The heart of the problem

I tend to see everything in the housing system as interconnected. This is not to say that I’m a hippy who believes in the healing power of crystals. It’s because I see the impacts of a single, massive failure to provide enough, decent homes at prices people can afford: from the renters who come to us for help, facing eviction because their landlord has fallen into mortgage arrears, to the families languishing in grim bed and breakfast accommodation because of the dire shortage of affordable housing.

We know that prevention is better that cure, so Shelter tries to help people before they hit crisis point wherever possible. That means paying attention to problems further upstream from the acute problems of homelessness. It means advising people on managing debt and household budgets; it means campaigning for more homes in every tenure to reduce pressure in the system.

At Shelter we try to help everyone who suffers at the hands of our failing housing system, including those who are not actually homeless. And while our focus is always on those who need our help the most, we will never ensure that everyone has a home unless we reform the whole system – and that means the housing market too.

Our housing system is utterly dysfunctional, and this has devastating impacts on millions of people’s lives, and our collective social and economic health.

The housing system is so big, so complex, and so messed up that any serious attempt to fix it has to address the problems at the centre of the system, not just the periphery. Those sleeping rough are experiencing the very sharp end of a much bigger failure that reaches right across our politics, our economy and even our culture. And the heart of that failure is the mainstream, owner-occupied housing market itself.

Although falling as a percentage, owner occupation still houses 64% of England’s population – and even more of us aspire to it. We can argue about why ownership is so popular, and whether it should be – but there is no denying that it is.

Not all homeowners are rich either: in 2000 it was estimated that half of all those living in poverty were homeowners, most of them over 60 years old, many living with fuel poverty and appalling disrepair. So we should care about owners too.

More importantly, problems in the mainstream market have serious consequences for people in every part of the housing system, not just frustrated wannabe first time buyers. High house prices feed through into higher rents, as more people are forced into the private rented sector. The more better-off households there are competing for rented homes, the higher rents get and the harder it is for those on more modest incomes to find a home.

Worse, as the private rented sector grows to house 9 million people, more of those with the least market power will be at the mercy of the minority of rogue landlords and rip off letting agencies that prey on those with least choice. A generation shut out of ownership also creates new opportunities for exploitation, and means more people facing homelessness as a result of the loss of a private let.

Housebuilding firms follow the owner occupied market closely: when it fails, they shut up shop, worsening our chronic housing shortage.

House prices also dictate the prices developers can pay for land, and so impacts on affordable housing provision. As viability gets squeezed by high land costs it becomes harder for affordable housing providers to compete for sites, or for planning authorities to get affordable housing through Section 106 agreements. To try to meet the gap, social rents get pushed up too – in fact they have risen faster than house prices or private rents in recent years (though there are other reasons for this too).

Ultimately, the failure of the homeownership system means a growing disparity between the housing haves and the have nots, which will be exacerbated via inheritance down through the generations. It means a generation growing up with no hope of secure, affordable accommodation when they retire – adding to the demographic welfare timebomb. As the recent Strategic Society Centre report made clear, the housing disaster is setting up the collapse of our pensions system as well – not to mention social care. We literally cannot go on like this.

If we are to have a hope in hell of fixing these problems we absolutely have to address the causes of them as well as the symptoms. Yes, we urgently need public investment in more truly affordable homes for rent, and proper support for those that fall through the increasingly threadbare safety net. Yes, we must reform private renting to make it fit for the new generations of families growing up in it. But yes we must also provide a step change in the supply of quality, affordable, homes that ordinary people can buy.

  1. The heart of the problem is this ‘country is obsessed with home ownership’. It has driven up house prices for the past decade.

    Shelter vilify landlords, for current high house prices, but one only needs to look back in the 1980s, when we had both ‘regulated rents’ and an absence ‘buy to let landlords’, yet we still saw a 400% increase in house prices.

    The best time for buying houses, was in the mid 90s, when people were ‘disinterested’ in buying homes. A lot of homes had been repossessed and people were not interested in property.

    By the beginning of 2000, we were seeing a frenzy in the housing market. Inexperienced buyers were paying silly prices, which only served to put prices up, for the next lot of buyers. The housing crash of the late 80s and the recession were quickly forgotten. People did n’t care they were taking such risks.

    Shelter should have told the banks to stop throwing money in to housing and to calm down. It would have made life easier for today generation. It is a bit late to complain about high house prices and affordability.

    We have a housing bubble. It is going to take a long time to get fixed, in the mean time a generation will have to wait.

    Building more homes, will not solve the problem. In Spain, they had a housing building frenzy. It did n’t bring prices down. In the 90s, you could buy a apartment in the Costas for 40,000. Today you would be lucky if you got something for 150,000.

    A dull and boring housing market is good for everyone….

    I do not think building social housing is the right answer. Firstly, council and housing associations are wasteful of money, they build overpriced homes, which are of poor quality. Secondly, such a policy only encourages bad behaviour, such as single mothers.

    I believe, the next generation of young people should be helped (e.g. under 27s). They should be given social housing for a period of 2 years, so long as they have a full time job. The main intent is to give people who have a reasonable chance to save for a deposit for a house and get on the property ladder. Any system should not discourage extra earning e.g. doing overtime.

  2. Shelter continue to vilify landlord. Why would a tenant respect a landlord property, when Shelter continue to campaign in such a manner?

    We have had nice properties returned to us in slum conditions, dirty, wrecked, scummy and greasy. It is not right, when this is happening.

    Shelter want Landlords to prosected if they rent out properties in such conditions, but turn a blind eye, when tenants return properties in wrecked conditions. Is this playing fair?

    When was the last time you heard of a tenant being prosecuted for wrecking a landlord property?

    Shelter campaigned for the deposit protection scheme. Shelter claimed landlords were not handing back deposit. Many landlords were upset with Shelter, because it was not entirely truthful. In reality, many tenant were not paying the last month’s rent, so there was no deposit when the tenant left. What incentive was there for the tenant to keep the property clean or look after the place? None!!!

    Whilst there are penalties for landlords who don’t put deposit into a deposit protection scheme. There are not penalties for tenant who withhold the last month’s rent. Is this playing fair?

    if properties were left in better condition, it would stop rents going up and it would stop landlord wasting money on unnecessary repairs, or landlords having to other non-vital maintenance.

    Shelter think it is a victimless crime. But Shelter forget that a new tenant will have to move in there. A Landlord can do so much to fix property, but you can’t eradicate all signs that a scummy tenant live there before. This is the point which is missed by Shelter. For the sake of helping good tenant, Shelter need to work with landlords.

    We all want the same things, properties in top condition.

  3. If Shelter don’t like landlords. Why don’t Shelter campaign positively such as tax incentives for landlords who sell-up?.

    Landlords have to pay capital gain tax on any sale of property. It is only fair, so landlord can put the “same” money into some other investment or business.

    Home owners who sell up at profit, don’t need to pay tax.

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