There are not enough houses.
I’ve tried to start this blog ten times or more, but it all comes back to that. There are not enough houses. Everyone blames someone different for it, everyone has a different solution to it, but it all comes back to the same thing: there are not enough houses.
You don’t have to look far to find the effects. Rents are sky-high. House prices are higher still. 4.9 million families cannot afford one or the other and need help to house themselves. There isn’t even close to enough social housing to provide for them, so the state foots a housing benefit bill of nearly £17 billion a year to private landlords, many of whose properties are in an embarrassing state of disrepair.
For many, many of my generation, buying a home of their own is a distant pipe dream, or an impossibility.
As I said, everyone has their different thoughts on the causes and solutions. My own are that the myth that this country is overcrowded has made us scared to build, and the solution is a housebuilding program the likes of which would make the post-war boom seem paltry.
One solution which I haven’t heard mooted before is to sell off what little social housing we have. And yet that’s the one which the Conservative manifesto is putting forward.
Firstly, let me say that I am far from convinced that extending right-to-buy would be legally sound, even before we get to whether it’s smart or not. Most housing associations are charities, so it would amount to a massive confiscation by the state of private assets. As well as being a breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Now you see why the Tories want to leave it so badly; they would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for that pesky rule of law! -Ed), it flies in the face of every principle of English law.
But even if I’ve overlooked something, and it is indeed legal, it’s a disastrously bad idea which will destroy what is left of social housing in this country. Which, I have to presume, is part of the point.
I‘ve already been accused, on this subject, of being “spiteful”, for not backing this short-sighted election bribe. So let me lay out now: I actually like the idea of the right to buy. It’s the execution, not the concept, which was fatally flawed. The problem has always been that over-exaggerated discounts led to minuscule returns for local authorities, returns which they weren’t even allowed to re-invest in housing. What should have happened is more modest discounts, with assistance to social tenants who wanted to buy, and the maintenance of the housing stock. In Southend we have just built the first council house in nearly 30 years. Which is an outrageous position.
Much of what is left of the social housing stock is in housing associations. That’s 1.3 million tenants, who the Tories want to be able to buy their homes at a 70% discount. Which would be fantastic for them, I can’t disagree. Trouble is, it will be disastrous for their children. And, basically, everyone else.
Once those 1.3 million homes are gone, and only 30% of their value is brought in, we will end up with only a fraction of that number of new homes being built or acquired. 400,000 new homes, the Conservatives are promising in the next parliament, compared to the 1,300,000 they want to sell. Maths was never my favourite subject at school, but come on!
What this actually does is expand the numbers of homeowners, whilst keeping house prices themselves artificially high. And those who need social housing in future will be forced into the private rental sector on housing benefit, with the taxpayer backing ever-higher rents pushed up by the increased numbers entering the market. Landlords will make a killing.
Taxpayers are funding the acquisition of housing association properties by their tenants, to then fund the profits of private landlords when there are no housing associations left. We pay twice!
Tough luck, too, if you’re already renting privately. Nobody is, after all, proposing to extend right to buy to private tenants (Bloody imagine if they did! -Ed). So you have even less chance of ever buying a house.
Follow Cameron and Osborne’s rabbit out of the hat a little further down the rabbit hole, and it becomes clear what this policy will mean. The remains of the social housing stock will be destroyed, and the most vulnerable — as well as the generations to come — will be left without, facing soaring rents and the country with a swollen housing benefit bill. On every measure it fails to solve the housing crisis, but it was never intended to.
This is just Cameron’s final roll of the dice to try and get himself a second term. But it would take a bad situation, and make it immeasurably worse. If we are to have any hope of ever fixing the housing crisis, then on May 7th the Conservatives must lose the general election.