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Coronavirus Is Our Opportunity To Fix Our Broken Housing System

By Greg Beales

Every week our scientists have learned a little more about the virus that has locked down our society, our economy, and cost so many lives. But just as the nature of the health crisis slowly becomes clear, so too is the nature and scale of the economic impact.

New research, carried out by Savills for Shelter, adds greatly to the sum of knowledge about what is happening and what will happen. It provides stark context for the prime minister’s “build, build, build” speech. It reveals just how much the lockdown recession is spreading into our housing system and, if we do not act, what the cost will be now and for future generations.

For many of us, our homes have been our places of refuge in this crisis. By staying at home we have protected ourselves and others, so it’s perhaps a sad irony that the crisis itself will mean far fewer homes are built. At worst, Savills’ research shows more than 300,000 new homes could be lost over the next five years, with the greatest fall coming this financial year.

Unless the government intervenes, a paltry 4,300 social rent homes could be delivered in this financial year, a catastrophic yearly drop of 30%.

And the cost can be measured in jobs as well – 244,000 fewer jobs this year alone from the reduction in housebuilding, if you factor in construction jobs as well as the wider supply chain.

A safe home and a secure job are the cornerstones of a good life. The recession caused by this virus is attacking both.

It’s perhaps no wonder that the prime minister is promising to “build, build, build” in a bid to get the country to bounce back as quickly as possible. But the fear must be that this government, like too many before it, will try to take a shortcut on housing. They may be too easily enamoured with the easy promises of private developers and will seek to rely only on planning de-regulation as some sort of low-cost stimulus to the housing system, when this is doomed to fail. The reality is that plugging the gap in lost homes and lost jobs will require much more.

There is a better way. It starts with money the government has already said it will spend. In March of this year, the Chancellor set out plans to spend £12.2 billion on affordable housing and to do it over five years. But five years is a long time to wait, and time is not on our side. Now, when the private sector is on its knees, is exactly the time that investment is needed. That’s why we are calling on the government to bring that money forward, to invest it now over this year and next in public housebuilding. In doing so generating a legacy of new and better social homes from the pandemic.

We have seen through this crisis that a safe home is a fundamental human need, and an essential foundation in all our lives.

Now is our chance to build back better. Better because by bringing the investment forward we can save many, if not all, of the 244,000 jobs.

Better because in becoming resilient to this terrible virus we must deal with the overcrowding and poor housing that are rife in this country today. We
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