More than just houses, we need to build places that people want to live in

It was encouraging to see housing taking such a prominent place in political debate recently, when Ed Miliband announced Labour’s plans to build new towns and garden cities to help meet our housing need.

After years of being overlooked, the housing crisis is becoming more of a priority.

But solving the crisis requires more than just building new houses. We need greater local coordination and planning control if we are to respond sufficiently.

Housing cannot be isolated from a complex web of other issues. Health, as well as economic and social wellbeing, are all closely intertwined with housing.

For instance, these wider issues can profoundly affect people’s lives and can create difficulties for social tenants paying the rent on time. Social landlords are beginning to adapt so they can better support tenants when they experience these difficulties, as LGiU has outlined in a recent report.  

This complexity demands locally led solutions, an aspect of policy formation that often seems overlooked at the national level.  While the competing commercial and social demands being made on social landlords puts strain on resources, the solutions rely on good local knowledge and an understanding of needs.

Local authorities can have a positive impact in this area, and it is encouraging to see this recognised at the national level. In his speech Miliband called for local councils to be given greater freedom to build more homes to meet demand and called for greater local powers to combat land-banking.

He also praised the work some councils are taking to address poor standards in the private rented sector,something the LGiU has covered recently.  With greater freedom for local government, it seems likely councils could go even further in addressing our housing needs.

The housing crisis is not just a case of high prices and inadequate supply and it is not enough to just build more houses. We need to build places that people actually want to live in. This requires coordinated and joined up thinking that can only be done at the local level.

Taking local circumstances into account is a crucial element of good housing policy, allowing us to tackle both the immediate problems of today and the longer-term, complex problems we face in the future.

    1. Something that is important to note in allocating social housing is how we view the increase in demand and the dynamics of the waiting list. There is a danger that we simply accept this demand as a fact of life. Three years ago, I took a team of allocations staff through 35 cases at random that came into service. We took each case, and did what was necessary to deal with the issues that person or family had. The result was that 80% of demands were sorted. But the most shocking result, was that out of those 35, we only needed to house 3 in social housing! Extrapolate that to encompass the whole council service and the numbers suddenly look very different.
      John Mortimer,

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