Guardian Housing Network Blog -The latest round of budget measures have done little to encourage those of us involved in building homes for people who need them. The new Help-to-Buy scheme launched in the chancellor’s recent budget will only serve to drive already inflated property prices even higher, and further out of the reach of those on the lower rungs of society’s ladder. At a time when courage is needed to kick-start the nation into building more homes again, we find there is little to get really excited about.
We are committed to serving the neediest in society who would normally be excluded from either home ownership or rental and can only do what we do if there is some form of subsidy for a scheme – whether in the form of reduced land price, access to grants or subsidised rents.
As a charitable developer/contractor, Habitat for Humanity is keen to get hold of suitable land to build quality, environmentally sound, affordable homes for people in housing need. However, with councils and other statutory bodies unwilling to release land for less than the market price, we are hard pushed to make our development models work – and we are not the only ones.
Time and again we are hearing from others in the housing arena that land is incredibly hard to come by for the right price. Surely it is time for councils to act in the best interests of their residents and release the land that is so desperately needed, and preferably for free. Politicians and councillors talk about the desperate and growing need to build more homes, but too few want to put their money where their mouth is and take the necessary hit on their purse.
To get building decent homes again we need a round-the-table commitment from all parties involved in the public, private and voluntary sectors. Sadly it is all too true that profits are being put before people, and self-serving agendas are more important than community-based ones.
With all the rhetoric around localism, we need to see the government and local councils alike step up to facilitate a more courageous programme of building on a scale that was seen post-war (but hopefully not with the same mistakes). This would surely serve the current and future needs of the nation better than flash-in-the-pan schemes, including Right-to-Buy and Help-to-Buy, that seem to morph and change incrementally but still have little effect.
We are currently involved in a scheme in Tunbridge Wells, in partnership with West Kent YMCA where we are looking to create affordable accommodation for young people who are more than ready to move on from supported housing. These individuals are being asked to leave a housing project, where they are being fully supported, to shared rented accommodation that starts at about £100 a week for studios and increases to about £125-£165 a week for a one-bed flat. All this with a measly shared accommodation housing benefit rate of £77 a week. We really owe more to future generations than to make life unaffordable and even more of an uphill struggle than it already is.
If building more homes forms part of the way out of this recession, which most commentators agree it does, then why aren’t we doing this? What’s so difficult about just getting on and doing it? Yes, there will be some pain and sacrifice. But it will be worth it in the long run. Talking about it will never be a substitute for action.
David Clare is business development manager at Habitat for Humanity
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