The National Housing Federation’s London Development Conference was, as usual, thought provoking. We all know that the prospects for affordable housing – I use the term correctly, not in the Newspeak manner of recent years – is bleak, especially for affordable rented housing. So it was cheering to hear influential speakers talk about the need for housing at a cost of no more than 30% of net income. The problem is how to deliver both the affordable and the market housing, in the numbers needed.
We, who work in affordable housing, have known for over 10 years that the crisis is upon us. The general public has got wind of it in the last five years. In the last few years most senior politicians have woken up to it, and scrabbled to allocate blame and to provide some quick fixes. An example is classifying a change of use from office to residential as Permitted Development, to boost supply. It has. Business tenancies are being terminated and companies thrown out of their offices, to allow the building owner to convert to residential and make a windfall profit. And in one case in London, the “apartments” created were 14m2 – the size of a decent double bedroom. And the supply of both market and affordable housing is still less then needed.
The problems are deep-rooted and fairly intractable. The solution actually requires many co-ordinated solutions across the fields of public and private land supply, planning, design and building standards, construction capacity and funding. These solutions will also need to be implemented over several parliamentary terms. There are no quick fixes here. We’ve taken several decades digging the hole we are in. It’ll take one or two to dig ourselves out. So the solutions will need long-term cross-party support.
Is this not fantasy? Quite possibly. But there is a mechanism for grappling with issues of public policy that are complex, controversial and of great importance (and our housing crisis surely falls within that description). It is to establish a Royal Commission to investigate the problems, and identify the solutions.
Royal Commissions are not common. The last few in this country were 1998 (long term care for the elderly), 1981 (criminal procedures) and 1981 (NHS). They are high-profile, heavyweight public enquiries that generally command cross-party support and whose influence lasts over decades rather than years.
It’s not surprising that quick-fix solutions to a complex system like affordable housing development has unintended and ghastly consequences. We need a more considered response. We need a Royal Commission on Housing Supply, covering total output and affordable housing output. I hope that Shelter, the Chartered Institute of Housing, the National Housing Federation, the Home Builder’s Federation, The Royal Institute of British Architects, the Council of Mortgage Lenders and the Chartered Institute of Building agree. If you agree, use #royalcommissiononhousingsupply.