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Letters: Great debate on Britain’s housing crisis

The National Housing Federation has stated that it expects home ownership in England to fall to mid-80s levels, slumping to just 63.8% over the next decade (Minister vows to get UK building again as home ownership slumps, 31 August). But to address a critical shortage of homes the government has previously made the rather fanciful announcement that it aims to create 170,000 new affordable homes by 2015. In 2010-11 just 105,000 homes were built in England – the lowest level since the 1920s.

I’ve just had to abandon a major scheme that would have provided over 750 new homes, 25% of which would have been affordable, in an area of Essex that sorely needs them. This was because the amount of money the social landlords were initially able to pay for more than 180 homes was drastically cut as they in turn had their funding cut. This made the development untenable as I simply couldn’t afford to build 180-plus homes at a loss.

If the government is serious about increasing housing provision, it needs to recognise that cutting funding to social landlords is not going to help achieve that aim. Social landlords, in turn, need to start concentrating only on helping the poorest households, not mid-high income earners. Currently the rules are so arbitrary that for some affordable housing schemes you can earn as much as £60,000 and qualify for assistance. Others aren’t even means-tested, so you can earn £100,000 but still qualify for a handsome discount as long as you live or work locally.

Only by ending the inequity of a system that fails to address the needs of the poorest households, and freeing the housing sector from the myriad of red tape, taxes and levies that stifle development, will this country be able to get anywhere near delivering the number of new homes, both private and affordable, that it so urgently needs.

Bob Weston

Chairman and chief executive, Weston Homes

• A well-aimed piece of PR spin from the National Housing Federation has managed to prompt a series of responses in your paper, mostly supporting the aim of the PR, that is to say support for a rapid increase in housebuilding. However, both the reported “facts” and the response need questioning.

1) The decline in home ownership was a projection based on the premise of higher price rises than is likely, given the need for “readjustment” in the housing market to historic links with earnings.

2) The current high rates of private ownership were only possible due to unsustainable reckless lending and borrowing.

3) One big attraction of home ownership is the free money many people have gained through rising prices. When prices are stagnant or falling, the high costs of home ownership may not be so attractive to young people who want to move around.

4) If enough houses were to be built to substantially reduce prices, many will be bought up by rich people and budding mass landlords, and many existing mortgage holders would experience high degrees of negative equity, exacerbated by the rise in interest rates that must happen sometime in the future.

5) As with other goods, it is not so much how many houses we have but how we share them out that is really important. It is the gross inequality in our society, more than anything, that is creating this problem.

Chris Savory

Bridport, Dorset

• Allegra Stratton (Inside politics: Coalition fears it is unravelling right-to-buy revolution, 1 September) highlights the government’s unease at the burgeoning housing crisis and the low rate of housebuilding. In London, the affordable housing budget has been cut by two-thirds. Boris Johnson isn’t offering any new ideas to help private tenants suffering from record high rents. Nor has Boris offered anything new to reverse the rise in homelessness he had previously predicted. In 2008, Boris promised “a network of Community Land Trusts”, but not a single trust has been set up in London. The mayor needs to lobby for better protection for private tenants, and a realistic housing budget that can provide the low-cost social homes we need. In the meantime, he needs to put all his money and land into keeping rents as low as possible.

Jenny Jones AM

Green candidate for London mayor

• The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has long advocated community-led development and the benefits this can bring for building stronger communities.

Contrary to the suggestion in your article, the mayor has already determined that the community should hold the entire freehold of the St Clement’s site in Tower Hamlets in trust. He has also made clear that a community board should oversee management of the homes. This would make St Clement’s the country’s first urban CLT. The site is currently being procured on this basis, and the decision will be subject to the usual procurement rules. But it is clear that whoever is the successful bidder we intend St Clement’s to be held in trust, with the management overseen by the community.

Richard Blakeway

London mayor’s adviser for housing

• Given the latest evidence that the UK welfare and housing system is failing to break the association between unemployment, poverty and homelessness (Homelessness could spread to middle class, study warns, 31 August), the time is now ripe for a Great Debate – one as “radical” and imaginative as the 1942 Beveridge report – on how to manage social and economic affairs in ways that meet the wellbeing of the many rather than the few. We could do with a quality broadsheet leading such a debate. Any suggestions?

Charlie Cooper

Lecturer in social policy, University of Hull

• Not only is the current level of home owership even lower than the official figures indicate, but it is also declining at a much faster rate than forecast.

This is because up to three million homes included in the figure for home ownership are in fact leasehold, and leaseholders do not own their homes but merely have the right to live there until the lease expires. In order to stay in their homes leaseholders will have to pay large sums of money to the freeholder for an extension of the lease.

At the same time around half of all newly built homes are now flats, the majority of which are sold on a leasehold basis, reducing still further the proportion of households who will genuinely own their homes.

Nigel Wilkins

Chair, Campaign for the Abolition of Residential Leasehold

• The key to the housing “problem” is the number of homes, not the proportion of owner-occupiers. There is inevitably a significant proportion of the population who at any given time would be better suited to renting than buying their homes. There is pressure to “get on to the housing ladder” for financial reasons; pressure that if you do not start early enough you will lose out financially. As a result the economy is driven by the housing market to an unfortunate extent. The key issue should be adequate housing to buy or rent. One simple – but probably politically unacceptable – measure would be to try to separate the concepts of a house as a “home” and as an “investment” by removing capital gains tax exemption from the principal private residence. The sky did not fall in when tax relief on mortgage interest was removed.

Paul Russell


• The National Housing Federation talks of the “chronic under-supply of housing” in the context of unprecedented developmental pressure on green spaces. However, markets are composed of supply and demand. England is the most densely populated country in Europe. Given that the UK is experiencing its highest rate of population growth for 50 years, with an estimated 10 million more citizens over the next 15 years, should we not also be talking about – and addressing – our chronic over-supply of people?

Simon Ross

Chief executive, Population Matters © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds