Whose plans for whose lives? Will the Council listen to Mancunians when designing its Housing Development Company?

By GMHA (@gmhousingaction)


Tomorrow Manchester City Council’s 10 member Executive will meet online, (citizens can observe via the webcast here). Alongside discussions about the financial impact of COVID-19 and the need for a new Council budget, the Executive will also discuss a paper on the establishment of a Housing Development Company. The stated intention of the proposed vehicle would be to provide direct delivery options for a range of new affordable homes utilising City Council land assets.


Greater Manchester Housing Action has been campaigning for some years on the widespread lack of affordable housing in the city. It is evident to most in the city that there is deep public anger about this issue. We therefore welcome the Council’s intention to develop the vehicle, and consider it a step in the right direction. 


The proposal is a recognition that there is now a substantial problem in the city in delivering affordable housing. We note the commitment to zero carbon housing, which we welcome in an era of climate crisis - provided it is truly zero carbon, and not done through a clever accounting trick. And we read with interest the potential capacity to buy back housing stock. We believe this could be an effective tool to address local issues like the problems of Airbnb in Moss Side and other inner-urban neighbourhoods


However, there remain concerns that we would like to see addressed if this proposed vehicle is to meet its aims of providing affordable housing across the city. They are as follows:


First, the use of a public/private partnership model (which is one of two options) will mean the requirement for developer profit will have to be built in, and Freedom of Information requests may not be permitted. We strongly call for the vehicle to be fully owned and operated by the council with proper democratic scrutiny. This is a Labour council, ownership should be with the workers of the city and their elected representatives.


Second, the vehicle does little to challenge the model of financialisation in parts of the city that are leading to much of our housing being owned by institutional investors that care little for tenants or the wider city. This vehicle can experiment with diverse forms of ownership beyond the market but will be dwarfed by the actual reality in the city. 


Third, on its own the proposal is not significant enough to close the growing gap between those with secure housing and those living precarious housing lives. What other plans does the Council have to make a better housing future for the city? Now more than ever is the time to be radical and not timid. Indeed the 500 new units per year proposed would be delivered in a context in which once homes lost to right to buy are factored in (90,000 lost in Greater Manchester since the policy was implemented) there are likely to be only marginal gains in the overall affordable and social housing stock. 


Despite these issues we welcome the work by councillors and officers in putting together this proposal. Councils should be building homes for working class communities, and this municipalism in action has a long history in the city. However, the risk remains that this vehicle is not ambitious enough in addressing the growing crisis of affordable housing and gentrification in the city,


While it undoubtedly represents a step forward, we must be sure to push this to be as ambitious as it can be. GMHA will work with other groups and individuals to push for a more consultative and democratic process in the creation of the Housing Development Company. Groups already involved include Climate Emergency Manchester, Steady State Manchester, Rising Up Manchester Families. If your group, or you as an individual, want to be involved, please get in touch via gmhousingaction@gmail.com.


2 June 2020