There is a dangerous shortage of affordable housing in this country for council tenants, for private rent and for sale which means people from all walks of life have to go to dramatic extremes to survive. Anyone without £25,000+ tucked away will be well aware how difficult it is to get onto the property ladder at present, albeit government schemes and shared ownership schemes are helping, and the demand outweighing the supply in affordable homes to rent and buy is making life for many increasingly difficult.
It can be easy, and more comfortable, to forget the link between the housing shortage crisis and homelessness, but Shelter have warned that at present every 15 minutes a family find themselves homeless or perilously close to it. Add to that mix the so-called 'Bedroom Tax', with councils having to choose whether or not to evict tenants who can't pay, rising living expenses and the latest round of benefit cuts and it's difficult to imagine the number of people sleeping rough or without a home of their own is going to diminish anytime soon.
A man who wanted to highlight what it means to be homeless at present in his city was Lee Halpin. If you're not familiar with his name, he is a documentary film maker who perished of suspected pneumonia after sleeping rough for three nights in Newcastle. Following in the footsteps of George Orwell, the 26-year-old had planned to spend a week living and sleeping on the streets for research but passed away in a derelict hostel on April 3rd on a night where temperatures dropped to -4.2degrees.
After speaking to a friend of his via twitter, I believe the film is to be finished and it will be interesting to hear the stories he uncovered. Along with this tragic loss of life, it is frightening to think how many people have died on our streets around the UK unnoticed and undocumented.
Another man who is looking at the problem from a more strategic level is George Clarke - known to TV viewers as Restoration Man. The architect and presenter was appointed as a government advisor last year for converting empty buildings into affordable housing. He did such a great job that his area of expertise has now been expanded to new homes and a range of other housing topics.
He said in a recent interview with whathouse.co.uk: "The biggest problem is supply and demand - we are not building enough houses. For as long as there is a massive demand and a massive lack of supply the prices are going to continue to increase. Last year, just 120,000 were built in this country when it should be more like three quarters of a million. The planning system isn't fast enough, there are too many people taking a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) approach and we're not building high enough. Our cities are still relatively low rise compared to many countries around the world. We need to build higher and denser - we need to think more creatively about how we are creating homes...Our system for building houses is antiquated. We still build houses the same way we did years ago and yet we have incredible technology now. A lot of changes are needed."
While the situation with affordable housing doesn't look like it will be resolved any time soon, one piece of positive news for those who are luckily enough to have a small amount of savings is the latest government scheme which was announced in the budget: Help to Buy. It's open to homebuyers (both first-time buyers and home movers) in England who can provide a 5% deposit and is available on homes valued up to £600,000.
Welcomed by the property industry, Help To Buy has created a mixed reaction and was deemed the most controversial part of George Osborne's plan for the year ahead. It was branded risky as the government will guarantee mortgages and give householders fixed rate loans to cover the remaining 15-20% of the deposit requirement. American companies did the same before the 2008 crash and had to be bailed out by the government during the recession. It is also said to be risking a new housing bubble, which Osborne has denied.
But in addition to shared ownership schemes, the latest scheme provides hope for those who thought they had little option but to keep paying continually inflating rent. However, a lot more needs to be done to help the poorer members of society get anywhere near the bottom rung of the property ladder.