Five solutions to the UK’s housing crisis

The housing crisis facing Britain is “worse” than most people believe, the Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove has said.

Gove was responding to questions regarding the UK’s record-high net migration levels when he made the admission, telling Times Radio that successive governments “have not built enough homes overall for generations”. He added that increased migration had put “more pressure on housing” but insisted the government would “hit its target of a million new homes in this parliament”, said The Independent.

The UK’s housing shortage has been a long-standing problem, with “no coherent housing strategy” in place since 1997, wrote Stuart Baillie in The Times, and an “affordability crisis” has stemmed from the lack of new homes being built.

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The housing crisis will be a “key issue in the run-up to the next general election“, Baillie added, but when housing becomes a “political issue” it “inevitably leads to short-term solutions”.

Here The Week looks at five possible solutions to Britain’s housing crisis.

Build more homes 

It is “easier said than done” to simply build more homes, as “successive governments will attest”, said Gavin Haines at Positive News. But an “extensive range of barriers” stand in front of potential new-builds, from “environmental factors to affordability”, wrote estate agents Knight Frank.

Beginning with “more funding to planning departments hollowed out by years of cuts” would be a “good place to start”, added Haines. Planning and development is the “biggest obstacle to building new homes”, said Knight Frank, and finding ways to “overcome planning barriers” would speed up the process of building new homes.

Likewise, being able to obtain usable land, including in the green belt, would make building simpler. The protected green belt has “more than doubled in size in the last 40 years”, and now needs to be “part of the conversation when it comes to house building”, said Alex Preston in The Telegraph.

Simplify the buying and selling process

Much of Britain has an “outmoded property buying regime” that requires a “continental-style overhaul”, wrote Eir Nolsøe in The Telegraph. It now “typically takes more than four months” for prospective owners to complete the purchase of a property, which is “nearly twice as long as 10 years ago”.

Creating a simpler approach to buying and selling a house would stop the “inefficient use of resources” that the process currently uses and ultimately let people “easily follow opportunities” and get on the housing ladder.

Clamp down on second homes

The level of second-home ownership is a “growing problem” and there is an “Airbnb effect” happening in the UK, said Haines. Landlords are now choosing to “shun long-term leases for more lucrative, short-term holiday lets”. 

Second homes “eat into housing supply”, pushing up prices, said The Big Issue, and “unoccupied homes can turn towns and villages into ghost towns” in seasonally popular areas. The government has attempted to hand “the ability to control the number of second homes and holiday lets” to local authorities, including some areas putting tax levies on second homes and regulating Airbnb properties.

Incentivise downsizing

Getting older people to downsize could be “part of the solution” to ease Britain’s housing crisis, said Camilla Cavendish in the Financial Times. There would be a greater impact by “shuffling the pack of housing stock” instead of building new houses, which “barely make a dent on the total”, she added.

There are plenty of personal benefits to downsizing, including cheaper utility bills and the potential to release equity from your home, but barriers including the “complexity of the transaction” and resenting “paying stamp duty on the new purchase” often put people off. Put the elderly “‘last-time’ buyers on an equal footing with first-time buyers”, Cavendish argued, which could “liberate larger homes”, adding that “downsizing could be a win-win for all generations”.

Co-housing

With such a dearth of affordable housing, co-living could provide people with “autonomy, a built-in community, and a stable place in the world”, said Ellie Sivins in The Big Issue. The idea would see residents living “separately in their own homes” without giving up “any financial or domestic privacy”, but they would receive “stability and support”, including things like “childcare, chores, shared items, resources or DIY skills”, from their fellow residents. 

The idea is already happening in some places in the UK as well as across Europe, where people have their own living quarters but often share areas such as “communal kitchens, laundry rooms, playrooms, and even co-working spaces”.

Co-living is just “one solution” to the housing crisis, says Sivins, but provides a solution away from a “one-size-fits-all approach to housing”.