If local businesses are to drive us towards economic recovery, we must build more affordable homes
By David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation
3 June 2013
Grim economic forecasts, dreary unemployment figures and dropping wages. Never before have British businesses been needed to ride to the rescue, create jobs in our local communities and drive our economic recovery forward.
But they are being held hostage, like the aspirations of millions of people around the country, by our housing crisis.
If there are no jobs in your area, the Government says, you need to get on your bike and move to another part of the country. Employment opportunities are there if people look hard enough.
But in many parts of England where these jobs exist, the wages barely cover housing costs. Local businesses are worried, and that’s very bad news.
We commissioned a ComRes survey that found four out of five employers said the lack of affordable housing was choking economic growth, with 70% warning it was affecting their ability to attract and keep workers.
It’s a cruel joke. You’re willing to move to another part of England for work - but the local house prices are astronomical and you have to stay put.
For others it’s the reverse: you have a job, but rents are high and rising faster than wages. There’s cheaper housing in the neighbouring town, but it adds an hour to your commute and costs more money on fuel or public transport.
Many say it’s better to be in work than out. Quite right. Jobs can give people a sense of purpose; a feeling of achievement after a hard day’s graft.
But nothing demoralises more than toiling every month to find what’s left over after rent just about pays for the water and a grocery shop. The gas bill will have to wait. Forget about new shoes for the kids.
And it’s not just misery for families around the country. Last year 10,000 or so extra working people a month claimed housing benefit to help pay their rent. With private rents set to go up by 32% by 2018 because of rising interest rates and house prices, this figure will grow – and the Government’s benefit bill with it.
Our hearts sink when a British manufacturer moves abroad, culling local jobs and ruining livelihoods. Bitterness and anger swiftly follow.
Sadly, this could happen more often: more than half of employers told us that the availability of affordable housing would be important if they were moving to another area or expanding.
Look at the Wensleydale Creamery in North Yorkshire – the producers of Wallace & Gromit’s favourite cheese, no less – an example of a local British business which struggles due to the high local cost of homes.
The Creamery tries to hire local staff and invest in the local community whenever possible. But with the lack of affordable homes, it’s finding it very difficult. Our reluctant hero and his canine companion would no doubt cry “Yes to more homes!” – not only to save their beloved Wensleydale cheese but their neighbour’s job, too.
If we don’t build more housing people can afford for the right prices in the right places, employers will simply move away – potentially out of the country – taking with them desperately needed local jobs. Communities will be on their knees.
We need at least 240,000 new homes each year, but we’re building less than half that number. Some will point out we can’t afford this scale of house building, but they’re mistaken. For every affordable home built, 2.3 people find a job, generating £108,000 in the wider economy.
For all the soaring hyperbole of recent months, the Government has still not come up with a long-term solution to properly address our broken housing market.
House prices continue to rise, Help to Buy has been globally discredited, and housing associations, who can build these homes faster and better than anybody, are sitting on their hands because there’s still no commitment on how they will be able to borrow money to build beyond the next election.
It’s time to take matters into our own hands. Not many people realise, but the decisions about housing are being made locally, by local councillors. But they won’t act unless people tell them they want more homes in their community.
That’s why we launched a campaign, Yes to Homes, that shows people and businesses that want more affordable homes how to get their voices heard.
So the power actually rests with you. Join our campaign and find out how you can make your councillors listen.