At present housing associations operate effectively as a branch of the state. often their boards are packed with Labour councillors and other left wing activists.
There is a case for making them genuinely independent charities. As such they would be self financing and they would make their own decisions on rents, on allocations, on tenure rules and on such matters as whether to sell tenants their homes and if so at what, if any discount, from the market price.
But in the absence of this approach I am attracted by the recommendation from the Labour MP Frank Field and the Conservative MP David Davis, in a paper for the IPPR, that housing association tenants should be given the right to buy.
They argue that the Thatcher government's decision to give council tenants the right to buy their homes "transformed the lives of some of the least affluent in society , helping two million Britons become homeowners for the first time. It was a policy for the many, not the few."
Yet more recently the proportion of us that our home owners has been falling:
Ten years ago, home ownership in Britain reached 71.5 per cent. Sadly, that has proved to be a peak rather than the latest phase in an upward trend. By 2010, this figure had fallen to 1991 levels (67.5 per cent) and a recent report for the Housing Federation predicts that, by 2020, home ownership will have returned to mid-1980s levels – just 63.8 per cent (Oxford Economics 2011).
If this prediction is accurate, by the end of the decade there will in effect have been no net growth in home ownership in Britain over the previous 35 years.
Despite the downward trend, home ownership remains the objective of most people in Britain. A recent report from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) showed that 86 per cent of people would buy their home if they had the chance (Taylor 2011). Just 14 per cent said they would pr efer to rent. Among couples with children, 92 per cent would rather buy than rent. This has changed very little over the last 25 years. Almost two-thirds of renters say they aim to buy their own property within the next five years. Among all three groups of renters – private, local authority and housing association – the majority would prefer to buy rather than continue renting.