We need to shift the goalposts in the fight against the millennial housing crisis

29 Oct 2017

 

Housing​ ​policy​ ​in​ ​the​ ​2017​ ​general​ ​election​ ​quickly​ ​became​ ​a​ ​game​ ​of​ ​go​ ​hard​ ​or​ ​go​ ​home​ ​on housebuilding.​ ​The​ ​Conservatives​ ​and​ ​the​ ​Labour​ ​Party​ ​were​ ​neck​ ​and​ ​neck,​ ​both​ ​promising​ ​a million​ ​new​ ​homes,​ ​while​ ​the​ ​Liberal​ ​Democrats​ ​and​ ​the​ ​Green​ ​Party​ ​offered​ ​houses​ ​in​ ​the hundreds​ ​of​ ​thousands.​ ​Social​ ​housing​ ​pledges​ ​were​ ​in​ ​vogue,​ ​while​ ​measures​ ​that​ ​would reduce​ ​the​ ​necessity​ ​of​ ​social​ ​housing​ ​were​ ​worryingly​ ​absent.​ ​Help​ to​ buy​ ​was​ ​the​ ​phrase​ ​on everybody's​ ​lips. 


Housing​ ​policy​ ​was​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​biggest​ ​opportunities​ ​for​ ​political​ ​parties​ ​to​ ​win​ ​the​ ​youth​ ​vote.​ ​No amount​ ​of​ ​Stormzy​ ​collaborations​ ​and​ ​Snapchat​ ​filters​ ​could​ ​drown​ ​out​ ​the​ ​generational​ ​anxiety that​ ​is​ ​housing​ ​for​ ​young​ ​people.​ ​​One ​in​ ​every​ ​five ​young​ ​people​​ ​have​ ​had​ ​to​ ​sofa​ ​surf​ ​in​ ​order​ ​to have​ ​a​ ​safe​ ​roof​ ​over​ ​their​ ​head.​ ​​Millennials​ ​spend​ ​three​ ​times​ ​more​ ​of​ ​their​ ​income​ ​on​ ​housing than​ ​their​ ​grandparents​ ​did​ ​in​ ​the​ ​1960s​ ​and​ ​1970s,​ ​for​ ​worse​ ​quality​ ​accommodation.​ ​Sensible housing​ ​policy​ ​is​ ​at​ ​the​ ​top​ ​of​ ​our​ ​generational​ ​wish​ ​list.​ ​So​ ​why​ ​does​ ​it​ ​feel​ ​like​ ​we​ ​weren't asked? 


The​ ​Conservative​ ​manifesto​ ​talks​ ​about​ ​social​ ​housing​ ​on​ ​fixed​ ​terms,​ ​to​ ​be​ ​sold​ ​on​ ​a​ ​right​ ​to buy​ ​basis​ ​after​ ​fifteen ​years.​ ​This​ ​from​ ​the​ ​party​ ​that​ ​cut​ ​housing​ ​benefit​ ​for​ ​under​ ​those​ ​under​ ​twenty-one and fails​ ​to​ ​grasp​ ​the​ ​problem​ ​young​ ​people​ ​face​.​ ​The​ ​Labour​ ​Party,​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​biggest​ ​winners​ ​of the​ ​youth​ ​vote​ ​surge,​ ​got​ ​closer​ ​to​ ​the​ ​mark​ ​with​ ​rent​ ​controls,​ ​which​ ​if​ ​​they​ ​actually​ ​worked would​ ​be​ ​a​ ​step​ ​in​ ​the​ ​right​ ​direction.​ ​They​ ​did,​ ​however​, ​still​ ​endorse​ ​help​ ​to​ ​buy,​ ​which​ ​is​ ​known for​ ​deposit​ ​demands​ ​that​ ​aren't​ ​realistic​ ​for​ ​young​ ​people​ ​who​ ​can​ ​barely​ ​make​ ​rent,​ ​let​ ​alone save,​ ​and​ ​creates​ ​its​ ​own​ ​problems​ ​by​ ​​pushing​ ​house​ ​prices​ ​up​. 


