Housing, land and high rents – why Cameron won’t solve the homes crisis

The housing crisis is insane. Land hoarded. Rent unaffordable There is one problem with Mr Cameron’s plan for new homes: It won’t work.

The impact of poor housing on health, education and life-chances is profound, but the policy announcement by the Prime Minister will not fix that. Instead, as Shelter andGeneration Rent and many others have said, the starter homes proposed are too few in number and too expensive for renters or those on low incomes.

Land is the most natural of natural monopolies: If you discount land reclaimed from the sea, no-one is making any more of it. So you have a crisis caused in part by hoarding a scarce and fixed resource. Landowners holding on until the price is highest. And what emerges from this situation is not even buy-to-let accommodation but buy-to-leave.

When you look at the social cost of the housing malaise, I believe it should be regarded as a national emergency. Is not land-hoarding just peacetime profiteering, and entirely morally unacceptable? And are we not entitled to expect government to respond comprehensively and competently, perhaps through a Secretary of State for Housing who would chair a COBRA like committee to address the situation.

Simply, there is not enough housing. That which is available is out of reach or in such a poor condition that it is not viable. That affects us all. The majority of young people are now renting. But older people are affected too: even if you have a mortgage and kids, you and they know that there is no possibility of being able to buy property, barring the death of a hitherto unknown wealthy and distant relative citing you as their death-bed beneficiary!

So the lack of regulation to promote a sane, balanced good quality housing stock – across the sectors of owner-occupied, rented and social housing – is a key factor. But such an approach is not anti-landlord. No, the vast majority of landlords will have nothing to fear and will need to do very little if the Homes Bill* is adopted. But modern day Rachmanns need to take note – your time is spent.

Housing is such a huge concern that there are some silver linings. I hope that a ‘virtuous circle’ will develop in which London’s Mayoral candidates will out-bid each other to appeal to an electorate for whom housing is certainly the number one issue. We are starting to see this already. But whilst any improvement is good news, the scale of the task is well beyond what the candidates are offering so far.

It’s not just a London thing. Across the UK, housing has for too long been viewed as a commodity. We need to starting thinking in terms of a utility , for surely housing is as necessary as water, gas and electricity.

This is not a matter of decency of morality. Ignore the proven link between house building and economic recovery. It’s a question of practicality for the public health of our country, for the productivity of our economy and for the benefit of the next generation who we all want to pay our pensions.

One of the great things about the Labour leadership campaign – whoever you supported – is that hundreds of thousands of people said they believed in the party as the vehicle for change. If initial assessments ofthe demographic of those hundreds of thousands is right, a large majority will be people who have direct and very clear views about the housing market and the housing crisis we face. So this is a social movement, which will force its way into the mainstream. There is a new literacy and energy to the housing debate which will carry us a long way.

I want us to get to a race to the top in housing and I genuinely think we have a possibility to do it. We can use this space to create a different future.

*The Homes (Fit For Human Habitation) Bill proposed by Karen Buck MP, and which will have its second reading in Parliament on 16 October

CWU Housing for All Campaign

Britain’s housing crisis is a national emergency. If you want to know what a housing crisis means, it’s when a person can’t find a place to live that has decent conditions, secure tenure, is sufficiently near work and is affordable.

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