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Stevenson: 'We will always need publicly funded housing'

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Our poor record on housebuilding is directly related to the withdrawal of public finance, says the head of Sheffield School of Architecture, Fionn Stevenson

We need 250,000 new homes for the next 15 years if we are to address our growing population and housing needs. For last two decades, we have been barely building half that amount each year and this can be directly attributed to the withdrawal of public finance for housing over the same period.

While existing alternative models of housing such self-build, co-operative, custom build, and collaborative are gaining interest from various political parties, and will clearly fulfil the needs of some aspirants, there should be no illusion that these models can automatically fill the huge housing deficit that exists at present. We will always need publicly financed housing as well as market housing. At the moment we are heading in the opposite direction with all the major parties having been complicit in reducing public investment in housing.

The latest policy statement from the Conservative party on housing now suggests that they would like all housing association tenants to have the right to buy their homes at a vastly discounted price. Claims that the selling off of our last guaranteed genuinely affordable housing for rent would finance new housing for rent are disingenuous. If housing associations lose their stock, they cannot refinance new housebuilding via the private sector, as they will have reduced assets to raise loans against.

At the same time, private rented housing is no solution to the housing crisis unless there is a genuine commitment by politicians from all parties to destigmatise the concept of renting by providing real long term security for tenants. This means ten or even fifteen year leases as is common in Germany, not just a few years as currently offered by the Labour party. Equally, tenants need to know that landlords will take care of their property. This will need far tougher regulation in the private sector, which is notorious for poor housing conditions in relation to rented properties. Students are hit particularly hard in this respect, with little or no control over the environmental conditions they live in.

The other big challenge facing politicians is to seriously tackle climate change, which requires the mass retrofitting of existing homes to save energy, as well making all homes more resilient in the face of increasing storms, droughts and floods. This requires far more investment than is currently being made available by the government for housing. We have the knowledge for how to improve homes, we just lack the political will.

These three issues - building more homes, revitalising the rented sector and dealing with climate change – all require rather more joined up thinking than the current half-hearted piecemeal policy offerings from the major parties which are on offer. They call for renewed commitment to improving our housing, using public funding, raised by taxation and enforced by regulation. The housing crisis cannot be solved on a voluntary basis and the market is not working.

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