It's official. We have a housing crisis!
CIH President Professor Paddy Gray - Speech CIH Presidential Dinner Natural History Museum - London 9 February 2011
Grant Shapps was forced to acknowledge this in a recent TV interview in response to yet another rise in waiting list figures.
Of course, I derive absolutely no pleasure at all from saying ‘I told you so’ - but it is clearly a crisis - and we desperately need a new approach to tackling it.
I simply don’t understand how, in the 21st century - and in an advanced western democracy - we don’t have enough houses for those who need them – and at a cost they can afford.
We have millions on housing waiting lists and in temporary, overcrowded or unfit properties.
We have nearly a million empty homes.
House prices require a mortgage of up to 10 times your salary – if you can get a mortgage at all that is.
We waste millions of NHS pounds fixing broken hips for the price of a stair lift and
we limit the educational aspirations of our children by giving them nowhere to do their homework.
We have an approach to planning that seems intent on stopping the homes that communities need
CIH couldn’t be more proud of the work that all of you do in tackling these problems - but its never been clearer to me that at this moment in time, more so than for many years, we need more government leadership if we are to create thriving communities and to support aspiration across the UK.
In trying to find a way forward I think we face 2 main problems.
The first is that I’m not sure we have the right policy solutions to make a substantive difference. We certainly don’t have the money.
I do have, for example, some sympathy with the thinking under-pinning the ‘New Homes Bonus’ but I’m really worried that it just won’t deliver:
the volume and kinds of new houses we need
where we need them
and at a price that people can afford.
What really worries me is that we are at risk of abandoning people to, at best, an uncertain and, at worst, a chaotic, unsafe and unhealthy housing future – and that somehow we see this as ‘the price worth paying’ for tackling our financial deficit.
If some of you here tonight are OK with this - and if you believe there is simply no role for the state in shaping the housing market - then I’d ask you to think for a moment about the economy.
It was the Treasury in their report with Kate Barker who set out that a well-functioning housing market was fundamental to the economic success of the country. Even if the analysis belonged to a previous government, George Osborne needs to revisit this and recognize that this remains a key issue for our economy.
And if we can’t make the case for housing investment on the basis of more time in temporary accommodation for vulnerable or growing numbers of homeless people then we need to make it on the basis of promoting economic growth and tackling worklessness
We knew during the industrial revolution – in exactly the same way that countries in the fast developing world know today - that we simply can’t deliver a thriving workforce if it doesn’t have anywhere decent – or just anywhere – to live.
And individuals can’t save for their future care costs, can’t invest in pensions - or just can’t buy the things that keep our manufacturing sector going - if too much household income has to go on housing costs or trying to keep warm.
Of course, at CIH, we are also working hard on other key problems within our sector:
problems like cuts in supporting people funding,
housing benefit changes,
the end of regeneration funding,
fixed term tenancies,
a new investment model
homelessness provision in the private rented sector,
non-decency in the owner occupied sector,
local allocation policies,
promoting community safety
The list goes on.
But the crisis that reaches far beyond the confines of our sector and into the territory of UKplc is surely the lack of market and affordable housing.
Between all of us - I’m convinced that we’ve already done much of the necessary thinking around how to tackle these issues - but solving the crisis will take brave and radical action.
Action to look at the role of the tax system and its interface with housing as an asset class
Action to make land more easily available for affordable and market homes.
Action to realign our government accounting rules so we can use billions of pounds of existing assets to lever in even more private finance.
Action to let us do more, not less, to tackle abandoned communities and worklessness.
Action to help us stop wasting precious NHS resources as a result of unhealthy and unsafe homes.
Action to balance FSA regulatory protection with the need for an affordable mortgage market.
Action to enable us to provide a wider range of sub-market rents and fixed-term lets as part of a progressive and forward looking approach to meeting a wide range of housing need, not just as a tool to build more housing.
And that call for action brings me to the second major problem that I’d like to suggest we face – one of perception.
The positive support to act that we desperately need simply won’t be forthcoming from a government that thinks we are an expensive part of the problem – a sector that doesn’t get localism and is part of the Broken Britain rhetoric.
And why do they think this? Well the answer is, of course, complex – and lies partly at our own door - BUT it also has something to do with the public and media perception of our sector.
And, tempting though it is to simply blame the Daily Mail, we must acknowledge that we face a much bigger problem here.
Even the ‘bank-of-mum-and-dad’ – parents forced to spend the money they will surely need for their future personal care on deposits for their kid’s home - will still deny new developments in their area.
Radio 4 listeners who buy Shelter Christmas cards will support deficit reduction policies that end funding for essential supporting people and care programmes that will result in increased homelessness.
And national broadsheets whose readers can’t get a mortgage will politely decline a ‘why a fall in house prices may be good for us’ story because they fear they will face the wrath of their core readers.
Despite our collective and individual efforts we just aren’t getting our message across at the very time when it’s never mattered more that we do.