I do a bit of moonlighting on the blogging page of the MJ, with more of a local government focus. Here’s my latest post for them:
Is it a council’s job to promote homeownership?
A report by the National Housing Federation yesterday argued that the rate of homeownership is likely to fall to the levels last seen in the mid-eighties.
The lack of homes, high prices and difficulty of getting a mortgage (even if you’re on a good salary) is not exactly fresh news to many thousands of first-time buyers. Homeownership has already been falling for a number of years now after its peak in 2003 of 70%.
Should councils care about this? At first glance, no. They have statutory duties to the homeless and those in housing need and have a planning system to administer. They have more than enough on their plates providing sufficient affordable homes, finding temporary accommodation for those who need it and trying to keep tabs on the less scrupulous private landlords in their area.
But in the past councils have underpinned Britain’s high levels of homeownership. Right-to-buy (for better or worse) vastly increased the number of those who owned their own home and spread ownership far further down the income scale. Councils used to provide mortgages to their residents – the hurdle which is tripping up most of today’s first-time buyers. Many also used their council housing to help people buy. They sound dated now, but ‘young married couples schemes’ gave time-limited tenancies and social rents to young couples to help them save for a deposit.
The rising homeownership of the past was enabled by high and sustained levels of house building. It’s no accident that the highest levels of private house building went side-by-side with the highest levels of council house building. Prior to the recession, we got used to the idea that affordable housing was a ‘by-product’ of successful and high value private development, through Section 106 agreements and the like. Through the sixties and seventies large council house building programmes supported large-scale development by private enterprise – providing the industry with a certain stream of work and increasing capacity in the building industry.
If it becomes a goal of public policy again to increase the levels of homeownership in society, the government will need to remember that it was local councils that had a key role in making 70% levels possible.
Tony also blogs at Red Brick.