It is good to see a group of charities which are closely linked to the public sector doing well financially. The Housing Association movement has a successful business model. They invest in residential property, often with grant aid for the investment. They let most of the homes out to people who usually need Housing Benefit to pay the rents, so there is state underwriting of their main income. Housing Benefit stands behind many of the rent increases that are now common, owing to pressures from demand on the supply of rented properties. They make a surplus or profit on their trading accounts. They pay no tax on this surplus all the time they maintain their charitable status. They then see the value of their residential holdings go up as the market rises, yielding substantial tax free gains.
One of the largest reported a surplus of £209 million last year on trading account. It held £340 million in cash and liquid investments. Its properties which cost it £5.6 billion to buy and build were worth £16.3 billion (at market value assuming with vacant possession). It had received £2.695 billion of accumulated grants. This pattern seems common. Another I look at recorded an operating surplus of £106 million last year, held £170 million in cash and liquid assets and held £3.7bn of gross assets at book cost which was doubtless a substantial understatement of market value.
The issue I want to raise is what more can the Housing Association movement do to assist with the wish of many more people to own their own home? Could they use their cash, their skills as developers and their ability to borrow against the security of their large portfolios to make many more new homes available for affordable homes to buy? What should the government’s policy on grants be, given the financial strength of these bodies? Are these bodies doing enough to help in a market short of housing with high rents?
86% of UK householders would like to own their home, but only 64% do. This is down from 69% in 2001. Worse still the proportion of people under 40 who own their home has shrunk fastest, thanks to the pressure of demand and pre 2007 lending policies driving up prices.