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Four key trends that could shape the affordable housing sector this year

By Jonathan Pearson, director at Residentially

Whilst 2024 is already well underway, the landscape of changing policies, economic pressures, and societal needs continues to raise a lot of questions about the future of UK housing this year and beyond. 

With that in mind, it’s essential to look ahead to what could help the sector’s efforts to provide more affordable, safe, and sustainable housing. Here are four key trends that I believe will play their part.

1. The gap between for-profit and not-for-profit affordable housing providers will narrow

For-profit affordable housing providers, once viewed with scepticism by many in the sector, are playing an ever important role in creating affordable homes. Last month, housebuilder Vistry said it is developing an increasing number of homes with Sage Homes and Heylo, and I think we should expect the distinction between not-for-profits and for-profit providers like these to continue to narrow. One of the biggest shifts I’m seeing is for-profits’ pursuit of joint ventures with traditional housing associations and these collaborations could become beneficial by combining their strengths to address the housing crisis more effectively. 

2. New safety measures will drive innovation and deliver more homes 

The Grenfell Tower tragedy has greatly affected the housing sector by rightly leading to more stringent safety regulations. As developers, housing associations and councils grapple with these new standards, innovation will become key in balancing safety, cost, and aesthetics and should push the industry towards more thoughtful and safer designs. For example, we’re seeing the introduction of mandatory second staircases for taller buildings encouraging affordable housing providers to increase the number of properties within larger developments to help justify the cost, which can only be a positive thing if it leads to more homes. 

3. Standardised designs could become the norm for affordable housing providers

Affordable housing providers have long been dependent on either utilising existing stock or housebuilders’ ‘hand-me-downs’ when it comes to providing the right homes for their residents, leading to expensive adjustments that then hinder their overall ability to develop much needed new properties. So, it’s encouraging to see more of the affordable housing providers we work with looking to the example of private developers in designing their own standard housing types to overcome these barriers. And this isn’t just about cost-cutting. It could mean easier, faster and better provision of affordable housing by streamlining and improving the construction processes and ensuring  properties are of the right design and size to suit the needs of their tenants. 

4. The general election will place affordable housing in the spotlight 

2024 is expected to be an election year in the UK. And with surveys suggesting over half of voters are more likely to vote for a party that’s committed to more funding for social and affordable homes, we should expect housing to become central to many future political debates. We certainly got a taster of this during party conference season last autumn, when the parties set out their stall on future housing policies, and this continued spotlight could lead to some important and much needed shifts in the way the country tackles and talks about the housing crisis, whichever party ends up taking power. After many years of affordable housing taking a back seat, with no less than 16 housing ministers since 2010, it can only be a positive that it is finally gaining traction as a political issue.