This week, I announced changes to the Gateway, which will allow more Islanders to access social housing.
It is not only the most impoverished or vulnerable in our society who need social housing. At a time when cost of living is so high, the reality is that many Islanders could – and should – benefit from the lower rents and the high-quality accommodation that you find in Jersey’s social housing.
My vision for social housing extends way beyond making adjustments to the criteria. I want it to be an option for all Islanders in need of a decent home.
A book titled A Home Of One’s Own, written by Hashi Mohamed, refers to the importance of housing as a basic need: “There’s a temptation today to see the housing crisis as something too big, too complicated and too intractable… but fundamentally it’s an issue of loss – what we lose individually in terms of opportunities to grow, learn, experiment, consider and rest, and what we lose more generally in terms of talent, potential, health, time, happiness and opportunities if we fail to provide the most basic of resources to our citizens.”
Ten years ago, we were considering the creation of Andium Homes and how to bring our housing stock into good use. What a difference a decade makes. Now we’re discussing how to do more. We’re in an envious position compared to many other jurisdictions.
A report from 2009 highlights just how far we’ve come. In ‘A Review of Social Housing in Jersey’, Christine Whitehead suggests the following policy frameworks. Top of the list is the desirable tenure mix in the Island, and second is eligibility rules for social housing. She comments, “a significant proportion of households are very unlikely to be able to afford to purchase without some significant assistance. They will therefore either remain in the private rented sector or become social tenants… Given the current constraints [of the Gateway] social housing is not therefore to be seen as generally available to those unable to afford owner occupation, it is inherent that the tenant profile includes large proportions of lone parent, economically inactive and older households.”
This commentary reveals a perception of social housing that is, I believe, no longer fit for purpose in the 21st century. As Christine points out in her paper, without substantial increases in supply, it would be inevitable that social housing would continue to be targeted towards lower-income groups. But thankfully we have a good supply coming forward – and more on the way. Now we can take bigger steps. We could even find a pathway that uses social housing as a steppingstone into home ownership, where that is realistic. Andium’s extensive building programme enables us to do this.
There is no quick fix or big bang solution to housing; it’s a journey of increments. My job is to build upon the work of my predecessors by recognising how the landscape has changed and reacting accordingly. We have an opportunity to bring our society together, to reduce the gap between the ‘haves and have nots’.
Today, for the first time in many years, we have an opportunity to redress the balance. Andium’s delivery programme of new homes, coupled with the ongoing work of the housing trusts, is at last giving us choices that up until now we’ve only ever dreamed of. The time has come to make some bold decisions that will transform the lives of many Islanders. It will give a future to those who thought they had none in Jersey.
I’m very focused on two distinct areas: Islanders who find themselves in rental stress, that is where more than 30% of their income is taken up in housing costs, and those who want to own a home but can’t, for whatever reason, bridge the gap between renting and buying.
Access to social housing has always been very carefully controlled. There’s been a nervousness around lists getting too long, the danger of giving hope where there is none. Hence age, income, and the needs of children have always been the central focus. I believe we are now in a position to start relaxing the criteria so that we can support more people who are really struggling or who simply want a stable base from which to start the journey of owning a home.
We need to rethink the narrow purpose of social housing provision. We need to recognise that those who don’t have the advantages of family money, family property or the “bank of mum and dad” no longer get left behind. We need to give opportunity to everyone in society.
My policy intent today is to reduce the age of those eligible for social housing whilst at the same time raising the income criteria to a level that recognises rental stress. We have a golden opportunity to give more Islanders security of tenure – and I want to grab it with both hands.
I feel very upbeat after my first year as Minister for Housing and Communities. Yes, today’s housing market conditions are hugely challenging. That’s why it’s vital our States-owned entities continue with their build programmes, and our planning team and infrastructure department carry on with the important part they play in our ability to deliver new homes. We are reaping the rewards of some courageous decisions made a decade ago. The hope is real.