They tell you that if the price of the home rises then they will have to sell it off at below market price to the tenant but they will get some help from the government to cover the difference. So you sit there and you think to yourself that if the price goes up there won't be an asset for very long. They also tell you that if the house goes down in price then it will stay on their books and show up as a loss.
Would you lend them any money? It sounds like a dreadful one way bet. That's because it is. If the price rises then the housing association owns nothing. If the price goes down they hold the loss. Not a good proposition.
So the first thing that will happen when the government introduces the right to buy a housing association home is that it will become very difficult for any housing association to borrow money to build anything in the future.
No matter, you may think, they will have the money from the house they have just sold. Or rather they will have if they manage to find some new land, get planning permission, and build the property within three years. Otherwise the proposal is that they will lose the promised compensation. Three years sounds like an easy challenge. It is not. Finding suitable land and getting permission in somewhere like London will prove very difficult. In sought after locations the housing associations will have queues of people wanting to buy at a nice discount. They will not have too many places they can build.
They will then have to deal with the added expense and uncertainty of trying to manage the sales process and the rebuild projects. This will require administration costs that cannot reasonably avoided just because the government thinks they can make "efficiency savings". This particular inefficiency is being introduced by the government. With a drop in their rental income whilst they seek to replace the lost properties, an increase in their running costs and serious difficulties getting banks to lend them money there is a clear threat that several housing associations will go bankrupt.
What is almost certain is that they will not be in a position to increase the supply of housing available on the market. Taking on extra risk in an environment where you can't predict what penalties the government will impose on you next is not a good idea. The housing associations will have to retrench and pray that they can survive rather than look to expand in the face of a high level of uncertainty.
But let's be fair to the government. Sometimes things that cause serious practical difficulties are necessary to do because of high moral principles. Perhaps the policy can be justified in the name of helping people to get a foot on the ladder and by the need to create a property owning democracy?
If this the aim of policy then surely all tenants should be allowed to buy the home they live from their landlord at a market price? I rather suspect that private landlords would get very annoyed indeed if you proposed seizing their property and selling it off at a loss on the promise that the government might eventually reimburse the landlord in due course if the landlord manages to follow a set of bureaucratic rules correctly.
If it is wrong to take property off a private individual then why is it right to take it off a charity or a company that has been set up to provide homes at reasonable prices? Just because an organisation is working on a not for profit basis it doesn't mean the government has the right to take what they own off them. If anyone can come up with a well reasoned explanation for the difference between the two cases I will be deeply impressed. It certainly can't be to do with respect for private property because housing associations are not part of the government and own these properties just as surely as any joint stock company set up to profit from renting homes.
This week we are celebrating 800 years since Magna Carta is supposed to have guaranteed people owning property in this country against arbitrary seizure of it by the state. I hadn't expected to see the celebrations led by a Conservative government that was determined to do exactly that. But then again I hadn't realised we were going to be led by a Government that was prepared to turn nostalgia for a past political success into party policy.
The right to buy a council house proved a very popular move by Margaret Thatcher and the left never really succeeded in persuading people that it was a short-sighted move that would leave us desperately short of adequate public housing. I strongly suspect that the same trick won't work twice. The howls of protest from housing associations are only going to get stronger and as the supply of property dries up in the face of the huge uncertainty that the government has now injected into the market then this policy is going to prove deeply unpopular.
After all, even the most loyal Conservative voter must be starting to feel just a touch nervous at the moment if they happen to be a landlord. If the Conservatives can seize property that they don't own and sell it off then who knows what could happen when their time comes to lose an election and the clamour grows for the right to buy to be extended to homes rented privately.