This month, we mark the first year of this term of Government, and the first year of Deputy David Warr’s tenure as Minister for Housing and Communities.
In this busy twelve months a lot has changed, particularly as a result of the Bank of England base rate increases, trying to bring inflation under control.
In Jersey, this has resulted in higher mortgage costs and a leap in the affordability gap for Islanders trying to buy their first home, whilst existing homeowners are also starting to feel the bite as mortgage deals come up for renewal. This has more-or-less put the brakes on our housing market, and the nature of the housing crisis we were facing just a year ago has shifted into something new. But the core matter of affordability remains front and centre, as a top priority for this Government to address.
The factors that influence affordability are complex and, unfortunately, there isn’t a simple fix that can single-handedly counter the macro-economic forces and layers of complexity that influence Jersey’s housing market. The challenges are systemic in nature, and hence, it calls for a systemic response.
A relentless focus on housing
A relentless focus on housing means looking across the system – both within and outside of government – and addressing actions that will influence the actors upon our housing market, both in the short and long-term. It means helping address the barriers to supply, quality and security challenges being faced, whilst pursuing targeted moves that will address affordability for those who need it most. It also means addressing long-term demand pressures, like creating a sustainable Island economy that can be decoupled from the need to increase the size of the population, whilst equally making sure those people who do come to Jersey in key roles are able to access the homes they need.
In their first year, the Council of Ministers have had to act with a high degree of focus and agility to deal with the issues and opportunities we face, both old and new. Indeed, there have been a number of long-in-the-tooth issues that have needed to be first addressed head-on, to allow the Island to move forward.
To increase housing supply, this has meant:
- Addressing the infrastructure needed to accommodate new housing supply, involving work to deliver both the bridging Liquid Waste Strategy and securing the agreement of the Assembly for the La Collette Waste Management Development site.
- Delivering supplementary planning guidance to improve the standard of housing and guide its successful delivery in urban and rural areas, and on the re-zoned housing sites.
- Commissioning an independent review to address the effectiveness of planning services, and responding quickly with a comprehensive action plan.
- Taking action to make better use of the homes we already have, making inroads to tackle the issue of vacant homes with the establishment of the Empty Homes Service, and dealing with the unacceptable loss of local housing stock to unregulated short-term holiday lets.
- Supporting and promoting modern methods of construction, working with the construction sector to transition towards more efficient and sustainable housing delivery, with work ongoing to establish a construction sector innovation hub whilst continuing to support Andium Homes and the Jersey Development Company as market-leaders in innovative solutions.
To improve the quality and security of housing, it has meant:
- Securing the approval in-principle of the Draft Public Health and Safety (Rented Dwellings) (Licensing) (Jersey) Regulations, which will help to ensure the quality of rental housing in Jersey meets minimum health and safety standards.
- Undertaking a major public consultation to understand Islanders’ views on proposals to reform residential tenancy legislation in Jersey, which seeks to improve security of tenure and address rent stabilisation measures.
- Working with shelter providers, Government services and social housing providers to improve how we deal with the issue of homelessness, supporting those in the most acute housing need.
To improve access to more affordable housing, it has meant:
- Progressively increasing eligibility to access social housing, widening income criteria and reducing the age at which people can access social housing as more supply becomes available.
- Widening eligibility to access assisted purchase schemes, helping to bridge the affordability gap created by high house prices and the increasing cost of servicing a mortgage, giving greater access to the Homebuy scheme and re-zoned housing sites.
- Undertaking work to assess a variety of schemes that can make best use of the £10m set aside to assist Islanders into home ownership, in a manner that avoids negative consequences.
- Supporting Andium Homes in the delivery of hundreds of new affordable homes, with hundreds more in the pipeline.
- Working with the Jersey Development Company to continue to regenerate the Southwest of St Helier, which will include the delivery of over 1,000 new homes – a minimum of 15% of which will be available with a subsidy to help Islanders with the cost of home ownership.
To ensure our housing market is better able to meet the needs of our workforce, it has meant:
- Delivering new key worker units to support critical health and community services.
- Working to develop a fair and sustainable policy for housing people in key public service roles, supporting the recruitment process and providing access to the right type of housing support.
- Accelerating access to work licences to support recruitment and access to housing.
- Considering changes to the Control of Housing and Work Law, looking to find a fair and sustainable solution for access to housing for those who come to work in Jersey.
It is essential that we take a measured approach that gives Islanders confidence that we are moving in the right direction. There is a need to balance effort between the near and long-term, with work now underway to develop the Island’s first long-term, sustainable housing strategy on the future of Jersey’s housing market, based on a vision that extends beyond political terms. It will also look to carefully consider the role of fiscal measures – how we tax and subsidise housing – towards a healthier housing market in Jersey. And so, whilst a lot has been achieved in the first year of this government, there is still plenty of work to be done to keep taking Jersey in the right direction. As Islanders, we all know how important it is to address the housing situation as quickly as possible.
We’ve recognised a need to keep Islanders better up to date with the work going on right across Government, and we’re pleased to today be launching new social media accounts.
Please do give us a follow, and we commit to keeping you up to date with the policy discussions. There is a lot already happening, and more to come as the Council of Ministers – together – continue to demonstrate a relentless focus on housing.