There will be almost no new funding for social housing for 18 months, the new chief executive of the Homes and Communities Agency has admitted in her first major interview.
Pat Ritchie, speaking in the week the HCA announced it was slashing its staff and offices to halve its administration budget, confirmed that it would not start a major programme of funding the government’s new affordable rent housing until 2012.
Instead, next year the organisation will focus on the spending commitments, worth £2.3bn, that it has already made.
Housing associations, councils and developers will not be able to bid again for new social housing funding until after the “affordable rent” product has been fully developed. A prospectus detailing how the product - in which housing associations will be able to raise rents to 80% of the market rate but will get less grant - will be published in the new year.
In total the coalition has pledged to spend £1.9bn on the product, but this spend will be loaded towards the end of the four-year period.
“Over the next financial year we’ll be mainly managing the existing affordable housing programme, and as we’re doing that we’ll be gearing up the affordable rent programme, and most of the spend will come in the second year [of the Comprehensive Spending Review, 2012-13],” said Ritchie.
Most of the spend will come in the second year of the comprehensive spending review
Pat Ritchie, HCA
She declined to give an exact figure on how much would be funded before 2012, but accepted that it would be “in the small millions”. Over the past three years an average of more than £2bn of social housing funding has been allocated each year.
Ritchie, who was appointed to the role in October after Sir Bob Kerslake became permanent secretary at the communities department, was previously the body’s regional director for the North-east. She said the number of directors at the HCA would be reduced from 12 to seven and its 17 offices reduced to just four.
The agency still looks after the £2.1bn programme of improving existing stock and will also manage the running down of its £1.3bn property and regeneration commitments, as well as taking on the regulation of housing associations.
Ritchie said she was confident the agency would be able to retain enough people with the right skills to deliver its programme.
Ritchie said she would work with councils and developers to prioritise and adapt existing schemes in the light of the new funding environment, admitting that sites may have to be mothballed, slowed or re-worked.
She also admitted that the agency and the communities department did not know yet how to deal with the impact of the new funding model on big estate regeneration schemes, such as Elephant and Castle in south London, where tenants have to vote in favour of the redevelopment. “We know there are issues on the way that the affordable rents project will deliver on estate-based regeneration,” she said. “The detail of it needs to be worked through.”