Campaigners call for northern housing body to tackle to north-south divide

A new pan-northern body should be established to promote a bold, over-arching vision for housing, campaigners have urged, as the North struggles to keep pace with the rest of the UK.

House prices could go up in 2020. Credit: Rui Vieira/PA Wire
House prices could go up in 2020. Credit: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

Fears are growing that the northern economy will be stifled unless housing funding is urgently addressed, as only two-thirds of the homes needed in Britain are built each year and most funding is allocated to the South.

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Homes for the North, an organisation made up of 17 housing associations in the region, said the North was “starved of investment” and called for an “overt target” for spending.

There were just 581 new social homes built in Yorkshire and the Humber in the 2018/19 financial year and 2,581 homes for affordable rent created, where rents are capped at 80 per cent of the local private renting market. This is despite more than 135,000 people on the waiting list for a social home in the region.

The problem was particularly acute in some of the region’s smaller cities and towns.

For example, in Wakefield, the waiting list for social housing rose by nearly a quarter last year to 25,480 people, while only an extra 94 new affordable rent homes were created.

The Government’s annual target is to build 300,000 new homes – but fewer than 200,000 homes were built in 2017-18.

The need for more housing will only grow with the UK’s population expected to rise by a further two million people by 2030.

Homes England is the organisation responsible for distributing funds to the areas where homes are needed the most. However, in London, the funding has been devolved to the Greater London Authority to manage at a local level – something that the Homes for the North’s chairwoman, Carol Matthews, said should be made available to the North.

She said: “Why can’t (funding) be carved out from Homes England and become Homes North? It’s about ensuring we develop the homes that support the infrastructure the country needs. If we do that, the North becomes more productive for the whole of the UK economy – and a strong North is good for the South.”

The combination of low incomes and high private rents is one factor pushing people into homelessness, official figures show.

Government data released last week showed 7,070 people in Yorkshire were assessed as homeless or threatened with homelessness between April and June this year – one in five of these people had home from the private rented sector.

The number of children who spent Christmas homeless in the UK was at a 13-year high, experts have predicted, with more than 7,000 children across the country in emergency temporary accommodation such as hostels and B&Bs, a 51 per cent rise in the last five years.

The Government promised a number of measures for housing in the opening of Parliament last week, including improving the safety of high-rise buildings and making it easier for renters to move their deposit to a new property.

But Daniel Tomlinson, a research and policy analyst at think-tank the Resolution Foundation, said: “With low-income private renters spending an average of half of their income on rent, it’s clear there’s a need for far more social and affordable housing right across Yorkshire, and the country as a whole.”

Dan Wilson Craw, a director of the campaign group, Generation Rent, added: “Thousands of renters are paying more than they can afford for unsuitable homes in the private rental market, and if they rely on housing benefit often struggle to find a landlord who will take them on.

“Building more social homes would directly benefit renters on low incomes with decent places to live at cheaper rents than they’re currently paying, but also, by boosting supply, help to reduce rents for renters in the wider market.”