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Capital punishment

Marc Vlessing of developer Pocket, argues London needs action now to solve the deepening housing crisis

February 6, 2013

If the country is in the grip of a housing crisis then London is the epicentre. With Boris Johnson the man of the moment, all eyes are on the Mayor of London’s outline of his housing vision in this week’s speech at the CIH, marking the start of surely the most critical challenge for his second term. The London Evening Standard has been running almost daily headlines about the grim situation in the capital’s housing market, but for a long time most Londoners’ conversations have turned to griping about homes – this is the subject on everyone’s lips.

While the market is imbalanced across the board, the biggest victims are ‘Generation Rent’ who, as the Home Owners Alliance report ‘Death of a Dream’ illustrated, have passed a critical threshold by now making up the majority in London. They are young (the average age of the unassisted first time buyer has passed 37); they are single (an incredible 60% in Islington); and there are going to be more and more of them (the majority of new households in the next two decades) – so they absolutely cannot be ignored.

The reason that they have been is because our politicians and policy makers have for too long had an obsession with either family social housing on one hand, or the top of the unaffordable private market on the other. The ‘squeezed middle’ is where the pain is being felt, but the needs of the ‘intermediate market’ (those who don’t qualify for social housing yet cannot find a deposit for the unaffordable private market) have only recently been taken seriously. There are things that could be done, such as freeing up more public land release for development on the urban brownfield sites which are actually fairly abundant. One powerful signal would be to establish an ‘intermediate’ use-class in housing policy, to recognise the growing social, economic and political importance of this group of people and the particular situation they face, which hasn’t been effectively solved by either the public or private sector yet.

This is not just a problem in our capital. The denial of home ownership to this group poses risks to everyone. It is damaging the UK’s economic competitiveness and longstanding culture of home ownership. It is squeezing older generations, who now face paying for care in older age at the same time as either housing or helping to house their children and grandchildren. It unfairly penalises those who our society and economy depend on, such as the teachers in inner-London’s state schools, who cite housing-related reasons as the number one cause for quitting their jobs. There are many encouraging signs that the Mayor has shown he recognises the problem, a lot is now resting on whether he can push through the solutions and whether the industry can respond to them quickly.

Marc Vlessing,
Co-founder, Pocket – a private developer of affordable housing

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