Housing will be one of the biggest issues facing the country at the General Election
This post is the foreword to our guide Election 2015: What's at stake for housing? Download your copy here.
Home is the centre of people’s lives. It’s the place most people wake up in the morning and the place we return to after work or school. The quality and affordability of housing has a huge effect on health, both mental and physical, and children’s education. The stress of worrying about paying high rents, or illness caused by poor quality housing, can ruin lives. It is for this reason that we have to get housing right, and why it is a tragedy that for so many years we have not.
Housing will be one of the biggest issues facing the country at the General Election and only a serious policy offer to voters will begin to tackle some of the many challenges that need to be confronted. In London, where I am a city-wide Assembly Member, it will be the biggest issue bar none.
For too long housing has not received the attention it deserves from national politicians of all political colours. This is why we face such a monumental battle to end a crisis that has been brewing for decades. In such circumstances what we desperately need is bold thinking. That’s why I welcome this election guide as an excellent contribution to the debate on solutions to the housing crisis.
Some of the ideas in this booklet have cross-party support, at least amongst local politicians: lifting the cap on council borrowing for housing being a good example. We need national politicians to understand the scale of the crisis and start listening, so that at a local level we can begin to address thirty years of central government housing policy failure.
Other ideas contained here – such as rent control and ending Right-to-Buy – will spark a much fiercer debate. Whatever one thinks of the principle of whether someone should be able to buy their council flat, it is clear that radical reform of a policy that has led to such a vast shrinking of the social rented sector needs serious review at a minimum. For those of us who rent from a private landlord, reform of a broken system of one year tenancies with no restriction on rent increases is long overdue.
For too long now houses have been seen more as assets than homes. This has been hugely damaging. Everyone should have a decent home, yet people are increasingly priced out of the market by investors seeking a return on their investment rather than a place to live in. In London, luxury flats in skyscrapers provide a safe place for investors to stick their cash. Yet in the shadow of these buildings live the greatest victims of our housing crisis: the 6,500 people who sleep rough every year on the streets of one of the richest cities in the world.
This booklet shows that in some parts of the country the problem looks very different, housing values are falling and large-scale areas of derelict empty homes require holistic policy responses that are not just about increasing housing supply but are about responding to the needs of people who live and work in those areas.
Welfare changes and rising costs of living are also making the housing crisis much worse and the effect is being felt in different ways across the country. This pamphlet shows that in the North West tens of thousands of families were hit by the bedroom tax and pushed into rent arrears, leaving them struggling to cope and living under the threat of eviction. In the South East the benefit cap has hit families living in high-value areas hard. The challenges of the housing crisis are considerable and enormously varied.
So what must be done? Many of the answers are contained within this pamphlet: freeing up local authorities to invest in new housing, properly regulating private tenancies, reforming land taxation so that it incentivises development and not land hoarding.
What is clear is that if we don’t act soon, this housing crisis will turn into a catastrophe. But if we can turn this oil tanker around and make housing better and more affordable the impact on all of our lives will be immeasurable.