Housing crisis: The rabbit hole is deeper than we think

New research claims we have failed to appreciate the true depth of the housing crisis. To get out of this mess, we’re going to need a lot more than 300,000 homes a year – and that includes a big boost for the social kind

By Mark Cantrell

THAT we’re not building anywhere near enough homes to rescue our society from the bitter clutches of the housing crisis won’t raise many eyebrows; that we’ve underestimated an already dire situation is another matter.

England faces a shortfall of four million homes. That’s the backlog that should have been built to keep up with demand, but hasn’t, which means we’ve got some catching up to do – and then some. Current working estimates of 300,000 homes a year are just not enough; instead, the country needs to build 340,000 new homes a year until 2031.

This is according to research released by the National Housing Federation (NHF) and produced on its behalf by a team from Herriot-Watt University. With the backing of the homelessness charity, Crisis, the NHF is calling for a new “housing settlement” to address this shortage so that everyone who needs a home can find one.

David Orr, the NHF’s chief executive, said the research reveals the “epic scale” the housing crisis has reached. “The shortfall of homes can’t be met overnight,” he added. “Instead, we need an urgent effort from the Government to meet this need, before it publishes its social housing green paper.

“[This] will set out the Government’s approach to tackling a number of key issues, like stigma of social housing tenants. However, it is clear that many of these stem from a chronic underinvestment in affordable housing. Fixing this should be the Government’s top priority. As a first step, ministers should make the £2 billion they promised for social rent available immediately.

“The Government must also totally change the way it sells surplus land. The priority here must be supporting developments that will deliver a public good on public land, rather than simply selling it off to the highest bidder.”

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, added: “[These] findings are stark and shocking, but they also represent a huge opportunity for us as a country to get to grips with our housing and homelessness crisis – and to end it once and for all… To truly get to grips with this crisis and ensure everyone has a safe and stable home, we must build the social and affordable housing we need to end homelessness.”

It’s not enough to just build more homes, however; they need to be the right kind, too. The NHF’s report calls for the construction of 145,000 “affordable” homes, almost twice the 78,000 put forward in previous estimates.

In recent years, of course, “affordable” has become somewhat slippery of meaning, so the NHF’s research has gone a step further and specified that the lion’s share should be for social rent, with 90,000 such homes built a year. A further 30,000 should be for intermediate affordable rent, and 25,000 should be for shared ownership.

They also need to be in the right place. The NHF’s release references a TCPA document estimating projected housing demand and need in England up to 2031, which presents figures for Northern England. This says that the North East would need an annual average of 5,300 market homes and 3,800 social; the North West needs an annual average of 11,500 market homes and 8,100 social; while Yorkshire & Humber needs 13,600 market homes and 7,100 social homes.

Reacting to the research, Terrie Alafat, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, said: “This new report once again highlights the chronic housing shortage we face in the UK and it is clear that only a bold and ambitious plan to solve the housing crisis will prevent a decent, genuinely affordable home being out of reach for our children and their children.

“What the report also shows is that this isn’t just a numbers game and we have to make sure that we build the right homes, in the right places and that people can afford them. For most people social rented housing is the only truly affordable option and the Government must support the building of many more of these crucial homes.”

Campbell Robb, chief executive of the York-based antipoverty thinktank, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “It is unacceptable that currently in our society millions of people are locked out of being able to afford a decent and secure home. For years our failure to deliver enough affordable housing in England has led to rising levels of poverty and homelessness across our country.

Now is the time to redesign our housing market so that it works for everyone – no matter who they are or where they come from.”

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said the NHF’s report was a welcome and “powerful” sign of the growing consensus that the “current system is failing”.

“We are in the midst of a housing emergency where an entire generation faces a daily struggle for a decent home,” she added. “We simply cannot go on with social housebuilding at its lowest since the second world war, while rough sleeping is its highest for a decade. Government can turn things around but only by building many more of the high-quality, genuinely affordable homes the country is crying out for.”


This article originally appeared in the print edition of Northern Housing magazine #1 Summer (July) 2018

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