Wednesday, 7th December 2016

My Christmas wish: affordable housing

The 2016 Autumn Statement renewed the Government’s commitment to building 400,000 affordable houses and the good news is that additional funding has been allocated to meet this target. But there is something at the top of my Christmas list.

It’s no secret that more affordable housing is required. The number of affordable houses built by Local Authorities over the last 60 years has dropped considerably from 163,220 houses a year in 1948 to 25,070 a year in 2014. Whilst Housing Associations and the private sector has increased building numbers over the years, the shortfall of affordable housing is acute.

Lessons to learn from affordable housing history

It is widely recognised that the Government needs to take on central responsibility in building affordable housing, similar to that after the First World War through to the early 70s. It is however easy to reflect on this period with rose tinted glasses and purely to focus on the numbers of affordable houses built.

After the Second World War, the demand for new housing was met by prefabrication (prefab houses and pre-cast reinforced concrete) and whilst this met the need short term (over 1.25 million affordable houses built in the decade after 1945) these methods used were found to be unsatisfactory in the longer term due to unacceptable deterioration. Again the council high rise flats of the 1960s, whilst initially providing much-needed housing, were later criticised for creating poor quality badly built housing with a lot of them being subsequently demolished.

With the Housing White Paper due to be published in the New Year, I hope that the Government learns from the past. It sounds impressive to promise 400,000 affordable houses but one should really focus on what they are promising.

Changing the approach to affordable housing

Firstly, we use the term ‘affordable houses’ but what does it actually mean? The Government define it as “social rented, affordable rented and intermediate housing provided to specified eligible households whose needs are not met by the market”. Arguably this wide encompassing term allows for certain type of housing to slip through the net, for example the building of social rented housing. I would like to see the Housing White Paper really drill into the meaning of affordable houses to ensure that all social needs are met.

Secondly, I’d like the Housing White Paper to not only promise numbers of housing, but also put emphasis on providing quality houses. If we are to learn from the pre-fabs of the 40s and the high rises of the 60s, we have to invest in the housing stock. Well-constructed and managed housing will help meet the immediate housing need but will also be much more beneficial in the longer term meaning fewer refurbishments or redevelopments allowing for more time and resources to be spent on construction and the longer term benefits of sustainable development.

Research is also lacking into the wider benefits of good quality housing. The benefit that good quality housing can have on public health is recognised as it can reduce problems associated with exposure to allergens, neurotoxins, and other dangers. Good quality housing incorporating green building and transit-oriented development strategies will also contribute to help meet environmental targets. The Autumn Statement 2016 promises to add £23 billion in high-value investment from 2017-18 to 2021-22, with the Government targeting this spending at areas that are critical for productivity: housing, research and development and economic infrastructure. It is my hope that thorough research will be carried out to assess how good quality housing can assist in other areas of Government policy.

So really all I want for Christmas from the Housing White Paper is clarity on the type of housing the Government is looking to provide and an emphasis on building quality homes to achieve a longer term goal…

Article by Alice Appleton, Consultant