Lord Best has a plan. Housing’s great crossbench advocate has come up with a new strategy that will, in his words, “solve all the country’s problems”.
Here’s what the peer proposes: building 100,000 retirement, supported housing and extra-care homes a year. The trickledown effect will, in one handy flourish, pull Britain out of double-dip recession while also solving the country’s acute and growing housing crisis.
The boost to the construction industry would, by his calculations, create between 300,000 and 500,000 new jobs. “That’s the engine of growth,” he told a gathering of housing and care providers in London this week. “Whenever we’ve had a recession, it was the construction industry [that got us] out of it. If the money goes into housing, it goes into jobs – and into making people’s lives better.”
Building 100,000 homes designed especially for the needs of an ageing population would also help to house 350,000 other people. By selling their under-occupied large family homes and downsizing to smaller, specialist properties, our older people could help a whole generation of potential first-time buyers who are priced out of the market.
Lord Best said many of these homes would have been untouched and undecorated for up to 35 years, and so would sell at the lower end of average market value and be affordable to families struggling through recession. “Nearly all of the 7.8m people of pensionable age have more than two spare rooms, making way for 350,000 family [members] with children.”
So does the model stand up, or is it a rose-tinted oversimplification of a more complex economic and social system?
The first stumbling block is the finances; where does the original investment to build the 100,000 properties a year come from, especially when the days of healthy public subsidy for housing are behind us? The construction industry is in lockdown, afraid of risk and rejecting too much speculative development even where evidence of local need is overwhelming.
One argument suggests that public funding could be found if health and social care budgets and strategies were pooled and rationalised, finding savings where preventative healthcare and support for older people generates efficiencies within the NHS. This is why specialist housing providers such as Anchor have been campaigning for a dedicated minister for older people who can consider how health, housing, social care and other services fit together.
Even if the subsidy was found, what about the cultural barriers? In the UK, attitudes towards homes are rarely practical, despite our predilection for using property as an investment portfolio rather than as the shelter it was designed to provide. Retired residents who have nurtured a family and watched them move on struggle to leave those memories behind….
There would be other practicalities: planning spats over what type of housing is needed, where and how it should look; diverting funding from the vote-winning NHS to other services to support growing numbers of extra care residents; finding the money for investment in training and skills for those 500,000 new employees.
Its a good plan but rather incomplete without
a) a plan to ensure mortgages can be granted to those purchasing the freed up stock – rather than at present only new homes
b) developing them as part of mixed and balenced communities, otherwise could simply worsen the dangerous aging population balence of many areas where there is a lack of housing for young people and older people are buying up the existing stock.
It would be better if this plan ran in parallel with plans for producing social housing and housing benefit funding as we have blogged about on here many times