New homes alone won’t solve the housing crisis
The Shelter housing commission’s report (Cross-party call to build 3m new social homes, 8 January) stands in danger of simply racking up change-of-use inflation in land prices, putting the unearned value uplift of as much as 70% into the pockets of speculators. Unless the basic structure of housing provision in the UK is changed to restore to local authorities powers of compulsory purchase, with taxation on the land-value enhancement, this will be the unintended consequence.
The result of right-to-buy has been the sell-off of 60,000 council homes with a £3.5bn public subsidy, and 40% of that stock finding its way into the hands of private landlords, who rent it back, often to the same local authority at hugely inflated rates. A straight transfer of public wealth into private hands.
Have the report’s authors studied the 2016 research that showed unimplemented planning consents for nearly half a million homes in England and Wales? Or that in the same year, according to government data analysed by the online estate agent HouseSimple, the number of empty homes in England rose for the first time in a decade to 205,293?
There is little evidence of a shortfall in the housing stock. The crisis we suffer from is largely the result of acute maldistribution within an economic structure which encourages maximum consumption of a scarce resource by those with the means to command the market, at the expense of the many with little or no access to capital. Land value taxation is one mechanism which would very swiftly and relatively painlessly provide a counterbalance to this vicious cycle of ever increasing disparity of wealth distribution.
The equalisation of VAT on refurbishment with the current zero rate for new housebuilding would remove a 20% incentive to demolish and redevelop. With a level playing field, an objective cost comparison could be made between maintenance and redevelopment, with all the social cost the latter involves. Kate Macintosh
Before we start spending £225bn on concreting over huge tracts of green space, how about doing more with the existing housing stock? Rent control, much longer tenancies with, obviously, an end to no-fault evictions, penal taxation of property left empty, and the compulsory purchase and improvement – or redevelopment – of substandard rental accommodation, and thus its conversion to social housing, would collectively be quicker and cheaper. Sure, all of that would soften prices, but the issue is homes, not investments, and spending power released by lower housing costs would flow into the wider economy. John Worrall
This report is good news. But there is also an urgent need to overhaul the standard approach to the design and governance of low-cost housing so it accommodates home-based work. This is often restricted or even prohibited in social housing, which is generally currently designed to models developed in the early 20th century specifically to prevent this working practice. This is shortsighted and discriminatory – social tenants have as much right to work from home as anyone else. Frances Holliss
Emeritus reader in architecture, London Metropolitan University
The current social housing crisis is an artificially created problem begun by the political dogma in the 1980 Housing Act and developed into a crisis by the political ineptitude and inertia of governments of every colour over the four decades since. For almost the whole of that period house prices have gone up faster than wages. It takes a bear of very little brain to realise that sooner or later both house purchase and rental become unaffordable, which is, of course, what has happened. The good news is that because it is an artificially created problem, we have the ability to solve it. However, the cost has been estimated to be as much as four HS2s, while the net cost might be less than one. This sounds like a rather good deal to me, since failure to get to grips with it is going to tear at the heart of our society over the next decades. Robin Howell
Before we spend £225bn on concreting over huge tracts of green space, how about doing more with existing housing? John Worrall