The housing crisis is back. For many in local government dealing with the consequences of homelessness, overcrowding and poor stock condition, it has never really gone away. The difference is that the problem is now reaching previously untouched sectors of society – and it's about to get worse.
Home ownership is predicted to drop to 63%, its lowest level since the mid 1980s, a whole generation are 'locked out' of the housing market, and there is chronic lack of supply of new homes, according to the Oxford Economics' report that recently hit national headlines.
The National Housing Federation is calling for greater Government investment in affordable housing and points out that this would stimulate economic recovery. I couldn't agree more.
With rents also predicted to rise by 20% over the next five years, investing in affordable housing is a glaringly obvious win-win solution. The market is unable to meet people’s needs at present and stimulus is required.
Investment in additional affordable homes would be welcome regardless of the provider. But we at APSE believe local authorities are geared up to deliver as house-builders alongside their strategic housing role.
Councils of all sizes, locations and political colours have risen to the challenge of building environmentally friendly homes to tight deadlines in ways that have benefited their local economies in the past two years, using short-lived HCA Local Authority New Build funding.
The HCA's latest affordable homes programme acknowledges the local authority development role and the forthcoming self-financing regime will allow councils more local control over housing resources – thus strengthening the potential for councils to build.
Association of Retained Council Housing earlier this year looked at the sums. Firm Foundations shows councils can borrow at Public Works Loans Board rates and recoup the money from rents.
It must also be remembered that homelessness and poor housing is costing £2.5bn a year for health services and £1.8 bn a year in policing. On the plus side, £1 investment in new housing can generate £3.51 of economic output.
There is a strong business case for Government investment in housing to give the ailing UK-plc a much-needed boost. Not to mention avoiding the misery of people living in inadequate housing or without homes at all.
I made the same point in this column a year or so ago, but it's a point we obviously need to keep repeating. Putting a decent roof over your head is no longer just a problem for the poorest people and the councils that support them. It is a problem for everyone – and addressing it pragmatically would surely be a vote-winner.