Unless we think big, the housing crisis will never end

We need to build communities, not just houses


With the General Election done and dusted, it’s time for the Conservatives to get down to the business of government, and Labour the business of opposition. For an opposition nursing the wounds of election defeat and in the midst of finding a new leader, this is not a straightforward task.

It was therefore encouraging to see Emma Reynolds, the new shadow secretary of state for Communities and Local Government, use the Labour Party’s first opposition day debate to call upon the government to bring forward a comprehensive plan to tackle the housing crisis.

Labour may be in disarray, but at least they are prioritising the big issues of the day. And from a domestic perspective, there is no challenge is bigger than housing.

Our housing crisis is twofold: a crisis of supply and a crisis of affordability. We are building less than half the number of homes needed to meet both population growth and tackle the backlog caused by decades of undersupply; 1.4 million families sit on social housing waiting lists; private rents have hit an all time high and the average home costs 10 times the average salary.

For most households, the cost of renting or owning a house is the single largest household expense: 20 per cent of all households now depend on state support to meet the costs of living in a home.

Furthermore, the separation between homeowners and renters is a rising source of tension, entrenching wealth inequality and feeding an intergenerational divide.

As a basic social need, our citizens should have access to affordable and high quality housing in an attractive neighbourhood that has the necessary infrastructure for them and their children to flourish.

A secure home in a well-designed community can have an enormous impact on individual and family life, providing the necessary stability for a job and a good base for education as well as delivering essential health, well-being and wider social benefits.

That’s why it is so important we tackle this crisis with reform big enough and bold enough to offer solutions that will not only build homes but also create communities for generations to come.

In our latest paper, we argue that this can be achieved through the creation of a set of new local bodies dedicated not just to housebuilding but to the development of schools, hospitals and transport links that are essential to create thriving communities.

What we call ‘Local Place Partnerships’ will be coordinated by local authorities and bring together all the parties involved in this process: private developers, housing associations, residents, civil society and local business and enable them to address their concerns and wishes through one decision point.

We believe this will speed up the building process and enable local authorities to lead the much needed housebuilding push. It will also enable them to work with bordering councils to meet the needs of their region. And with the power to instigate Local Place Partnerships devolved to residents, people can take real control of housebuilding and help shape the future of their neighbourhoods: building more homes to a higher standard in a shorter time frame.

This collaboration will ensure that the right mix of homes is built, and with housing associations able to cluster, they can offset the challenges posed by the planned extension of the Right to Buy policy.

The success of housing campaigners in the lead up to the General Election is that at long last this issue is near the front of political debate. Of course, there is no silver bullet but we need new transformative ideas that go beyond the piecemeal reform currently on offer.

The social and economic cost of our housing crisis means that all actors in the housebuilding process, including government, must create and support a new vision and narrative. We believe that Local Place Partnerships, a new dedicated institution, can grab this crisis by the scruff of the neck and offer the ambition and dedication needed to bring it to a halt.

David Fagleman is project manager of ResPublica’s Prosperity Programme. Follow him on Twitter

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