How best to build more safe and affordable homes? Image © David Lichtneker / Alamy Stock Photo

Policy report: More affordable homes are urgently needed to level up housing

The housing crisis is a problem in many parts. So how best to solve it?
November 4, 2021

There is not one housing crisis but several as, in different ways, politicians from both parties acknowledge. Poor families trapped in private rentals by long social housing lists face one set of issues; young professionals stuck in their parents’ home while they scrimp for a deposit face another. In London, the homeless are moved hundreds of miles from their communities, while in buildings all over the country, leaseholders foot the bill for fixing unsafe cladding.

Different problems point to different solutions, and care must always be taken to avoid the law of unintended consequences. As if the diversion of potential funds for social homes into the pockets of private landlords through housing benefit wasn’t perverse enough, some councils are offering extra incentives to those who rent to vulnerable tenants. Even if this works, it will mean fewer properties on the market for first-time buyers. And while 50,000-plus homes were purchased via “Help to Buy” in the last financial year, the scheme risks inflating prices and subsidising sales that would have happened anyway.

The one policy that would help all these problems is to build more, as both Christopher Pincher and Lucy Powell agree. But this would require empowering councils in a way not seen since the 1970s, and a radical overhaul of the planning system—something one minister recently talked about, then dropped. The millions waiting to buy and rent affordably might be waiting a little longer yet.