Paul Mason’s report on Channel 4 News on the day the Torreys’ announced a poly pledge to widen Right to Buy to housing association tenants was spot on and demonstrated why we have a housing crisis. This policy pledge will only make the UK’s housing crisis worse. We need more social housing not less. Councils need to get building houses again and doing it well and doing it on a big scale. What we must avoid doing is giving away precious social rented housing assets in return for a few votes at an election.
Above: The graph depicts new homes built per year since the war relative to property prices (red line). Note that when local authorities stopped building homes (dark grey) at the beginning of the 1990’s, property prices started inflating wildly. Image: Channel 4 News
Successive governments have relied on the private sector to deliver the bulk of our housing supply and this strategy clearly is not working. The UK is growing at the moment by around 450,000 people a year and yet house building is running at about a two-third less capacity than that during the 1950’s and ‘60’s. Only by building more homes such that we can catch up with the level of demand, will we start to bring the hyperinflation of real estate under control.
Private sector house building is not a means to achieve cheap truly affordable housing. Even if a developer is made to deliver some percentage of so-called ‘affordable housing’, it is by no means necessarily what it says on the tin. Affordable housing is usually taken to mean eighty per cent of market value, but when market values for a modest family home reaches the kind of levels we are seeing particularly in London and some other parts of the UK, very few people will be able to afford the size of mortgage required. The need for a proper supply of social rented accommodation is acute.
Society needs to make a value judgement about how much it chooses to spend on housing and housing infrastructure. As such it is a highly charged political issue. It is something that will require huge public investment and it needs to be paid for over much longer terms than a five-year government cycle. Housing should be built to last for many generations to use.
Housing also needs to be done well and we certainly must steer clear of lurches towards creating social housing ghettos. The UK has a rich history of housing projects and from that there are successes and failures to learn from. The best housing projects were those that mixed social housing seamlessly into the mix of desirable places to live. London is full of fine examples of where council housing exists side by side with private. That legacy has made for healthy and vibrant communities and some of the most sought-after places to live for everyday people.
Ian McKay Dip Arch RIBA