The​ ​Liberal​ ​Democrats​ ​arguably​ ​come​ ​closest​ ​to​ ​meeting​ ​the​ ​housing​ ​issues​ ​faced​ ​by​ ​young people​ ​in​ ​the​ ​UK​ ​with​ ​Rent​ ​to​ ​Buy,​ ​but​ ​as​ ​the​ ​party​ ​​have​ ​said​ ​themselves​ ​​this​ ​is​ ​only​ ​for​ ​people who​ ​can​ ​already​ ​meet​ ​the​ ​market​ ​demands​ ​of​ ​mortgages,​ ​and​ ​is​ ​no​ ​suitable​ ​solution​ ​for​ ​our reliance​ ​on​ ​social​ ​housing,​ ​or​ ​the​ ​unhealthy​ ​power​ ​balance​ ​between​ ​landlords​ ​and​ ​renters. UKIP​ ​provide​ ​a​ ​rather​ ​novel​ ​solution​ ​in​ ​the​ ​form​ ​of​ ​affordable​ ​factory​ ​built​ ​homes,​ ​and​ ​if​ ​sold​ ​at rates​ ​that​ ​those​ ​earning​ ​£26,000​ ​a​ ​year​ ​could​ ​afford​ ​as​ ​the​ ​manifesto​ ​suggests​ ​they​ ​would​ ​be far​ ​more​ ​affordable​ ​than​ ​your​ ​average​ ​help​ ​to​ ​buy.​ ​They​ ​hit​ ​a​ ​roadblock,​ ​as​ ​all​ ​the​ ​other​ ​parties do,​ ​when​ ​they​ ​try​ ​and​ ​explain​ ​where​ ​the​ ​land​ ​to​ ​build​ ​such​ ​houses​ ​is​ ​in​ ​areas​ ​of​ ​high​ ​demand like​ ​London​ ​and​ ​around​ ​metropolitan​ ​cities​ ​is. 


It​ ​is​ ​of​ ​course​ ​very​ ​easy​ ​to​ ​criticise​ ​party​ ​policy,​ ​and​ ​far​ ​harder​ ​to​ ​provide​ ​solutions.​ ​I​ ​do​ ​know where​ ​I'd​ ​start​ ​however. 


The​ ​rental​ ​market​ ​in​ ​the​ ​UK​ ​needs​ ​serious​ ​reform.​ ​Gone​ ​are​ ​the​ ​days​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Conservative voting,​ ​middle​-​class​ ​home​ ​owning​ ​ideal​ ​of​ ​the​ ​past.​ ​Many​ ​young​ ​people​ ​would​ ​be​ ​​more​ ​than happy​ ​to​ ​rent​ ​their​ ​home​​ ​if​ ​the​ ​market​ ​was​ ​effectively​ ​reformed.​ ​It​ ​works​ ​in​ ​many​ ​European countries​ ​where​ ​renters​ ​have​ ​a​ ​more​ ​secure​ ​relationship​ ​with​ ​their​ ​landlords​ ​and​ ​pay​ ​a​ ​more reasonable​ ​proportion​ ​of​ ​their​ ​incomes​ ​on​ ​rent.​ ​The​ ​flexibility​ ​that​ ​comes​ ​with​ ​renting​ ​in​ ​a society​ ​that​ ​is​ ​more​ ​interconnected​ ​than​ ​ever​ ​is​ ​a​ ​real​ ​draw​ ​for​ ​young​ ​people.​ ​We​ ​need​ ​to​ ​end the​ ​​leasehold​ ​crisis​​ ​leaving​ ​many​ ​people​ ​who​ ​buy​ ​affordable​ ​housing​ ​unable​ ​to​ ​afford​ ​their homes​ ​as​ ​their​ ​ground​ ​rent​ ​rises​ ​unexpectedly​ ​with​ ​ruthlessly​ ​enforced​ ​legislation​ ​against​ ​such sales.


