Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A good time of year to think about housing

Off to the House of Lords later to mark the end of the If campaign. I was going to lobby my MP this afternoon over the gagging bill but he is not available (apparently). Hopefully enough people will be getting message across to enough MPs so that this pernicious bill will be killed off (for reasons read the two excellent reports from the civil society commission which are here).

The other major issue needing solid and sensible engagement is the mounting housing crisis. Jules Birch charts the depth of the hole we find ourselves in (here). In particular, he highlights the Janus-like approach of our government which on the one hand is stoking the housing market through help to buy, while on the other trying to get local authorities to build more houses to choke off house price inflation. Guess which of those is winning.

House prices are predicted to rise by a third between now and 2020 and rents by almost 40%. Given that for millions of people housing is already unaffordable, these numbers are frightening.

Merely encouraging local authorities to build is hardly tackling the issue. Where I live, the local authority is doing OK but prices are still rising despite what they able to add to the stock. We need something in the spirit of the Attlee and Macmillan governments which at a time of huge deficits, borrowed to build millions of homes (including new towns and cities such as Milton Keynes).

Given that 1% of the British Isles has housing built on it (and a further 2-3% has buildings for other uses), there is space for a new town or two. So now would be the time to stop pandering to the 'we can't concrete over the whole land' argument.

The question is where are the politicians who are moving this issue to the top of an agenda for government? I don't hear them.

It's a good time of year to think about housing, of course. Many churches are opening night shelters to offer a warm meal and dry bed to those without accommodation; and those same churches are about the celebrate the arrival in the world of a baby who was quickly a homeless refugee. That baby grew to be a carpenter preacher who told his followers that he had nowhere to lay his head (of course, any UK local authority would have washed their hands of him, saying he was intentionally homeless!). His message was that in his Kingdom there would be a place for everyone - that should motivate his followers to ensure that everyone has a decent place to live.

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