I am a baby boomer. My generation has lucked out in so many ways – particularly with regards to housing. I bought my first house (in York) for £2,000 when I was a 21 year old student. My dad subbed me the money, and I paid him back out of my student grant.
Unthinkable today. My generation has been brought up in an era of relatively affordable housing, and we are used to an upward trajectory in house prices. Many of us sit on a good deal of housing equity, whilst feeling uncomfortable at the same time watching our children and grandchildren struggle to own homes half the size we did at their age. Two thirds of young people now believe they will never own their own home although, for most of them, this remains the tenure of choice.
Britain is in the middle of a housing crisis caused by our failure to build the new homes we need. Last year we completed fewer homes than at any time since 1923. The Housing Minister for the incoming government, Grant Shapps, promised he would turn Britain into “a nation of house builders”. He hasn’t.
The Sheffield City Region’s Local Enterprise Partnership has adopted a growth plan which says that the number of new homes we need to build needs to treble if economic growth is not to be stymied. This is one heck of a challenge, given that the numbers of new homes we have been building locally has dropped steadily over the last 10 years.
This is the background to Homes for Britain, a national campaign supported by 80 housing organisations as varied as Shelter, Crisis, Genrent, The National Housing Federation and the Association of Residential Landlords. Homes for Britain has one very simple ask of politicians – “solve the housing crisis within one generation”.
People talk about housing all the time. It is the number one item in MPs’ post bags. People talk about it on the buses, in the pubs and round the family dinner table. If we are not talking about where our children are going to live, we are thinking about housing opportunities for parents or other family members. Yet this is strangely muted in political campaigns. Jeremy Paxman did not mention it once when he interviewed Cameron and Miliband last week.
So why this disconnect? This is a recent phenomenon. Those of us who can remember the 1950s and 1960s will recall that debate on housing supply dominated successive general election campaigns. The answer is that, as a country, we seem to have sleep- walked into the false notion that politicians cannot solve the housing crisis. They can. This requires courage, investment, vision and a willingness to come up with a long term strategy. Politicians are quite capable of doing this, and the organisations behind Homes for Britain will help them.
To raise the profile of housing in the run up to the election we have set up the Sheffield Housing Festival. It will take place on April 18th in Endcliffe Park. The centrepiece will be an inflatable house (pictured). Do come along and engage with this debate. There will be street theatre, stalls, a “Speakers Corner”, food and drink and plenty for the kids to do. We hope to see you between 11am and 3pm. And in the meantime… if anyone knocks on the door asking for your vote, ask them how they intend to solve the housing crisis. We should expect an answer.
Tony Stacey CEO SYHA