Location​ ​is​ ​also​ ​a​ ​big​ ​factor​ ​for​ ​young​ ​people.​ ​​Gentrification​ ​is​ ​rife​ ​in​ ​London​​ ​and​ ​is​ ​rapidly spreading.​ ​The​ ​northern​ ​powerhouse​ ​never​ ​got​ ​off​ ​the​ ​ground.​ ​House​ ​prices​ ​where​ ​there​ ​is work​ ​are​ ​on​ ​the​ ​increase​ ​while​ ​​commuter​ ​culture​​ ​turns​ ​once​ ​vibrant​ ​​ ​communities​ ​into​ ​extended car​ ​parks.​ ​More​ ​support​ ​for​ ​young​ ​people​ ​saving​ ​for​ ​deposits​ ​and​ ​‘help​ ​to​ ​buy’​ ​properties​ ​with more​ ​reasonable​ ​deposits​ ​where​ ​people​ ​actually​ ​want​ ​them​ ​are​ ​the​ ​order​ ​of​ ​the​ ​day​ ​-​ ​even​ ​if that​ ​means​ ​relaxing​ ​our​ ​ideas​ ​of​ ​what​ ​the​ ​​green​ ​belt​​ ​should​ ​be. 


City​ ​planning​ ​needs​ ​to​ ​focus​ ​on​ ​quality​ ​not​ ​quantity.​ ​The​ ​current​ ​bubble​ ​of​ ​cheaply​ ​built investment​ ​flats​ ​with​ ​high​ ​yields​ ​will​ ​one​ ​day​ ​burst.​ ​Our​ ​cities​ ​can​ ​not​ ​survive​ ​on​ ​overpriced student​ ​housing​ ​and​ ​too​ ​small​ ​investment​ ​flats​ ​alone.​ ​To​ ​address​ ​this​ ​we​ ​must​ ​challenge​ ​the outdated​ ​image​ ​of​ ​young​ ​people's​ ​homeownership​ ​that​ ​are​ ​prevalent​ ​in​ ​British​ ​politics.​ ​The housing​ ​crisis​ ​hits​ ​young​ ​people​ ​far​ ​before​ ​they​ ​start​ ​considering​ ​buying​ ​a​ ​family​ ​home. 


In​ ​a​ ​generation​ ​with​ ​declining​ ​numbers​ ​of​ ​people​ ​deciding​ ​to​ ​get​ ​married​ ​or​ ​have​ ​children,​ ​flats and​ ​two​-​bed​ ​properties​ ​need​ ​to​ ​be​ ​as​ ​much​ ​of​ ​a​ ​priority​ ​as​ ​family​ ​housing​.​ ​Better​ ​quality​ ​flats​ ​and​ ​1​ ​&​ ​2​ ​bed​ ​properties,​ ​made​ ​of​ ​better​ ​materials​ ​and​ ​with reasonable​ ​square​ ​footage​ ​would​ ​allow​ ​many​ ​people​ ​to​ ​remain​ ​in​ ​those​ ​properties​ ​over​ ​the​ ​long term.​ ​This​ ​would​ ​also​ ​allow​ ​older​ ​people​ ​who​ ​may​ ​decide​ ​to​ ​downsize​ ​to​ ​have​ ​real​ ​options​ ​when their​ ​children​ ​leave​ ​home​ ​or​ ​when​ ​the​ ​maintenance​ ​of​ ​a​ ​large​ ​house​ ​impacts​ ​their​ ​quality​ ​of​ ​life. 


We​ ​need​ ​to​ ​make​ ​buying​ ​a​ ​home​ ​with​ ​friends​ ​or​ ​with​ ​a​ ​partner​ ​easier​ ​and​ ​safer.​ ​For​ ​this​ ​we need​ ​limited​ ​and​ ​well​ ​defined​ ​mortgage​ ​liability​ ​for​ ​joint​ ​parties,​ ​and​ ​to​ ​make​ ​it​ ​easier​ ​to​ ​take equity​ ​from​ ​homes​ ​that​ ​are​ ​still​ ​occupied​ ​when​ ​those​ ​who​ ​take​ ​up​ ​joint​ ​mortgages​ ​decide​ ​to move​ ​on. 


