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Opinion: Questions, questions

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Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing

Opinion: Questions, questions Opinion: Questions, questions

By David Orr, chief executive, National Housing Federation

Do you think there should be a comprehensive re-evaluation of council tax bands and charges?

Would you like to see a land tax charged for land with planning consent that is not built out? Or perhaps you think that empty ‘investment’ apartments in high value areas should be taxed as though they were fully occupied at market rents, with money collected used to subsidise new affordable homes.

You may believe we are in such a housing crisis that land should be compulsorily purchased and the green belt should have its boundaries redrawn. Or you may think that all of this is game playing and that, on the whole, things should be left as they are.

What’s your view of the right to buy? Is it time it was phased out because it is a transfer of a community asset to private ownership on a more or less random basis? Or is it a great way to ensure that more people can own their home and build some asset wealth? Is like for like replacement credible?

Are you a fan of shared ownership? Do you think we should be fighting hard to rebuild support for social housing? Perhaps you think that housing is purely a private good and that the market should sort it out with no input from government – after all, the politicians almost always get everything wrong, don’t they?

This may feel like a random list of questions but I’m not nearly finished. Do you believe that housing development can lead economic regeneration in low value housing markets? Was the government right to cancel the housing market renewal pathfinder programme, or do you believe it was an act of economic vandalism? Do you despair of us ever investing in ensuring our homes become energy efficient?

There’s much more! Do you think immigration has been critical to our economic success and key to our future economic growth? Or perhaps you feel that our little country is full and that we have no room left for anyone else. Should housing associations have a greater role in delivering health and social care and creating jobs and training, or is this letting the state walk away from its obligations? Should all stock retained councils be required to transfer to housing associations so that they can borrow money to build homes off the public balance sheet or perhaps the government should be more rational about letting them borrow against secure assets and secure income streams?

I hope you get the point. There is no shortage of debate, ideas or political philosophies about how we make things better, all of which will be explored at this month’s annual conference.

Some things, however, are entirely clear. It is clear that we have a housing crisis that took a long time to develop and which will take a long time to ¬ x. It is clear that we had eight million births in the UK between 2001 and 2012 – a new generation of baby boomers. It is clear that the last time we had a boom of this kind the nation was building 300,000 or more homes every year, 180,000 more than it is now. It is clear that these children will need schools – and that they will need homes when they grow up. It is not clear, though, where these homes will come from.

And this is where it becomes quite simple. The Federation is launching its general election campaign on 17 September at our annual conference. It calls for just one thing: that our politicians commit to ending the housing crisis within a generation. Because, actually, that single-minded commitment is all we need. The rest of it – the land, the money and the expertise - is already there.

That’s why our election campaign needs to be visible and noisy. It needs to persuade the country that housing is critical to our future economic success and social resilience. It needs to persuade those who want our votes that those votes depend on their housing policy. It needs us to be braver and bolder in making our case because those of us who work in housing are much better placed to know the answers to all the questions than anyone else.

Ultimately, there’s only one question that really matters. Do we, as a nation, believe that everyone should have a decent and affordable home?

At the last election, housing was invisible and silent. We cannot afford that to be the case this time around. The housing future of our children, of the new baby boomers, depends on us.

This article appears is this month's 24housing magazine, out this Friday (5 September)

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