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Tackling poverty through housing and planning policy in city regions.
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This report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (‘JRF’) explores what city-regions can do to tackle poverty through their housing and planning policies – both in terms of reducing the risk of poverty or mitigating the experiences of households in poverty – and questions if this is yet enough of a priority within the new and emerging city-region authorities, especially when utilising their new ‘freedoms and flexibilities’.

As ever with work produced by the JRF, this report is thorough and thoughtful. It points out that many city-regions recognise that housing supports their wider plans for economic growth, but that their policy to date has been focused on growth in an absolute sense rather than what they call ‘inclusive growth’. JRF have identified that at present only a small number of small city and town local authorities are addressing inclusive growth through direct intervention. JRF conclude this is a key missed opportunity, and that the small number of proactive interventions being pursued at the moment could be easily scaled-up and pursed at the metropolitan level.  

In addition JRF identify other benefits of interventions at the city-region level, including developing a framework for pan-sector working partnerships; developing a collective voice to lobby for greater and more flexible funding, with localised discretion; and dissemination best practice and lessons learned. Combined authorities, they argue, are a more natural ‘home’ for housing and planning policy than Local Economic Partnerships (LEPs).

The report then sets out that in the current housing crisis is it crucial to understand the link between housing and poverty, via 5 key variables of availability; cost; quality; location; and security. Empirical studies show that poverty levels increase once housing costs are taken into account, and those increases varying strongly across UK regions. Tenants in the social and private rented sectors are most vulnerable to poverty, with poor regulation and standards enforcement being a growing concern in the latter. Many social housing providers have to date offered ‘soft support’ to their residents, in terms of access to training and jobs; but cuts in Central Government support and increasing pressures on Housing Association margins are undermining this provision.

JRF’s analysis of recent devolution deals concludes that they are even less focused in tackling poverty via measures to address the above 5 variables than the LEPs’ Strategic Economic Plans. They concede this may reflect the ‘deal-based’ nature of devolution to date ie. municipal ‘asks’ based on prevailing national policy priorities on economic growth and absolute increase in housing supply. JRF also identify some key barriers for city-regions in linking housing development to poverty reduction, including lack of remediation funding; constraints in the planning system; land availability (and hence price); and the recent shift to policy that undermines development of new social housing. For example releasing public sector land at below-market value to support affordable housing development is currently a political and financial minefield for local authorities. JRF conclude that city-regions should not rely upon the ‘trickle-down’ theory of economic growth, but instead use the introduction of combined authorities and devolution of funding to tackle housing-related poverty at multiple levels.

This is a solid report that will be of interest and use to a number of stakeholders in housing. Appendix 1, which provides a timeline of key housing and planning policy developments since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, is in particular a great reference summary. The summary of 14 potential ‘intervention options’ - all based on either published research or live case studies – are also of great practical use. A next-step for the JRF would be to work with one or more new city-regions on scaling-up and or tailoring one or more of these options in a real world scenario.