Affordable homes to rent – not buy – will rebalance the property market

Locally generated building is good for everyone

Related Topics

Headlines about rising house prices may persuade observers that the housing crisis is over, and that the nation can safely return to the behaviour that caused the financial crisis in the first place. This would be a tragic waste of a huge economic opportunity.

The national housing crisis has been a long time in the making: a lack of housing that can be afforded by young working families, while rents soar; the future of farming at risk, because there is nowhere for retiring farmers to live; unsustainable villages becoming the preserve of wealthy retirees, with schools and post offices closed down.

For decades, in contrast to every other developed Western economy, Britain has been underinvesting in new homes. The consequences are all too apparent: two million families on council waiting lists for affordable homes, annual expenditure of over £20bn on housing benefit. The number of new homes built every year needs to treble, to around 300,000. No wonder Shelter could only raise half a cheer for last week's news that housing starts in England rose 7 per cent to 110,000 in the year to June, generating headlines that "Britain is building again".

Half of the new homes should be for rent or shared ownership, built on brownfield land in urban areas and in small developments alongside villages where the new homes house local families, are welcomed by local people, and where the land is invested through a Community Land Trust.

In a report published at the end of last year, the Future Homes Commission showed how the housing crisis could be turned into a massive opportunity for economic growth. Trebling the number of new homes built every year for 20 years would add at least 3 percentage points to annual GDP growth, an economic prize comparable to the impact of shale gas on the North American economy. If half of the new homes are in sustainable communities of rental or shared ownership properties, these would be funded by pension funds and international real estate investors. No additional government funding would be needed.

Despite the scale of the housing crisis and the size of the economic growth opportunity, local authority pension funds' pressing need for better investment returns, and the relaxation of Treasury constraints on these funds (which could free up as much as £30bn for investment in rental housing and infrastructure projects), progress towards the goal of trebling the number of new homes built every year has so far been disappointing. The Government's Help to Buy scheme does nothing to make housing more affordable or for would-be tenants, and a new house-price bubble could form.

Far from being embraced as a massive economic and social opportunity, the housing crisis is deepening; and millions of couples are having to postpone setting up home together. Nationally, the average age of first-timers buying without parental help is 33; in rural areas, where wages are lower and house prices are higher, it takes even longer. Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) are backing affordable housing, and Lord Heseltine ensured that over £5bn of EU growth funding was allocated directly to LEPs, bypassing both Whitehall and local councils. Now there is no planning bureaucracy standing in the way of local communities having the homes they want and at prices they can afford: well-designed and energy-efficient homes can be built for £100,000. LEPs could kickstart the expansion of build-to-let homes and communities.

By separating developments of homes for rent and shared ownership from market housing, both sectors would benefit. Market housing would not be compromised by the need to accommodate a percentage of "affordable" homes (which are anything but). Towns and villages could have the number of new homes they wanted, rather than huge developments which rarely go ahead. Existing social landlords would be well-placed to manage the completed developments. These, in turn, could be sold on to pension funds and other investors, freeing up LEP funds for more local schemes.

The LEPs now have all the tools to address the local housing crisis and generate economic growth of over 3 per cent a year which will be sustainable for a generation, without leading to another house-price bubble. Now it could be harvest time, turning the local housing crisis into the economic and social opportunity for which the countryside has been waiting for decades.

Sir John Banham, chairman of the Future Homes Commission, is a former director general of the CBI

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next

In Sickness and in Health: A night out to show I’m still Rebecca as well as a carer

Rebecca Armstrong
Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman leaving The High Court  

Lutfur Rahman has devalued the struggle for racial justice and equality, and I hate him for it

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions