Trust Your Affordable Housing, If You Can’t Trust National Government To Keep It

South London Suburbs photo by Chris Guy is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
St. Helier council housing estate where many residents have exercised their Right To Buy.

Why does Lawford Village, Essex, need a housing trust? The answer begins with a proposed Labour government policy in 1959, one that would enshrine local council tenants the Right To Buy the housing they were renting. The policy was ultimately adopted and implemented by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government in 1979. By that time, local councils were already selling quantities of rental housing to their tenants.

In the light of today’s affordable housing crisis, some of the reasoning behind the sell-off seems short-sighted: from a local government point of view, it was a way of cash strapped councils to raise money, and also a way to neatly step away from years of housing neglect, which led to abandoned and uninhabitable council housing like that pictured below.

Runswick Place photo by tonypreece is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Leeds, UK council homes decayed into boarded-up emptiness.


This sell-off of of low income housing was modified by various criteria over the years, such as extending, then shortening, the waiting period for a tenant to qualify for the right to buy. In Scotland, the right was curtailed completely in 2016.

Recently, the drain of low-income rental accommodation has increased by actions of the current Conservative Government. Read more in The Independent:  Number of council homes sold off under Right to Buy increases five-fold in six years after Tories lift cap.

All in all, since 1980 some million and a half low income housing units have been sold into private hands. Meanwhile today, waiting lists for affordable housing grow longer and longer.

In the village of Lawford, Essex, there was concern that new low income housing was badly needed. But to build it, then watch it drain away after a few years through Right To Buy seemed counterproductive and expensive, particularly since the village knew that there would continue to be a need by workers and village young people for low income accommodation. So Lawford set out to try to get the best of both worlds: a guaranteed source of affordable rental accomodation, but also housing that could return a cash benefit to renters in order to enable them step onto the home ownership ladder.

Read more about their program, quite possibly the first in Britain, in the Harwich and Manningtree Standard: Lawford housing trust takes first applications