IT is being hailed as a national emergency. A new landmark report from the Resolution Foundation finds that Britain now has the lowest level of home ownership for 30 years.
Low wages and runaway house prices mean that millions of people don’t have a hope of finding a deposit in order to even contemplate buying a house of their own.
And the most startling finding of all – the North of England is now being hit as hard as London and the South East.
Across Yorkshire, home ownership has fallen – on average – by 10 per cent in the last decade. In South Yorkshire, where I live, just 58.4 per cent of people now own their home. I can see why Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, is indeed calling it a “national emergency”.
Home ownership has long been an indicator of economic progress. When it doesn’t just stall but goes into decline, it is a sign of something rotten at the heart of the economy.
The axis has tilted too far. Recent curbs on the buy-to-let boom are too little, too late. There are responsible investors who have taken the sensible decision to invest in property to provide an income and potential pension.
However, too many of our urban centres are dominated by dilapidated properties bought in bulk at auction by absentee landlords who might never have even seen their “investment”.
It’s these houses and apartments which too many people are renting; not only do they lack security, but their quality of life is severely compromised too.
Defenders of rentals will always point to the continental model. Residents of Paris, for instance, are more likely to live in a rented apartment than own their own little piece of real estate. And to some extent the same is true of London the sheer scale of the place, the transient population and longstanding expensive prices have always meant renting could be the more practical option.
What this new report highlights is that people across the country are renting not by choice, but because they have no choice. It shows that low wages, short term contracts and lack of job security are preventing millions of individuals from gaining the financial security they need to embark upon a mortgage. The average house price in Yorkshire is £152,310. To even set foot on the housing ladder, you need a deposit of at least 10 per cent to put down so would-be buyers must find £15,000 upfront. Government initiatives such as Help-to-Buy only go so far.
And that’s before the banks even fire off a Mortgage Market Review interrogation, a process which makes it exceeding difficult for anyone without impeccable credit history and proven income and outgoings to even embark upon borrowing money to buy a home.
This does not apply just to first-time buyers, but to those looking to move to a bigger home, relocate or even – imagine that – decide to move just for the hell of it. In the middle of selling my old home and buying a new one myself, I’d call it not just a national emergency, but a personal crisis.
This report reflects my own opinion on the matter exactly. I’m beginning to wonder how anyone in this country ever manages to move house at all, such are the hoops sellers and buyers are expected to jump through.
If it’s not the dreaded energy performance certificate, it’s the onerous structural survey.
If it’s not estate agents over-valuing and under-delivering on service, it’s solicitors dragging their feet. And this is not to mention the uncertain cloud which has descended over the housing market thanks to Brexit.
There has never been a better time for the Government to take a serious and in-depth look at the rot which has set in. For too long now, Ministers have been attempting to stick things together with piece-meal ideas designed more to grab the headlines than actually bring about fundamental and sustainable change.
I’d like to see a reassessment of MMR for a start, to make it easier for responsible individuals to seek finance. There should be another look at the “Local Plans” introduced by David Cameron’s government which put the onus on the redevelopment of greenfield sites for new development, coupled with a proper programme to bring the thousands of homes stood empty back into use.
I would also support a thorough reassessment of the whole process of buying, selling, exchanging and completing on property in England and Wales. More than ever, it is riven with greed, ineptitude and chance.
In my ideal world, individuals would sell their homes to property companies, who would then sell them onto buyers like any other commodity, thus cutting out the precarious stalemate that is the “property chain”. I could go on. So much needs airing and ironing out once and for all.
One thing is certain though. If things stay the same, the dream of home ownership will remain just that for millions of British people. A dream. And for those stuck with renting, with no roots, no security and no power over their surroundings, their home will never be where the heart is.