White Paper should have focused on people at all stages of life

David Cowans

The Housing White Paper still needs to view housing as a system, says David Cowans, Chief Executive of Places for People.

While there has been a noticeable shift in Government policy towards improving standards in the private rental market with longer terms tenancies, delivering housing options for people at all stages of their life should have been a higher focus of the Housing White Paper, says David Cowans, Group Chief Executive of Places for People.

People's lives are dynamic and full of change and the housing market needs to respond to this with flexible housing products.

Places for People recognised this nearly 20 years ago when we developed our first mixed-tenure development incorporating a mix of housing for sale, affordable housing, and market rent properties. Since then, we have continued to develop that approach and now provide all tenures, from affordable social housing right through to home ownership. We have also developed flexible financial products, such as mortgages, shared ownership and shared equity schemes to enable people to access the homes we offer. 

Crucially, a flexible housing system should allow people to move through different tenures at a time which suits them best. And if their circumstances change, there should be options to move back from ownership into another tenure, better suited to their stage in life.

By viewing housing as a flexible system rather than a disjointed set of markets, we could create a framework for major innovation. 

One pressing issue is how we shape housing solutions for our ageing population.  There is a huge lack of retirement property in the UK and this is creating blockages in the ways the market operates.  Older people are not downsizing or moving into retirement housing. This means that larger family properties are not released into the market for growing families who need them.

There are wider ramifications too. Elderly people who have been treated in hospital often have to stay there because their homes are no longer suitable, putting increasing pressure on the NHS.

Our housing strategy must therefore be balanced with more choice of homes for people in later life as part of the overall creation of a system which works for everyone.  This includes options for those for people with care needs, retirement villages designed for those seeking an active lifestyle, retirement properties to buy and retirement rental properties to help people release equity and make empowered choices for their families and future.

We are uniquely placed to innovate to assist the housing system to work more efficiently and to help people to make the market work for them - what a great challenge.

This urgent need is why we set up Places for People Retirement last year and remodelled our supported living business to provide specialist accommodation and support services for people with complex needs.

In a nutshell, it's essential that developers provide the best places they possibly can in the most commercial way and including the broadest range of housing choices possible. It is encouraging to see the Government supporting this approach but we need to find ways to help all people in society to access the housing market.

Meeting the needs of everybody is by no means easy and we're not claiming that we've achieved this yet. But we continue to try our best by continually developing our propositions to meet our country's changing and complex housing needs. The Government has hinted at a more flexible approach but together we should be pushing this even further to create a housing system that works for all.

This blog was first published on Inside Housing on 10 February 2017

10 February 2017