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The UK’s decades-old housing crisis is one of those emotive issues new governments tend to pronounce on at the start of their period in office. We have just seen this happen again with the announcements from Chancellor Philip Hammond and Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, with Prime Minister Theresa May pledging to repair ‘the dysfunctional housing market’. It is encouraging to see this level of commitment and, with research showing that David Cameron built the fewest homes of any Prime Minister since 1923, we now urgently need to see these policies drive change.
In order to create a resilient and inclusive housing market which creates strong, functioning communities it is vital that the process of accelerating housebuilding benefits from an injection of innovation – and this requires a fundamental change in thinking.
In my view Housing Minister Gavin Barwell is right on track when he says we must move away from monoculture when thinking about the housing market. Local planning authorities are currently having to work to outmoded or inappropriate tenure models that are often no longer relevant. We need to move forward and embrace flexibility. The aspiration of homeownership is embedded in the British psyche, but it is not the only solution and, at a time when deposits remain the biggest barrier to people buying a home and house price growth is rampant, it would be very damaging if it were the only real choice.
Mr Barwell has recently hinted that the Shared Ownership and Affordable Homes Programme (SOAHP) will be more flexible in future and the rhetoric around Starter Homes has softened. A housing market which welcomes mixed tenure developments is desperately needed. For example, affordable rent-to-buy provides a much-needed all-embracing model for people who cannot afford to buy today, but will be able to in future, if given half a chance to save to buy their home. Rent-to-buy should be widely available across the country as a mainstream tenure. Communities comprising people with a range of skillsets and from a range of backgrounds are the most successful – and particularly when those people have a secure housing option that suits their needs. The apparent shift toward a flexible tenure approach is very welcome and to create the housing market we so desperately need it is vital that this crystalizes into clear action.
Housing models which bring institutional investment through new entrants to affordable housing should also be an important part of the new housing market the government is seeking to build. The existing affordable housing sector cannot meet the demand alone. We need to build on the excellent work local authorities and housing associations have already done. Partnerships between the private and public sectors work well and we believe that bridging the gap between affordable housing and private funding is a very real part of the solution to the UK’s housing crisis.
We hope the housing crisis will start to ease following the government’s commitment to accelerate housebuilding, but it should not miss the opportunity to widen its thinking about how we solve this most divisive of issues.