The leaves are falling, and the government has just downgraded the importance of housing policy. But a new model is still needed to build at scale
October is always an interesting month. The clocks go back, the leaves start to fall, we talk about long nights, Christmas, the cost of heating and the first managerial sacking in the premiership. Some like the start of winter, some don’t. I’m in the latter group, seeing it as the start of a long cold, wet and dark journey before the light and freshness of spring.
And this year, October feels a bit like that for housing, despite all the talk of output rising. The reason? We lost a housing minister, and a shadow housing minister. We got someone from a younger generation (by one year) to take the housing brief and a rising star – well, at least someone yet to see her name in lights – to be his nemesis. So despite right to buy and the constant talk of a housing bubble, housing has been relegated to a second order priority. Which is a shame. Jack Dromey was starting to gain some momentum, outbidding Mark Prisk on the number of homes that needed to be built. The Conservatives were beginning to talk about the need for housing of all types, not just homes for those who can afford the new ‘affordable’ housing product. And then came autumn and we close up shop for the winter and all momentum comes to a halt.
Housing only matters to two groups: those who haven’t got it and those who have an interest in seeing it as an asset - and that asset rising in value
I attended a recent Social Market Foundation event on the future of housing, having looked back at the last 100 years of politics in the sector. Great thinkers in the room but pessimistic thoughts on the housing market in 2033. Not enough homes, too high prices. When they publish their work, in a few weeks time, it should be a pretty interesting read. But it’s likely to confirm my fear that housing only matters to two groups: those who haven’t got it and those who have an interest in seeing it as an asset - and that asset rising in value. The former tend not to vote, the latter are not likely to vote for massive building programmes. So, no matter how much we all talk about the pressing need for more homes the politics gets in the way.
The answer has to be a radically different model of delivery. Housebuilders will be big players but local authorities, housing associations and a range of SMEs need to be incentivised to make a contribution that makes a difference. Sadly, I don’t yet see it at a scale that will make that difference.
I accept that this could just be my autumn mood and there is actually light on the problem of supply and affordability. Apparently housebuilders have started to increase productivity. And the banks are being sensible about valuing new purchases at a realistic level. Let’s bring on the chancellor’s autumn statement and see if it gives some winter cheer. I’ll keep on talking, keep on thinking and perhaps, just perhaps we’ll find a solution to this age old problem.
Steve Douglas is a partner at Altair