On Friday, Sajid Javid, the communities secretary, announced the start of a consultation around policy aimed at substantially increasing supply of new homes. The policy, first mooted in the government’s housing white paper earlier this year, could see some local authorities required to increase house-building by up to 40% to meet projected demand, with the aim of ensuring the development of up to 266,000 new homes a year, essential if the government is to make good on its pledge to deliver 1.5 million additional homes by 2022. Under the new policy, development will be particularly concentrated in areas where house prices massively outstrip local average earnings – primarily in London and the South-East.
While potentially controversial, any measures aimed at addressing housing shortages are to be welcomed. Figures released earlier this year show house prices in some parts of the UK to be over ten times that of local average earnings. However, increasing the rate of development alone is not enough to fix the UK’s broken housing market.
Figures released today by the National Audit Office show a staggering 232% increase in homelessness since 2009/10, costing local authorities a total of £1.15bn per year. Eviction from private rented accommodation has overtaken all other causes to become the single biggest driver of homelessness, with a threefold increase since 2010/11, and accounting for 74% of the growth of households qualifying for temporary accommodation. 4,000 people sleep rough on England’s streets on any given night. As roll-out of universal credit accelerates it is likely these figures will increase. Reports in the Observer over the weekend highlighted an alarming increase in rent arrears among claimants who receive the housing element of universal credit, with three London boroughs reporting that more than 2,500 tenants claiming UC were now at risk of eviction. In the face of growing arrears, David Smith, policy director at the Residential Landlords Association, which represents more than 50,000 private sector landlords, said some members were now “increasingly reluctant” to house people on universal credit.
In order to meet the needs of all sections of the population we need a mixed market that includes truly affordable homes for sale and for rent, and an adequate supply of social housing, including supported housing. The housing white paper seemed to acknowledge the need for diversity but the government has done little to ease the path towards increased development of social housing, and the uncertainty engendered by changes to funding for supported housing have seen a number of suppliers stall development or pull out of the market.
Home ownership doesn’t work for everyone, and for some people it will never be attainable. Equally, there are a large number of people who are not equipped to deal with the vagaries of the private sector. Good quality affordable social housing and supported housing are vital if we are to address our broken housing market. Yet, government seemingly continues to focus on the holy grail of home ownership, with policies that serve to buoy up already over-inflated prices while increasing levels of personal debt. With right to buy still on the agenda it seems unlikely that the housing crisis will be resolved at any point soon.
Vicky Ball - Head of Housing for Phoenix. Phoenix is a national specialist substance misuse housing provider delivering housing solutions for people in treatment and in recovery.