The housing crisis is too often viewed as a problem only for frustrated buyers in the South – but this view leaves poorer areas behind, writes Peter Apps
It is the worst kept secret in politics that the election drums are beating in Westminster. All the signs point towards a snap election – whether shortly before or immediately after the latest Brexit doomsday of 31 October.
While this election will undoubtedly be dominated by the b-word, the sector will be reminding politicians that they need to find ways to solve the housing crisis regardless of how the Brexit dice lands.
This week’s Inside Housing contains a salutary reminder about the importance of getting this message right. In recent years housing policy has shot up the domestic agenda, thanks in no small part to the active lobbying of many in the social housing sector.
But the response remains focused on the kind of crisis that is most visible to politicians: affordability pressure in London and the South East, the struggle of young adults to buy their first home and the lack of new supply.
This is only one housing crisis in one part of the country. Travel to the North of England and the picture is different. There remains a desperate need for investment in housing, but the task is to improve existing stock and support the growth of the region’s burgeoning cities.
However, the government has adopted a funding methodology which freezes out many of these areas in favour of throwing more money at the areas in the South with the highest ‘affordability pressure’.
This approach is crude. If you see frustrated buyers as the only problem worth solving, you will end up directing money away from the poorest areas towards those which are objectively wealthy.
Policymakers must become more sophisticated in their view of what the national housing crisis looks like and how to solve it. But those who explain the problem have at times been guilty of making the same mistake. Affordability pressure is an easily digestible argument. That does not mean it is the best way of making the case.
As we approach the next crunch point over Brexit, politicians of all colours will make bold promises about improving the lot of those who voted for it in protest. Housing must be part of this pitch.
Fire safety in focus again
Once more, fire safety in the social sector dominates the pages of Inside Housing – with more on the devastating care home fire in Crewe and the shocking story of the dangerous conditions found in The Hortensia, a block used to house Grenfell survivors.
Both of these stories point once again to systemic issues. The Crewe care home was timber-framed. This is a method of construction which has now been involved in so many near misses, that it feels as if a disaster cannot be far away. Meanwhile, The Hortensia, built just two years ago, was found to have widespread problems which seem to affect many modern new builds.
Perhaps the only answer left available to us is to accept that many of the buildings in this country are unsafe and to adopt new strategies. If we can no longer be sure of the safety of our homes, we need evacuation strategies and sprinklers to make sure that, next time, the price is not paid in deaths.
Peter Apps, deputy editor, Inside Housing