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Building more homes is not going to help if people can't afford to buy them

All they are trying to do is the right thing. But this is the reality of trying to save up for a house.

They work hard each month. They’d love to put something aside to save up for a home.

But to live where there are good jobs, they have to spend so much on high rents that there’s nothing left over.

So they can never save enough to break out of the cycle. No wonder they are frustrated.

New figures show how bad things have got. The Institute for Fiscal Studies says four out of ten people in the 25 to 34-year-old age bracket couldn’t afford the mortgage on even the cheapest house in their area, even if they had a deposit.

The gap between prices and normal people’s earnings is just too big, because since 1970 house prices in Britain have gone up more than in any other developed country.

Expensive housing has meant that the proportion of young people on middle incomes who own their own home has collapsed: down from nearly two thirds 20 years ago, to just over a quarter today.

We have to turn this round and restore home ownership.

Many people feel they can’t get on and start a family until they have a nest of their own. Their lives are on hold.

Politically it’s vital too. If young people don’t feel they’ve got a chance to get on in life, they are more likely to gamble and vote for extreme, disastrous politicians like Jeremy Corbyn.

Even younger people who are earning decent wages feel squeezed, because they face a combination of high house prices and chunky repayments on their student loans.

The Prime Minister is acutely aware of this. That’s why she’s set up a review of student fees, and moved to make housing her Number 1 priority other than Brexit.

Hence her announcement of massive funding to build more affordable housing for people on lower incomes. But there’s much more to do.

Building more homes for people to buy is a big part of the answer. Since 1970 we have built only half as many houses as France each year, and so house prices have gone up twice as fast.

Some people say building more means we must tear up the planning system and concrete over the countryside.

But we know that approach won’t work. When Gordon Brown was PM we tried setting each area massive housing targets. All those targets built was resentment. We need a smarter approach to tackle the reasons people often oppose new housing.

We build in the wrong places. Instead of tacking on new estates to existing towns and villages without enough new school places or parking places, let’s get back into the business of building planned new cities and towns.

Let’s build upwards in our city centres with taller buildings, rather than just sprawling cities outwards.

What drives people mad is seeing developers make massive windfall profits when they get planning permission, but then not sharing those benefits with local residents.

Imagine instead, if new houses being built next door always paid for people in neighbouring streets to get cheap homes for their children to buy. People would feel much better about development.

Restoring the dream of home ownership isn’t just about building more houses though.

We need to think about the balance of rented properties and home ownership. Over the last ten years we’ve built many new homes each year, but the number of homeowners fell. How come?

The reason is that the number of properties being snapped up by buy-to-let landlords has grown faster than we have built new ones.

Don’t get me wrong. Landlords, who have themselves worked hard, weren’t doing anything wrong.

But if we want to get home ownership growing again we need to encourage savers to put their money into shares and into growing businesses rather than just bidding up the price of houses.

 

The think tank Onward proposed this week that we should offer a tax break to landlords who sell their homes to their tenants.

This “Chance to Buy” would be a bit like the Right to Buy Margaret Thatcher introduced for council tenants. It could be paid for by tax changes which would discourage people from buying up new buy-to-let properties.

So fewer landlords, more homeowners.

Young people just want the same chances previous generations enjoyed. So let’s build more by building smarter, and give a new generation the chance to buy a home.


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