Radical solutions are needed if the basic right of a roof over your head is to be made affordable again
If you get invited to think about housing in 10 years time and you are given the whole of the holiday period to ruminate, it can either get the creative juices flowing or it can prove just how little new thinking there really is in the world of housing. So filled with new year optimism and the notion that there are three political parties looking for manifesto ideas, I’ve had a go.
It’s not easy. Everyone agrees we need more homes; everyone agrees the current supply of new homes, whether they are rented or for owner occupation, aren’t really affordable; everyone agrees that the market is dysfunctional and until we build enough homes, it will remain so.
My starting point for a new vision would be affordability. The much debated “affordable rent” now has GLA sub-sets of capped rents and discounted rents, to escape referring to social rent. Well, describe that to your average home owner or renter and they would be befuddled. Why not start with the principle that the cost of housing should be no more than a third of total net monthly income, whether that be rent or homeownership and whether that be in the public, housing association or private sector?
Dysfunctional markets don’t rectify themselves without nurturing, cajoling, investing and guiding. Oversight of the impact of Help to Buy was given to the Bank of England in recognition that market solutions do need oversight.
For rented homes, there would be three types of product: market; sub-market and entry level (or social housing in old money).Tenancies would be renewable, between one and five years. Social tenancies would be the starter or safety net tenancy. Sub-market would be the standard tenancy.
However, to achieve this, we need to change the market and the price of housing. We need more homes: many more homes. At least 220,000 a year for at least a decade most estimates suggest. This will take both a wider range of housing providers and a massive increase in investment. This could come from a shift from welfare benefits to bricks and mortar investment, but over a five-10 year period. Investing in local authorities and housing association programmes through revolving fund guarantees could see a self-sustaining programme within a generation.
Thirdly, to make this happen, we need a market shaper. Dysfunctional markets don’t rectify themselves without nurturing, cajoling, investing and guiding. Interestingly, oversight of the impact of Help to Buy was given to the Bank of England, in recognition of the fact that pure market solutions do need oversight. If we had “Ofhome” - a regulator tasked with ensuring price and quality in the housing market, we might see a more coherent vision on the role of the private market; the contribution of the private rented sector; and the place of the social sector. That feels quite radical.
Steve Douglas is a partner at Altair