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Westminster. We have a problem.

  • 4 million working people will need access to affordable homes if there is full employment by 2024.
  • Over the last 40 years, fewer than 150,000 homes have been built per year. We need 250,000 to keep up with demand.
  • In the last decade, London has lost 8,000 social-rented homes.
  • Supply of new affordable homes dropped by more than 70% in Greater London in 2015-16 compared with the previous year.
  • Approximately 50% working households renting privately are receiving housing benefit because they don’t earn enough to cover rent and living expenses.
  • £1,000 extra is being spent to keep roofs over the heads of private renters – rising to £3,300 a year in London.
  • Almost 1 in 3 housing benefit recipients are renting from private landlords.
  • Taxpayers contributed £9.3bn in housing benefit to private landlords last year, nearly double that paid 10 years ago. Providing enough affordable housing, could save £1.5bn a year.
  • Currently there are around 5000 unintentionally homeless people in London. Significant numbers are children/pregnant women living in emergency B&B/hostels.
  • Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, has said that problems with housing are the ‘biggest risk’ to the UK economy. It’s hard to run a business if your employees find it hard to get a home.
  • The future for our cities looks bleak if those who make, maintain and repair things, who care for the ill and old, who clean, who cook and wait in restaurants and who look after and teach children, move away. Our communities rely on police officers, refuse collectors, nurses and shop assistants. The creative and inventive types will go too and they are currently a big part of the UK’s sales pitch to the world.

Roger, we copy… But we believe we can resolve it through innovation and teamwork.

House price inflation is an addiction. It is destructive and divisive. It is a tax by the haves on the have-nots, and by the old on the young’. Rowan Moore: The Guardian

Our current situation is not the result of economic fate, but the outcome of policies created over decades (right to buy, non-dom tax breaks). The upside is that it can also be defused by policy. It won’t be easy, or quick and we will need to think very differently about what we value, what we care about.

On innovation and thinking differently…
Are we yet at the point where we should be making choices between working for economic gain or working for human society?

Do we really know who owns our cities and are we even concerned? Do we want our cities to be equitable and social communities?

Should we be listening to urban innovators to drive forward new projects, rather than encouraging investors seeking the highest return?

Should we be engaging and encouraging social entrepreneurs and citymakers and promoting social/entrepreneur-led urban regeneration that delivers change and influences strategy?

From radical to gradual: everyone is seeking change
We’ve been gathering a few high-level ideas from experts, academics and those working across the housing sector. Here are just a few:

  • If developers start building in sufficient numbers to make homes cheaper, they stop. The public sector has to build more itself. It also needs to be more proactive in communicating what new places could be, while recognising and allaying the reasonable fears of existing residents. 
  • Don’t just think ‘garden cities’…. increase urban densities in town centres that have good public transport but limited housing. Build on ex-industrial land, and in small increments on infill sites. Increase diversity of property offerings, pepperpot solutions, increase public investment.
  • Bring together housing associations, private house builders, landlords, planners and architects to develop integrated strategies.
  • Create incentives so that local communities can accommodate new housing: allocating funds to support the planning process, schools, transport and affordable housing.
  • Encourage councils to use their assets to facilitate the building of social housing.
  • Gear up to produce thousands of homes a year – quickly, at scale with offsite construction.
  • End the obsession with owner-occupation by creating targets to stop house prices rising, similar to those set for retail prices. In real terms they would slowly fall to affordable levels, taking the heat out of speculation, while managing negative equity. Link house prices to earnings – first time buyers need a multiple of x linked to average earnings for the area. Implement a long term strategy to manage prices so that long term growth is linked to earnings and not limited supply – encourage institutional invertment into the residential sector (look at Germany & Italy).
  • Build – responsibly and well – on greenbelt land with little environmental or economic value, allowing more people to live close to nature. Currently 9% of the country is developed and that includes roads, factories and so on: only 2% is housing.
  • Encourage collaborations between the private sector and local authorities to create well-planned, good-quality new neighbourhoods, with high environmental standards and well designed communal spaces.
  • Co-ordinate policy on a decentralised, co-operative level. Act regionally: The needs of Lancashire, Cambridge and Newham differ widely. There should be the ability to make different policies in different areas.
  • Let councils borrow to build. Allow them to borrow money against their assets, rather than form partnerships with private property companies who take 20% of the proceeds in profit. New council housing should not be a last resort only for those in the most desperate need, but suited to a range of incomes.
  • Legislate against landlords increasing rents by more than 10% above the local average.  Define ‘affordable’ once and for all – 30% of a person’s income spent on housing is affordable.
  • Reform the planning system.
  • Hold the industry to account with a need to evidence commitment to learning, continual improvement, post occupancy evaluation and critical assessment of architecture, design, construction and user occupation.
  • Revitalise local authority house building by ring fencing 100% of the receipts from properties sold through Right to Buy to build new homes.
  • Lobby for new local government housing delivery models to build new and different types of homes, which could include new intermediate rent, rent-to-buy, modular housing and co-housing options. Allow local authorities to become more enterprising and entrepreneurial.
  • Allow councils to set planning fees locally and encourage a proactive planning approach to unlocking housing growth, ensuring homes are built on sites where planning permission has been granted but building may have stalled.
  • Building a new market of homes attractive and suitable for older people better able to meet health needs and supporting moves which, in turn, would release more family homes into the local market.
  • Explore sustainable funding models to provide more supported housing options for vulnerable people.
  • As part of the wider drive to tackle homelessness, promote low-cost and ‘meanwhile’ accommodation swiftly, on derelict or dormant development sites, that can be relocated when the site becomes active.
  • Encourage councils to shift the emphasis away from private sector provision for emergency and move-on accommodation, to council- owned stocks of modular accommodation with their own front door that can be deployed on underused pockets of land.

First, you have to increase the supply of land for housing. We set the supply in 1955 when we defined green belts, and since then land supply has been almost frozen, but real incomes have tripled. We’re still behaving as if we lived in the world of the 1950s in terms of housing – and we don’t. We also make it very difficult to build upwards’. Paul Cheshire Emeritus Professor of Economic Geography at the London School of Economics

It’s a mission critical situation: shall we make a start?

A Fairy Tale for our times*
Response to the Housing White Paper

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