Politicians and property sector must act to banish homelessness

Ric Blenkharn, Bramhall Blenkharn Architects, www.brable.com

Homelessness must be tackled by politicians and the property community, says Ric Blenkharn
Homelessness must be tackled by politicians and the property community, says Ric Blenkharn

Over the Christmas period there has been significant media coverage regarding homelessness and the need for decent housing for all.

The tragic events of Grenfell have particularly highlighted the acute need for affordable housing, most notably in London and the south east. So how do we solve this crisis, which has been with us for some considerable time, not only in this country, but also across the globe?

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In fact, former American President Jimmy Carter recently wrote: “In order to create true, sweeping changes in providing decent housing, we must begin to talk about this human necessity as a basic human right. This is not something that families around the world can only wish to have, not something that only the luckiest can hope to realise, but something that everyone should have an opportunity to achieve.”

In 1945 poor housing was one of the five great evils identified by Beveridge and Nye Bevan who took up the challenge to put the right to a rental home at the forefront of government policy. The post-war council estates were planned as a welfare right and provided high quality rented housing for all sections of the community. Bevan described his ideal council development as a village with a cross section of classes and wealth.

Yet we still have a housing crisis to fix. Homelessness is increasing, with rough sleeping up by 30 per cent in a year and homeless families are being offered homes hundreds of miles away from their relatives and schools on a “take it or leave it” basis.

The charity Crisis notes “Homelessness is devastating, dangerous and isolating. On average, homeless people die at just 47 years old. People become homeless for lots of different reasons. There are social causes of homelessness, such as a lack of affordable housing, poverty and unemployment; and life events that cause individuals to become homeless.”

House prices across England and Wales are at a record high, forcing more and more people into the insecure and increasingly unaffordabe private rented sector. But more than that, tackling the housing crisis is a moral imperative. The right to a decent home, regardless of income or family wealth, needs to be at the centre of all our thinking.

John Kay-writing in the Financial Times in November 2017 asked the question, “So who should take the lead in expanding house building? The least bad solution is probably to give the job to local authorities, with funding by central government borrowing. Municipalities are probably best placed and incentivised to seek out both greenfield and brownfield sites, many of which are to be found in the public sector itself. And to face down residents who want houses built anywhere so long as it is not anywhere near them.”

If we are to see a major uplift in the construction of new homes, then tough decisions need to be made, which will include the building of homes in the face of NIMBY opposition. After all, we have a duty to think of our children and grandchildren, who have not been privy to house inflation benefits of the past 40 years and find it increasingly difficult to rent, let alone purchase their own home.

As we enter a New Year, let us do so with purpose, so that all those involved in decision making, designing and constructing homes, work together to ensure that everyone has a decent home. This includes politicians, designers, planners, contractors and investors.