes, local authorities will be able to deliver affordable housing for purchase on their own lands;
  • a national cost-rental scheme will be put on a legal footing, this continental style tenure will see rents based on the cost of provision and maintenance rather than market rents, and the potential for longer-term tenancies; and
  • a shared equity scheme for first-time buyers providing an equity stake of up to 20 per cent in new build homes.

These measures, adding to those already introduced over the last few years to help increase the supply of new homes and to support people in their homes, will provide the conditions necessary to improve affordability. And as we achieve this goal, we must actively include those who may need additional supports: older people and those with a disability; low incomes households; and those experiencing or at risk of losing their home. Our homes should unlock our participation in society and promote inclusive communities.

We all need to take personal ownership of making sure our communities are sustainable, right now and for future generations. Climate change might seem such a big issue that it leaves us feeling overwhelmed, but we all need to ask: what can I do?

We have a responsibility to embrace climate action in all the decisions we make. For example, in the construction materials we use; how we reduce waste and recycle; the energy efficiency of buildings; and where we locate new homes so that they are well connected to reduce car use. Rejuvenating our towns and villages so that people can live, work, access services within walking distance has many positives.

In addition to having a climate change crisis, we have a biodiversity crisis. Therefore, our designs also need to support and encourage greater biodiversity in our neighbourhoods. We must leave room for the flowers, bees and butterflies! This is much easier to do if we incorporate biodiversity into our thinking and design from the beginning, rather than trying to retrofit it at a later stage. The result will be a more natural and sustainable environment, and a beautiful one too.

Getting these issues right will have a profound effect on the quality of our housing and on our quality of life. The Covid-19 pandemic has also highlighted for us all how important a safe and secure home is for everyone. The new housing plan, Housing for All, will set out a revised strategy to achieve the type of homes we all want and plans to tackle the challenges still facing us.

I would like to conclude by thanking the housing community for your continuing support to The Housing Agency. We are a small organisation, and we can achieve our ambitions by working together. We work with those who share our values, to achieve better Housing for All.

John O’Connor
Chief Executive Officer
The Housing Agency