Saturday, 20 March 2010

Invest to tackle the housing crisis

Shelter, the housing charity, has produced a league table of local authorities. The table ranks councils by how good they are at getting affordable homes built. Birmingham ranks 149th out of 323 councils in England, and 17th out of 30 councils in the West Midlands. The verdict on the city has to be that it could do a lot better.

The housing waiting list is approaching 20,000 households and Shelter says that almost 5,000 new affordable homes are needed every year. But in 2008/9 Birmingham delivered only 20% of the affordable homes needed and just 233 homes were provided by housing associations – the main source of affordable housing. 

Shelter says that there are things councils can do, if they make housing a priority. This includes things like selling council land at below market prices to be developed for affordable housing, rather than taking the highest offer. 

Housing is a basic human need but our housing system is clearly failing. The average house price in Birmingham last year was £127,000. To buy that average home, Shelter calculates that you would need an annual income of £33,539. But the average income was just £20,198 a year. 

Most people are simply priced out of the housing market. It is a gap that local councils should be filling. Even within the current failed system there is room for improvement. But there needs to be a radical break at national level with a policy that has put an end to the building of council houses, and gambled everything on the private sector. 

Public investment in massive house building programme would go a long way to tackling the housing crisis and at the same time help to stop the economy plunging back into recession.