Of all the political hot potatoes of our times, 'the housing crisis' seems to be one that is set to linger as long as consecutive governments dither over how best to tackle the problem. An enlightening recent survey carried out by insurer Endsleigh may go some way to colouring our views on credible solutions, after they uncovered that around 44,000 habitable homes are lying vacant in the North East alone, (and 693,920 in the whole of the UK).
These figures surely suggest that the dilemma may not rest wholly on the supply-side of the equation. Building properties akin to the property boom of the 30s may help, but this seems slightly myopic given the figure stated above. As an analogy, if our car is broken we don't buy a new one and keep the old one to fix at a later date, thus building an increasingly dysfunctional stock of dilapidated motors.
There are more immediate solutions to getting people into homes, and one controversial move currently being ventured is government handouts to developers and social housing associations to get derelict homes restored and back on the market.
Some £91 million of government money, directed through the Homes and Community Agency, will be spent in England, with £33 million being ploughed into the North.
This could bring 6,000 homes out of dereliction; a creditable figure, but also one that suggests the government sponsored renovation of derelict homes may not be the ideal solution, given that the most pertinent figure of 44,000 already habitable homes will remain unused.
These 44,000 ready made homes seem to be the best target for government resources and vision, and it clearly seems that the market left to its own devices isn't working to resolve the problem - as is so often the case in complicated modern economies.
People are struggling to afford house prices and alternative schemes like the 'Help to Buy' government initiative may only be stoking the fire.
Wages don't seem to be rising in proportion to house prices, meaning buyers are few, and so for the potential seller, buy-to-let presents itself as the most attractive option. This can lead to lengthy developments, land banking, and homes remaining off the market for sustained periods.
We need to get those 44,000 North Eastern unoccupied yet habitable homes back in the hands of owners, and it seems the latest renewal programme may not be the ideal solution. The response to how we best to solve this issue remains clouded.
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