Bold action not tinkering needed for housing crisis

17th October 2014

Do any of the major political parties give a toss about the housing crisis? We’ve identified 17 pretty large-scale changes that are needed if people are to have affordable homes in decent places.

And sadly at the moment all the political parties seem to fall short on most or all of them. Why is that?   Here are just some of the changes needed:

  • The UK’s homes are much worse for energy efficiency than other countries homes, for example, in Sweden, Denmark, or the Czech Republic. They are also not very water efficient. Why not have an ambitious retrofit programme which would create jobs, save the NHS costs due to bad health for cold homes, and even bring in money for the Treasury?
  • If we want to take climate change seriously the new homes we need – 2 million or more over the next 15 years – need to be built in our existing towns and cities to prevent urban sprawl and the carbon pollution that sprawl causes. We need to make sure the new homes we build are low carbon and designed to be protected from the increased flooding and heatwaves that climate change will bring. Why not properly factor climate change into housing decisions?
  • Despite low interest rates, our homes are still incredibly expensive, with the cost of renting or paying the mortgage much higher than they should be. The excessive lending that began in the 1980s is partly to blame and lending needs much more stringent caps. And setting fair rents to make sure landlords can get a fair return on investment not an extortionate return is also needed. Speculation on housing and land could be curtailed through morphing the Council Tax into a Property and Land Tax. Why not an agenda to end the era of over-priced housing and usher in an era of affordable homes?
  • Local authorities have their borrowing powers capped so can’t borrow the billions needed to fund the building of affordable homes. Local authorities should be centre-stage in housing, both in working with Housing Associations and others to build homes, but also in directing private builders to build houses to the right standard in the right place. Why not give local authorities the duty to solve our housing problems and the full financial freedom to do so?

At the moment our politicians are being far too timid. They are prioritising deficit reduction above enabling local authorities to build the homes that people need. They are seemingly unable to contemplate curtailing land and property speculation. And they are lacking joined-up thinking between their climate change ambitions and housing.

They seem to forget that decent affordable housing is as essential to wellbeing as water and food.

Friends of the Earth has a vision for homes. It’s one that most people would share, whatever their political persuasion. It is:

Homes that are energy and water efficient; with decent space for people living in them; located in our towns and cities at densities which enable easy access to amenities and jobs, designed to enable sharing of resources; with nature thriving in well-managed parks and on green roofs and walls; places with clean air; places where people can have a say in how their community is run and look out for each other; homes that are affordable to all with the security of tenure that people need in order to plan their family and work lives.

It’s not a radical vision, although it will take radical change to deliver it. Tinkering around the edges just won’t cut the mustard.

Do you think our 17 suggested changes would do the job? Are our changes too little, too much, or about right? We’d love to hear your thoughts because our position will evolve over time.  Please do comment on the Friends of the Earth blog.

Blog post written by Mike Childs.