The Tories’ Housing White Paper released this week marks a shift away from the pretence that everyone can buy their own home.
That myth of the “property owning democracy” was one of the central elements of Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government from 1979 to 1990.
But now communities minister Sajid Javid talks of the “broken housing market” and says there needs to be wider “choice” including more homes for rent.
In part the shift is an attempt to deal with growing anger over the soaring cost of homes and the lack of decent affordable homes to rent.
The last census showed that in England the proportion of homes owned with a mortgage had dropped sharply
Housing charity Shelter said this was a “historic shift which reflects the growing trend in young people and families who are unable to find a stable, affordable home”. A government spokesperson would not comment when asked if the White Paper backtracks on government targets to build a million houses by 2020.
But even if the target is not to be scrapped, the market can’t achieve it.
There’s only been one year since 1945 when more than 200,000 new homes were built without at least a third of them being built by councils.
That was in 1988—a time of an unsustainable mortgage boom.
The legislation will change the target to “net additional dwellings”—which includes reclaimed abandoned homes. Disgracefully, it makes no provision for funding mass council house building.
Yet council housing has to be central to any solution to the housing crisis.
A key part of the White Paper is centralised calculations about housing needs. Councils will have to produce five-year plans. The Tories have previously shied away from this because it sets the parameters for failure.
The White Paper also says that councils should ensure land is used efficiently by building high-density housing. But it doesn’t say how they are to do this.
In part the Tories’ shift towards the private rental market reflects the fact that developers have found that sector more profitable than building houses to sell.
Last year private rental overtook the social rented sector for the first time since records began.
The White Paper outlines plans to alter planning regulations to allow developers to build units for “affordable” private rents.
But these can mean as much as 80 percent of market rents—unaffordable for most people.
“The government is trialing the White Paper as a break from key parts of David Cameron’s 2016 Housing Act,” said Eileen Short, chair of Defend Council Housing.
“They are bending under pressure and we are determined to push on for a new generation of council housing.”
The most effective, cheapest, way of building housing is through a mass council house building campaign.