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Last month I was on BBC Radio 4’s World at One with John Stewart from the Home Builders Federation. John said that Funding for Lending and the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, which saw 10,000 new-home reservations in the first four months, were a great success. ‘If house builders can sell more homes,’ he said, ‘they can build more homes.’
Stimulating demand is fine if the supply is there to meet that demand. But it is not. We’ve been building about 110,000 new homes a year, when we’ve needed around 240,000. Providing a subsidy for people to buy a commodity that is scarce will push prices up. This is basic economics, and we’re already seeing evidence of this.
John’s members and homeowners will be pleased. But not people in Britain who worry if their children will be able to afford a home or if their parents will be able to live in a home that suits their needs as they get older.
People like Christine, 28, who has dreamt of moving out of her parents’ home since finishing college a decade ago. Despite having a decent job (she works as a neighbourhood officer for a housing association), the high cost of housing has left her with no option but to share her childhood bedroom with her 22-year-old sister. Their brother, 25, has moved back to the family home in Liverpool because he can’t afford private rents. Both her siblings also work full-time.
How do we change this situation? It’s simple – we need to build more of the right homes at the right prices in the right places. Although there is nothing wrong with parents helping their adult children, families like Christine’s must be allowed to move on with their own, independent adult lives.
Our housing crisis prevents this and we need action. Housing professionals have long been calling for a comprehensive national housing strategy to create a sustainable housing market, but these pleas are often batted away by ministers who will point to recent schemes and funding as evidence of progress.
That’s why we’ve created Yes to Homes – a grass-roots campaign that brings together people around the country who want more affordable homes and gives them a loudspeaker.
Not many people realise, but the decisions made about housing are made by local councillors. This campaign shows people how they can get in touch with their local councillors, because if enough people tell them they want more homes it will soar to the top of their agenda.
This week is Yes to Homes week, a week organised to build on the already solid base of the support the campaign enjoys in order to take it to the next level. So not only do we want to encourage our supporters to contact their councillors, we want them to tell their friends and neighbours too.
Over the next few months, as more supporters come on board, we hope to see community housing debates pop-up around the country – and maybe hear or see housing discussions on local radio and television. As councillors see the scale of local demand, they will also join the campaign.
There is still plenty of hard work to be done. But as we approach the next election, we want these waves of local noise to turn into a massive tide, a force that cannot be ignored by our decision makers, and for the need for more housing to be on the lips of voters, councillors, political commentators - and local MPs jostling for a PMQ.
We believe there is a great demand for more homes at the right prices around the country and that the key to putting pressure on the Government rests with Britain’s communities. They might not realise it now, but in their vote is great power – and we need our colleagues across the sector to tell them so.
David Orr is the chief executive at the National Housing Federation.