After a long lie-in on Tuesday (I had a day off), I found myself surprised by the rarest of things – a front page housing story. Nope, not asylum seekers jumping the queue into council housing, or a big family in West London claiming 50k in housing benefit. But, a story about homeownership in the Independent and a serious one at that. It was followed-up with coverage by Sky and the BBC.
It seems people are waking up to something aspiring first time buyers have known for a while: if you haven’t got parental help, owning a home for most people is a distant prospect.
House prices and deposits for mortgages are so high that it feels (and indeed is) an unrealistic goal for people to achieve.
We either accept that many people will become renters in the long term and put renting on a more equal footing with owning your own home. That means greater security for tenants and ensuring higher standards, with better ways to enforce tenants’ rights. It also means providing renters with tax-efficient ways to build assets and save in the same way owner occupiers build value in their homes and benefit from prices rises.
Or, we need to do something to keep house prices lower compared to earnings, so younger people can afford them in the future. That means limiting the real-term rises in house value the older generation may be relying on – to fund later care perhaps or provide their pension. It means making homeownership once again the goal of public policy, but a reformed homeownership, which is about a secure place to live and not a financial investment.
In both cases, it’s about transferring wealth from an older generation to a younger one, to those who own assets to those who do not – whether they are housing assets or take a different form.
The problem is what will convince the baby boomer generation to back reforms that do this? Only, I suggest, the realisation that their children will never realise an aspiration which the post-war generation came to take for granted. And that’s why this debate is a good thing, because at least it’s happening beyond the ranks of the housing professionals and creating wider awareness of stark housing choices.