Party manifestos reveal different definitions of housing crisis, by Chris Brown

The manifestos are out and the battle of the housing numbers is on again. This time they come with a degree more pragmatism than we have seen in recent years. And they highlight two different definitions of the housing 'crisis'.

Labour went first with no overall housing number target, instead focusing on social rent and promising 150,000 social rent homes a year.

The Tories rowed back on their 300,000 a year target, dropping to 200,000 a year over this Parliament, and with no target for affordable housing.

The Lib Dems clearly missed the memo about pragmatism and went for 300,000 homes a year, of which 100,000 are to be social rent.

The Greens went for 100,000 social rent homes, with a proportion of them not being new build to help cut carbon emmissions. 

The Brexit Party want to increase housing supply but set no targets and the SNP didn’t even mention housing supply.

This all reflects two completely different definitions of the housing ‘crisis’.

The Conservative (and one side of the Lib Dems) are playing to the middle income ‘we can’t afford the deposit’ constituency and essentially using school boy (and misconceived) economics that assumes that if we build more homes they will be more affordable.

Labour and the Greens (and the other side of the LibDems) are seeing a low income crisis and the need for more heavily subsidised homes for those in bed and breakfast, sofa surfing or, at the extreme, sleeping rough.

The manifestos also, Lib Dems excluded, seem to recognise the reality of current housing supply which, depending on your definition is probably around 200,000 a year, which is also close to the most recent set of household formation projections that the government has, to date, been trying to sweep under the carpet.

And in relation to Labour, the Greens, and, to an extent the Lib Dems, it recognises the main gap in supply, though none of the parties go so far as to recognise that this need is pretty concentrated in the high house price areas in London and the South East of England.

The difference in approach would be reflected in a substantially higher investment, mainly via public borrowing, for the increase in social rented housing, with index linked rents gradually paying off the debt over time.

The big challenge in a switch to social housing provision would be the current lack of a sufficient land pipeline which would take time to build and the lack of capacity, within the local authorities in particular, to deliver these numbers in the early years.

The Tories, despite their more sensible numbers, show little inclination to stop the destruction of the planning system by a thousand cuts and so we might expect that they won’t scale back the housing targets for planning purposes.

So you pays your money (or at least you vote) and takes your choice but at least we have some reasonably sensible approaches whoever comes out on top, whether alone or in a minority government or coalition.

Chris Brown is executive chairman of Igloo Regeneration 

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