Britain’s broken housing market needs radical solutions | Letters

There is no political will to deal with the UK’s housing problems, says Michael Miller. Developers are not part of the solution but part of the problem, writes Keith Howells. Plus letters from Jeremy Beecham, John Rigby, Martin Jeffree and David Simpson

As your report points out, this housing crisis has been obvious for some time, is getting worse and has been largely caused by deliberate political decisions (‘Ordinary’ working families are falling into homelessness trap, 15 December). But many steps could be taken to increase the supply of affordable housing. Here are some: reduce or remove the right-to-buy discount for council houses, increase the term before they can be sold on, and sell them with covenants that prevent their being sold as buy-to-let properties; proceeds of council house sales should go back to councils, which should be allowed to borrow to build replacements; do not introduce right to buy for housing association stock (it damages their economic viability); insist that all privately rented housing is licensed and inspected for habitation fitness; lengthen the term of ensured tenancy; introduce rent controls; more controversially, capital gains higher than a certain percentage on house sales could be taxed and the proceeds used to fund social housing.

If the government truly wished to deal with the housing crisis and its wider social and economic damage – it curbs social mobility for one – they could take steps to do so. But I’m sure they have neither the inclination nor the imagination to do it, largely because it would show up the folly of their neoliberal ideology.
Michael Miller

• Your report (Housing chief resigns over ‘obscene’ bonus, 16 December) tells us a lot about Britain’s broken housing market. When profit is king and venality is rife, which is always, the unregulated free market is incapable of delivering the basic necessity of affordable housing to buy or rent. With their current business model (build executive houses on green spaces for maximum profit), the developers are not part of the solution, but part of the problem. Releasing land for development in the current unregulated climate is a waste of land. Add into the mix the circulating sharks of property speculators, foreign investors and greedy landlords, and all hope for many of affording a place to live vanishes.

In the 50s, I spent the first six years of my life living in a prefabricated house, one of many built to ease the housing crisis. The postwar consensus meant that government thought that the basic needs of its citizens had something to do with running the country. This government needs to get grip on housing, and pronto. Radical ideas and innovative solutions are required. Even though it might run counter to their free-market ideology, more of the same will not do. If UK developers are only interested in building large personal fortunes, then look abroad and regulate.
Keith Howells
Morpeth, Northumberland

• Zoe Williams’ characteristically surgical dissection of what passes for current housing policy (A Christmas story Dickens would struggle to believe, 18 December) omits two largely overlooked issues. In addition to the pitiful numbers and price of what is being built are the facts that space standards are among the lowest in Europe and energy conservation requirements were deliberately reduced by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition.
Jeremy Beecham
Labour, House of Lords

• At the 2010 election housebuilders were major donors to the Conservative party, and in a subsequent budget George Osborne invented help to buy. Then Eric Pickles added his bit of help by letting housebuilders off most of their planning obligations to build affordable housing for rent. With the resultant massive boost to company profits that has followed, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Persimmon shareholders and senior executives now get stratospheric dividends. What’s more surprising is that you don’t highlight the essentially immoral relationships here, which might be seen to lead to political influence and higher corporate and personal reward. Nor is there any evidence that affordable housing has been delivered. An issue on which the public accounts committee should focus its forensic attention?
John Rigby
Much Wenlock, Shropshire

• What do management bonuses mean to the average customer? Persimmon’s CEO will receive a bonus of £110m. Senior staff bonuses will exceed £500m. Persimmon builds approximately 15,000 houses a year. Arguably, therefore, the CEO’s bonus adds at least £7,333 to the price of a house and the senior staff bonuses add £33,333. It is unlikely that the customer would think it money well spent.
Martin Jeffree
Maresfield, East Sussex

• Surely the housebuilding company Persimmon can now afford to run its own help-to-buy scheme.
David Simpson
Datchet, Berkshire

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