By Heather Kennedy
As if the Royal Birth wasn’t enough to send us swooning into the crowded streets, feverish with joy, now the news that house prices have reached a dizzying seven year high!
To understand exactly why this news is being hailed a reason to pop out the bubbly, we must first take a detour through the Mad Hatter world of neo-liberal logic.
House prices are rising. Ergo we’re all feeling happy and flush. Ergo increased consumer demand. Ergo property developers will be coaxed into build more houses. Ergo…hang on a minute.
I talk to a lot of people who’d love to buy a house and for none of them is the barrier a niggling concern that now might not be the most economically advantageous time to splash out. No, the problem is much simpler than that. You see, people actually haven’t got the money.
Is the Government so oblivious to the realities of not being wealthy that they suppose whilst we’ve been moaning about inflation, zero hour contracts, pay day loans, we’ve secretly been stashing great wads of dosh under our mattress for a rainy day?
Of course the Government’s Help to Buy scheme is supposed to be salvation for first time buyers. But to be accepted onto the scheme in London you need such hefty sums that low and middle earners are knocked out the game.
And who has been the biggest victor from this explosion in cheap mortgages? Everyone’s favourite Striver, the buy-to-let landlord. They’ve been toiling all summer long to buy up homes that might otherwise go to first time buyers, but will instead be let to people at inflated rents, eroding any hope they might have held to save for a deposit.
It’s not only unwashed hard liners like me who are suggesting all this is lighting a match for the next housing bubble.
On closer inspection we see this surge in house prices is accounted for almost entirely by properties in London, where not even George Osborne in a Pimms-fuelled bout of euphoria would dare claim the market is opening up for first time buyers. In places like the Midlands where a handful of young people have managed to buy properties (national headline news you’ll note) house prices have only crept up by a measly 1%.
The pursuit of decent housing that meets people’s needs strikes me as a fairly straight forward notion. Yet the Government approach this pursuit like an ancient cryptic riddle, employing complex trickery to soothe and coax the property market which prowls, as deadly and unfathomable as a sphinx.
Cynics amongst us might conclude the Government aren’t bothered about providing decent, secure, genuinely affordable housing at all.
Instead of engaging in a combination of fiscal hocus pocus and wishful thinking here are some practical ideas for meeting housing need, ideas which will probably baffle MPs in their simplicity:
- De-criminalise squatting
- Regulate so developers have to build the homes people actually need (genuinely affordable ones of mixed sizes) not the housing that attract wealthy non-doms from overseas (swanky apartments with rippling neo-modernist frontages)
- Invest more money into bringing empty homes back into use
- Legislate to stop developers sitting on properties until they can squeeze the optimum amount out of buyers
- Regulate the private rented sector, starting with rent caps, a register of landlords and an end to retaliatory eviction
- Build more social housing
- Build more of other types of affordable housing
- Just build more genuinely affordable housing
Any more suggestions? Please post them below!