The promotion of home ownership has been a central aim of UK housing policy since the 1960s. More recently, there has been a focus on developing low cost schemes which make the benefits of home ownership accessible to those with low incomes (Forrest et al, 1984). The most well-known scheme is the right to buy which enables social housing tenants to purchase the home they rent. Less well-known, but of increasing importance, is shared ownership, which has become a policy priority. This provides low-cost “home ownership” for households which would otherwise be waiting for social housing rented property. Other target groups are key workers and better-off tenants. Shared ownership has been through a number of iterations (eg DIY shared ownership) but is now marketed by the government as “HomeBuy”, and “First Steps” in London. There were approximately 97,000 shared ownership properties in 2007 ; in 2010-12, a further 17,000 were added to the stock.
Despite a number of research evaluations of the policy and academic work, there has been limited exploration of buyers’ understanding of this hybrid form of tenure . For example, we do not know how buyers construct themselves – owners or renters, or both – nor do we know how buyers deal with crises. Our hypothesis is that self-constructions will be impacted upon by crisis moments. Crisis moments may arise when the buyer is faced with an affordability or behaviour issue, requiring a response from both provider and buyer, as well as other agencies (including lenders and dispute resolution agents). They may include, for example, mortgage/rent arrears, service charge arrears, nuisance issues, possession claim/s, repairs issues, and valuation issues where the buyer wishes to staircase up or down or sell. Such moments are themselves likely to be infused with legality, broadly conceived, but this is not necessary. So, for example, a different crisis moment might be relationship breakdown. Ms Richardson’s problems with Midland Heart began as a result of domestic violence and relationship breakdown. Such moments will raise ontological and epistemological questions about the attributes, ambitions, and benefits of this hybrid form of tenure marketed as “homeownership” but in reality quite distinct from the normal bundle of rights and responsibilities associated with house purchase.
The significance of these issues is demonstrated by the range of organisations, which have expressed interest in and offered practical support to this project including the Council of Mortgage Lenders, Housing Law Practitioners Association, Shelter, Social Housing Law Association, and the Welsh Government.