Why is it that alarm bells start ringing when the phrase win-win is used? Perhaps it’s from a sense of latent cynicism, or perhaps it’s simply that we’re conditioned from birth to accept that something which seems too good to be true, almost certainly is. So what is it that makes me class a workable right to buy scheme for Housing Associations in the same category as perpetual motion machines? Namely, as something to be pursued and desired, but not the sort of thing that you should be holding your breath for. In my opinion it's because a more accurate description for this particular win-win would a win-win-huh? situation - and that's far less catchy.
|Launch of the original Right To Buy scheme - Source|
Equally, I can understand that potential tenants – those people currently living only on waiting lists – are keen observers of a scheme that promises a one-to-one re-provision of housing. They are anticipating an impending flood of new homes becoming available. We know that not everyone who bought their council house found it led to lasting prosperity and others found it became a millstone around their necks, but on the whole it’s been well documented that there are a legion of benefits to home ownership – from lower crime rates, increased educational attainment and greater community involvement.
From a governmental point of view extending and re-invigorating the right to buy scheme is a potential panacea for their housing ills. The idea of direct private ownership rather than relying on the Government fits with the Cameron government's ideology. Ministers can explain that they are empowering a generation of tenants, whilst simultaneously creating new homes that other tenants can fill. Best of all the record books will show that they’ve been building houses and as a nice side-effect the gradual churn of development creates jobs.
So what about Housing Associations? As the barman said to the horse – why the long face? Well, it’s all to do with the BODs: the Boring Old Details. While we can see the win-win in the offing and hear the perpetual motion machine starting to hum*, we are still left with a significant amount of “huh?” to deal with. Could someone supply us with the BODs of how we can achieve a one-for-one re-provision and make the figures work? Would someone be so kind as to tweet me the BODs on how we are to stay true to our promise to treat all tenants – past, present and future – fairly, whilst potentially offering something to current tenants that we denied to previous residents and can't promise to future ones? With the BODs in hand I could dispell the huh and evaluate the likelihood of us actually being able to make this win-win come into existence.
Believe me, there is no shortage of support within housing for innovation, for original thinking, for daring new schemes. We work on the front line of supply, so we know how badly the nation needs some bold thinking to address the housing crisis. That said what we must try and avoid are a slew of will-o’-the-wisp ideas emanating from Whitehall. These enchanting prospects draw us all in, away from more solid footing and as our hands close around the shape it disapparates, leaving us far from the path with nothing to show for our efforts – and in that sort of situation, no one wins.
*or crackle, or fizz, or whatever noises a perpetual motion machine might make.