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"Housing is a mess" says Green Party candidate

"Housing is a mess" says Bill Linton. "The current system works well for the prosperous, for banks and for landlords. It works badly for young people who want to get their own home or start a family and it's a nightmare for the poor".

"For thirty years" he continued "successive governments have seen housing as an investment, an electoral bribe or a way of stimulating the economy. Always, in fact, as something other than places to live. That is why we have a housing crisis. That's why we need a fundamentally new approach".

The elements of the crisis are well-known:
  • A rising population (ref Census)
  • Smaller households
  • The lowest rate of new construction in 60 years!
  • High levels of household debt.
  • A finance sector highly dependent on the property market. 49% of all UK bank loans are for residential property. (Meek, 2014).
Thus the number of new homes needed is about double the number being built. It's no surprise that this has led to historically high prices. In Winchmore Hill the cheapest 1-bed flat is now advertised at £118,000 and the cheapest 3-bed house at £385,000 (Flint, 2014). According to Right Move: "In the past year house prices in Winchmore Hill were 11% up on the year before and 4% up on 2011".

Thus people on ordinary incomes cannot afford decent homes and are forced into rental accommodation that is ever more expensive and harder to find. To buy an average 3-bed house in WH a couple would need a combined income of at least £100k.

Thus, also, people on housing benefit are subject to the iniquitous bedroom tax. This is supposed to "encourage" them to move to smaller properties. Since there are, in most places, no suitable properties the real results are to drive these people to cheaper areas, like Edmonton, or simply into deeper poverty. And 40% of those effected are disabled.

A third consequence is that the high returns available from property investment encourage lots of people and banks to put their money into property rather than productive businesses. It therefore undermines the economy on which we all depend.

The housing crisis cannot be solved by piecemeal reforms. Instead it requires fundamental change. In the short-term we would (see Crumbs for London ):
  • Restrict purchases by overseas investors and second home owners.
  • Give councils the money and powers to build more affordable homes.
  • Stabilise rent controls and provide protection for private tenants.
In the longer-term we would seek to reduce demand by rebalancing the economy. We would prioritise manufacturing over finance and favour new jobs outside the South-East. These policies would make London a better place to live. It would get us out of the Red Queen's race in which housing and facilities always trail behind demand.

We can no more base a good housing policy on unlimited growth than we can base a sustainable society on unlimited growth. It's time to change.


References:
Flint, David, 2014: Survey of property prices in Winchmore Hill. Review of Right Move data on 25 Feb.
Property type Number on offer Price (£'000)
Lowest Highest Mode
1 bed flat 14 118 339 185
2 bed flat 8 195 350 285
3 bed house 22 385 875 550
4 bed house 42 575 3,200 930

Meek, Barry, 2014: Where will we live? London Review of Books, 9/1/14 p 7-: "76% of all bank loans go to property and 64% of that to residential mortgages".

Census

Robertson, Laurna, 2014: 'Boris' draft housing strategy not 'ambitious enough'. Inside Housing, 17 February 2014.


Published and promoted by Bill Linton for Enfield Green Party, both at 39A Fox Lane, London N13 4AJ