In praise of the housing that dares not speak its name...

At last housing is at the centre of a general election campaign.

The problem is, the suggestions so far are well-meant but essentially flawed policies reforming one of the few parts of the housing market that is actually performing well.

I’ve already made clear in a past Industry View that I think private landlords need to stand up and voice their opposition to wrong-headed rent controls and fee bans.

I’m not telling them to shout “I’m as mad as hell and not going to take any more of it” but a loud “Stop picking on me ... at least I’m providing a home for somebody” would be a start.

So I’m disappointed that politicians who have at last discovered housing is important have chosen to have a pop at the private rented sector.

But dismissing politicians’ criticism is the easy part. And to be honest, it does not look good for an industry to simply say ‘No’ to change - that way, bad reputations are created.

So what would I really like politicians to do? Well, at the risk of being dismissed as a 1960s leftie throwback, I’d like them to build - and build publicly-funded council housing.

I’m not suggesting this for political or ideological reasons. It would be a clever trick for the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats to stand the country’s deficit on its head and bring back council housing - creating a remarkable, unexpected divide from the Labour Party.

My reasoning is simple.

There are now 4.5m on social housing waiting lists. The Home Builders’ Federation, representing around 160 private-sector developers, says that even after the recent increase in private house building, a minimum of 200,000 new homes a year (public or private) are required in England alone between now and 2026 to meet predicted demand. The latest government figures for England, released in December and applying to the 12 months to the end of September 2014, show a healthy 17 per cent rise in starts. However, even that takes the total number of starts to only 139,500 across both the private sector and housing associations.

Completions in the 12 months to September 2014 hit only 117,070 and although that was eight per cent higher than a year earlier, it’s still nowhere near the target.

Which means, surely, that even with private builders building again and even with a reformed planning system, the shortfall between demand and supply will continue to grow.

A long-term programme of public house building would have clear benefits. Housing waiting lists would reduce; unemployment from other sectors would be offset; skilled craft apprenticeships would return for school- and college-leavers; councils would be empowered to do something positive for communities; and if such a move came from, say, the Conservatives, their image would be softened from ‘cutters’ to ‘creators’.

This public sector house building programme would not interfere with the private market.

I am not suggesting subsidised rents nor am I advocating 21st century council housing as a return to the ghettoes of the past.

Instead, this would be housing constructed on secondary sites unattractive to existing developers who favour prime locations; and these would not be the city centre locations becoming increasingly attractive to Build To Rent institutionally-funded developments.

These would be secondary sites with market rents which, because of location and property specification, would be lower than those in most other parts of the market - thus making them affordable for those unable to purchase or rent from the current private sector.

And if Right To Buy continues into the future, these new council properties would become eligible and so, eventually, enter the private market.

Mad? Not at all. Unlikely? Of course.

But those of us who oppose attacks on the private rental sector, and lucky enough to be beneficiaries of the past 30 years of capital appreciation on the sales side, have a responsibility to come up with new ideas to help solve Britain’s housing shortage.

This is mine. What’s yours?

This blog first appeared on the Industry Views section of Estate Agent Today.

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