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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

CIH centenary – taking the long view


The saying 'You don’t know where you are going if you don’t know where you have come from' is very true when looking at housing, says Peter Williams, former CIH deputy director and departmental fellow in the department of land economy at the University of Cambridge.

Image of CIH centenary logo CIH is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, so it’s a good time to take a brief look at trends in housing since the profession first began. Housing is an area in which political debates and media coverage are dominated by the politics and policies of the day, but in reality housing policy and the state of the housing market are very long-term issues, where trends play out over decades rather than days or weeks. 

A prime example is the way in which the last century saw enormous shifts between renting and home ownership, and in the rented sector between private and what we now call ‘social’ landlords. When the Association for Women Housing Workers was formed in 1916, the precursor to what is now CIH, for the majority of people in Britain tenure was simply not an issue. At least 80 per cent of households rented from private landlords, there were only tiny numbers of housing association and local authority homes, and less than one in five were homeowners. In fact, it was not until 1961 that tenure appeared as a question in the census, and this was because a major change was then well underway.  By 1965 private renting, in rapid decline, had shrunk to about 27 per cent of households in England. By the same date, post-war building meant that social housing had grown to 26 per cent. With the growing availability of mortgages from building societies, home ownership had reached 47 per cent.

As this suggests, it was 50 years ago that we saw social renting exceed private renting for the first time. Then over the decades that followed we saw homeownership peak at 71 per cent (in 2003), social housing at 32 per cent (in 1981) and private renting bottom out at just 9 per cent (in 1988). It’s no coincidence that when social housing was at its peak, in the early 1980s, the Institute of Housing (as it then still was) made huge leaps forward, receiving its Royal Charter and launching Inside Housing.

But, as history tells us, things change and having witnessed a tenure revolution in the 20th century – from renting to owning – we then saw hugely significant changes in the 21st century, with the private rented sector growing again while both social housing and home ownership declined. By 2015 the English Housing Survey tells us that there are 4,278,000 households in private rented housing (19 per cent), up from 1,702,000 in 1988 and 2,028,000 in 2000, a staggering 150 per cent growth in 27 years. And further growth is promised. By contrast, social housing now stands at 3,912,000 households (17 per cent), down 28 per cent from 5,460,000 in 1981. Obviously within this there has also been a key shift away from local authorities and towards housing association ownership. 

The desire to be a homeowner, which grew strongly in the post-war period, was given a major boost through the introduction of right to buy in the 1980s, which added a further 10 per cent of households to the overall per cent of owner-occupiers. But by 2015, there were  14,324,000 owner-occupying households, of whom just under half had mortgages (most of the rest had paid them off). The overall number of owners had fallen from a peak of 14,791,000 in 2005 (71 per cent), down.

467,000 with the percentage now at 63.6 per cent. However this also disguises important changes, with the number of mortgaged owners down from 8,573,000 in 2000 to 6,849,000 in 2015, a decline of 1,724,000 or 20 per cent. However, outright ownership has continued to grow and now stands at 7,475,000 in total.

It would be easy to dismiss all these figures as dry statistics but in reality we are looking at seismic shifts in supply and demand, need and aspiration, and all with huge political consequences. Little wonder this government has refocused its efforts around boosting home ownership.  Although it has launched a bevy of initiatives such as help to buy, starter homes and much else to achieve this, in reality it is the new right to buy on which it is pinning much of its hope. This delivered the numbers last time and, if government is really to reboot homeownership, it needs the new right to buy to be a huge success.

The growth of the housing profession might be seen as somewhat at odds with this backdrop but the reality is that housing work now encompasses far more than housing management even though it remains a vital core activity. Almost all housing organisations are operating across tenures and via direct and contracted services, joint ventures and much else. The housing landscape is now very varied, reflecting the complexities of the housing market, and it is becoming ever more so. It responds not just to national government policy but also differences in regional and local economies.  In the latest edition of the UK Housing Review, which CIH has published for 17 of its 24 years, we take a fresh look at how housing policies now differ significantly across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, compared with England.

Celebrating its 100th birthday should remind us how CIH and the profession have adapted and changed to respond to these profound shifts.  We can be sure that over the next 100 years we will observe the same on both counts – major changes in the housing landscape and the profession while at the same time retaining the central importance of housing and the home in our society. 

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