Housing Policy

I noted with disconcertment the announcement the other day that help is to be given to 200,000 first time buyers to help them buy a new-build house.

This is hardly the wide-ranging policy that is required to solve the housing crisis – which to me, is second only to the debt/deficit in terms of priority.

That it doesn’t show as one of the top voter concerns is because ever-rising house prices are not a problem for those who own their house, which are the majority of the country.

I am 35 now and many people of my generation will never be able to afford a home before they retire now.  Think of it as a lost generation.  Certainly in the south and London, where house prices are absolutely exorbitant.  I was shown a house the other day for £250k.  A small two-bedroom terraced house in a slightly dodgy town-centre location, here in Reading.  It was nice inside but still – £250,000.00???!!!

My own position I can live with.  However the lost generation will be far greater a burden on society in the future.  For the lost generation will all need to be housed as without a regular income, the retired lost generation will not own a home of their own and will have to be provided for by the state.  This will be hugely costly especially on top of their health care provision (unless Labour privatises the NHS) and pension commitments.

I dearly hope that David Cameron and the rest of the Conservative party have far more up their sleeves to resolve this crisis, and are drip-feeding us housing policy announcements.

Back in the early 1950’s, a Conservative government with MacMillan in charge of housing, before he later became Prime Minister, built 300,000 houses a year.

Interestingly though the private market was often building around 150,000 houses a year – the rest were being built by local authorities.  150,000 houses is approximately what is being built now.

House building actually increased in the 1960’s despite (or because of?) the large volume of local authority housing being built.

There is an argument that housing is not so urgent an issue as it was after the war.  Most people do have access to decent quality accommodation now which one presumes was not the case in 1950 when MacMillan was arguing for such large increases in house building.

Also some of the housing built in this era was quite frankly, crap.

Yet for anyone earning a decent wage but totally priced out of the housing market, this is a crisis.  For those living at home with their parents in their 20’s or 30’s, for those not able to buy their first house with their spouse, for those without access to a large deposit – this is a crisis.

The policy announced this week is a drop in the ocean.  Unsurprisingly the Labour Party have no answer.  They promise to build 200,000 houses a year by 2020.  But provide no detail on how.

I am interested in their suggestion that landbanking is clamped down on.  I am not convinced of the market-worthiness and certainly do not accept any notion of land being confiscated, but I do feel that is an interesting idea to ensure land with planning permission is built on.

However we need to go far further.  My suggestions are:

1. Allow local authorities to borrow large sums to fund housing at the current very low interest rates.
2. Reduce red tape.  For example, why does a developer have to pay £45,000.00 per dwelling to build a house?  This doesn’t come out of their profits.
3. Build on the green belt.  Building on just 2% of the UK’s green belt would be enough for 2.5million homes.  That is worth reading again.  Just 2%.
4. Force local authorities to build a certain amount of housing where it is most necessary.
5. New towns/garden cities.  Build plenty of new towns.  They actually worked.
6. Housing First.  We should look seriously at the Housing First policy that has been implemented in a few areas of North America where the most venerable (ie drug addicted homeless repeat-offender criminals) are given basic housing, no question asked.

It won’t be easy.  But Conservative governments don’t take the easy options.  We build for the future.  We take tough decisions to resolve problems.

The housing crisis is our responsibility to resolve and now is time for affirmative action.


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