We​ ​need​ ​to​ ​make​ ​better​ ​use​ ​of​ ​our​ ​listed​ ​and​ ​heritage​ ​buildings.​ ​Too​ ​many​ ​heritage​ ​buildings are​ ​​demolished​​ ​and​ ​replaced​ ​by​ ​cheaply​ ​built​ ​properties​ ​with​ ​none​ ​of​ ​the​ ​historic​ ​or​ ​material value​ ​that​ ​their​ ​predecessors​ ​held.​ ​Meeting​ ​future​ ​housing​ ​demands​ ​cannot​ ​be​ ​done​ ​at​ ​the expense​ ​of​ ​our​ ​historic​ ​buildings​ ​and​ ​landmarks​ ​of​ ​cultural​ ​value.​ ​Nor​ ​should​ ​it​ ​be​ ​done​ ​in​ ​spite of.​ ​Listed​ ​buildings​ ​when​ ​left​ ​empty​ ​or​ ​left​ ​to​ ​rot​ ​offer​ ​us​ ​very​ ​little,​ ​but​ ​listed​ ​buildings​ ​in​ ​use​ ​as affordable​ ​homes​ ​could​ ​retain​ ​their​ ​historic​ ​value​ ​while​ ​adding​ ​vibrancy​ ​and​ ​commercial​ ​viability to​ ​some​ ​of​ ​our​ ​most​ ​well​ ​known​ ​and​ ​loved​ ​buildings. 


More​ ​homes​ ​is​ ​not​ ​a​ ​solution​ ​when​ ​those​ ​homes​ ​are​ ​too​ ​small,​ ​poorly​ ​built​ ​and​ ​in​ ​the​ ​wrong places.​

 

​Rent​ ​controls​ ​have​ ​the​ ​potential​ ​to​ ​seriously​ ​damage​ ​the​ ​diversity​ ​in​ ​the​ ​housing​ ​market. Social​ ​housing​ ​needs​ ​to​ ​be​ ​social​ ​housing​ ​first,​ ​temporary​ ​and​ ​provided​ ​to​ ​those​ ​who​ ​need​ ​it most,​ ​not​ ​a​ ​rapidly​ ​depleting​ ​chain​ ​of​ ​right​ ​to​ ​buy​ ​without​ ​replacement.​ ​Housing​ ​benefit​ ​needs​ ​to be​ ​reinstated​ ​for​ ​those​ ​under​ ​twenty-one ​to​ ​reverse​ ​​increasing​ ​levels​ ​of​ ​youth​ ​homelessness​​ ​and​ ​to provide​ ​a​ ​real​ ​safety​ ​net​ ​for​ ​young​ ​people. 


In​ ​a​ ​political​ ​culture​ ​more​ ​interested​ ​in​ ​offering​ ​young​ ​people​ ​gimmicks,​ ​celebrity​ ​endorsements and​ ​Instagram​ ​memes​ ​than​ ​real​ ​sustainable​ ​policy​, ​there​ ​is​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​of​ ​work​ ​to​ ​do.​ ​That​ ​work​ ​will begin​ ​when​ ​we​ ​involve​ ​young​ ​people​ ​in​ ​the​ ​political​ ​establishment​ ​as​ ​valued​ ​members​ ​of diverse​ ​teams.​ ​That​ ​work​ ​will​ ​start​ ​when​ ​more​ ​young​ ​people​ ​are​ ​part​ ​of​ ​the​ ​party​ ​policy formulation​ ​process. 


That​ ​work​ ​won't​ ​be​ ​without​ ​a​ ​few​ ​bumps​ ​and​ ​grazes​ ​as​ ​the​ ​establishment​ ​image​ ​of​ ​home ownership​ ​and​ ​city​ ​planning​ ​clashes​ ​with​ ​a​ ​new​ ​set​ ​of​ ​priorities,​ ​that​ ​aren't​ ​as​ ​different​ ​as​ ​the establishment​ ​might​ ​think.​ ​That​ ​work​ ​won't​ ​get​ ​off​ ​the​ ​ground​ ​when​ ​we​ ​play​ ​guessing​ ​games with​ ​young​ ​people's​ ​housing​ ​priorities. 


We​ ​need​ ​to​ ​shift​ ​the​ ​goalposts​ ​in​ ​the​ ​fight​ ​against​ ​the​ ​millennial​ ​housing​ ​crisis,​ ​and​ ​young people​ ​are​ ​ready​ ​and​ ​willing​ ​to​ ​work​ ​on​ ​this​ ​ambitious​ ​project.​ ​

 

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