The Ideas Factory is a chance for you to pitch your own idea of what should be in the next Liberal Democrat manifesto. The proposal here is not the policy of the Social Liberal Forum. We will however be passing it – and the response it generates – onto the Manifesto Working Group.
Dr Tim Leunig: Those in social housing should be allowed to require their landlord to sell their home and buy a place of their choice.
Council and housing association tenants get little choice over where they live and are rarely able to move: many are in properties that do not suit their individual needs and preferences.
This can and should change. In a paper published by the Policy Exchange, The Right to Move, I argue that social tenants should have the right to move, the right to require their landlord to sell their current home and use the money to buy a place chosen by the tenant.
The new property would be owned by the landlord, and rented out as before. Tenants would be better off: they would get to live in a house of their choice.
The value of the landlord’s portfolio does not change – only its location. Of course, if a Lambeth tenant moves to Croydon, Lambeth will need to subcontract the maintenance to Croydon, but this is hardly difficult. Landlords could veto properties with disproportionately expensive maintenance – thatched cottages and the like. When the tenant leaves social housing, Lambeth could sell the Croydon property and buy one in Lambeth as necessary.
There are important advantages for society.
First, all tenants would gain a real stake in their house and area. Since they might one day want to move, they have an incentive to look after both, to report little problems before they become big ones, and an incentive to stand up against antisocial behaviour that plagues too many social housing estates.
Second, when social tenants move out of estates they would integrate with those living in other tenures. In addition, as some estate properties are sold on the open market, those estates would become more mixed, leading to better-integrated communities.
Third, social tenants could, for the first time, move easily for job related reasons, both within their own town and further away. This is good for them, but it is also good for society more generally, since it raises tax revenues and cuts benefit spending.
Fourth, poorer families could do what many middle class families do when they have children: move to areas with more space and better schools. Flats in city centres are generally as valuable as houses in the suburbs, allowing many families to move.
The only question is who should pay the costs of moving: selling fees, valuations and legal costs. Given bulk buying, these amount to around £1,000. The gains to society from greater social integration, as well as higher levels of employment, make a case for these to be subsidised to encourage social tenants to move, and we suggest that the state should allow tenants a “free move” once every five years. Those who wish to move more often would have to pay the fees themselves.
The right to move is about freedom, dignity and opportunity. It is about giving the same choices to those who are poor as to those who are middle class. It has the potential to transform the lives of millions of people living in social housing, by allowing them to decide where they live.
Note: This article was originally published on Comment is Free.
Dr Matthew Sowemimo: Social housing has traditionally been one of the areas where the state has been the least responsive to poorer communities. This proposal has the merit both of providing a practical means to securing more socially mixed communities and extending genuine choice to people who have often simply been ‘allocated housing.’ This proposal is absolutely consistent with Social Liberal Forum’s philosophical approach about how state action has to be refashioned in order to bring about equal life chances.
Susan Gaszczak: Whilst I agree that council and social housing tenants should have the right to move, I think there is a whole section of the community living in privately rented property that require more urgent attention and policy. People living in private rented property are subject to the standard of the landlord. Often you will find families who are classed as living in poverty in properties with inadequate heating, little insulation and a multitude of problems that cost large quantities of money. Sub standard private housing really needs to be tackled as well as giving social housing tenants the right to move.