This article is from the January 2013 issue of Total Politics
Can you afford your home? If you want to buy your own home, can you afford the average deposit of £50,000? Are you confident about where your children will live or where your parents will settle as they get older?
If you can answer ‘yes’ to all these questions, you’re very lucky. For millions of people, the answer is a deeply troubling ‘no’. And it’s getting worse. There are 62 million people in the UK and that number continues to rise. Around 232,000 new households were created last year, but we only built 117,000 new homes.
This creates havoc. The short supply of houses increases demand, pushing up the cost to buy and rent them. The impact of this mismatch is that it is desperately difficult for people trying to make ends meet and support their children. It undermines confidence and diminishes personal aspiration. When people can’t afford the homes they need, it stops them from moving for work, it prevents young couples starting families, and ambition is halted in its tracks.
It’s economically disastrous for the country, too. One of the biggest constraints on growth is when businesses can’t expand because there are no homes for the people they want to employ. Failure to build new homes puts construction workers on the dole and means that far fewer people are spending money on paint and wallpaper, carpets and curtains, on creating homes for themselves.
To make a bad situation worse, people are saying no to the much-needed new homes in their community. A small handful of people, who have the time and energy to participate in the planning system, object to the new homes that are a lifeline to many communities.
The prime minster has acknowledged the impact that saying no to new homes has on the economy. He recently wrote in the Daily Mail that when it comes to building new homes: “A familiar cry goes up, ‘Yes, we want more housing; but no to every development – and not in my back yard’. The nations we’re competing against don’t stand for this kind of paralysis and neither must we.”
This vocal opposition is organised and when they are the only people putting pressure on local politicians, their views are heard loud and clear.
All too often, people in desperate need of new places to live are missing from local debates about more homes. That’s why the National Housing Federation has launched the ‘Yes to Homes’ campaign, to include the voices of people who do support more housing in the debate.
We have a massive housing shortage after decades of not building enough homes to keep up with our growing and changing population. The solution is simply that we need to build more homes. We need more of the right homes, in the right places, at the right prices.
There are a number of barriers to creating new homes in local areas. We want to help people find out about these barriers and to put pressure on local decision-makers, mainly councillors, to remove them.
Across England there is a variety of different housing markets, each with its own problems. We want local people to understand that it is the role of local decision-makers to remove the barriers to building more homes.
We want local politicians to come out in favour of new homes by becoming champions for ‘Yes to Homes’. In some parts of the country there is no political space for politicians to champion new residences. Some would say that visibly championing new homes will lose them votes.
But we want a voice for all the people who feel they will never own their own home, who are struggling with the day-to-day costs of rising rents, of costs of living increasing faster than income, whose commutes are too expensive and long, who have no safety net and can’t save money, who are grown up and still living with their parents, who feel that their lives are on hold, or those affected by welfare reform. These are the voices which are not being heard in the housing debate.
We need to change the debate on housing in communities. We need to be better at explaining the impact that new homes have. In many villages a handful of new affordable homes would enable young couples to be able to have a home in the place where they grew up. A poll commissioned by the Federation showed that seven in 10 people living in rural England say they would support more affordable homes for local people in their own village or market town, with only 21 per cent opposed. Almost half (44 per cent) say they would strongly support new affordable homes.
The government’s planning minister Nick Boles recently tried to set the record straight on house building: “We’re going to protect the greenbelt, but if people want to have housing for their kids, they have to accept we need to build more on some open land. In the UK and England at the moment we’ve got about nine per cent of land developed. All we need to do is build on another two to three per cent of land and we’ll have solved a housing problem.” Boles also stated that having a house with a garden was a “basic moral right, like healthcare and education”. The minister argued that “there’s a right to a home with a little bit of ground around it to bring your family up in”.
There is now an opportunity for local communities to have their voices heard on new homes. The localism agenda has given power back to communities. These communities have the freedom to get together and develop more specific neighbourhood plans for their areas. They also have powers to trigger a community right to build. And the ‘Yes to Homes’ campaign will continue to make the case for more housing.
John Pierce is a campaigns officer at the National Housing Federation, which represents 1,200 housing associations in England