It’s not news that we are currently in the middle of an affordable housing crisis. However, the extent of our progress to overcome the affordable housing battle is becoming increasingly difficult to determine. One-week reports will say the government is on track to meet its goal of building 1 million homes by 2020, the next they will suggest that we are at the point of no return. So, where do we (actually) stand in the current affordable housing battle?  

What Is Affordable Housing?

The definition of affordable housing is a controversial topic in itself. As it currently stands, the government’s definition of affordable housing includes homes let up to 80% of the market value. This means in some areas, primarily in the city of London, rentals over £1,500 and homes over £450,000 would be classified as affordable – that’s 16x the average salary in the UK.  

This dilemma has inspired the Labour party’s green-paper, ‘Housing for the Many’, with the aim of bringing in a new measure that will link affordability to people’s incomes. Whether the Labour party will be successful is yet to be seen – but if they are, it could see a huge shift in future plans.  

The Numbers

Now that we have a better understanding of what constitutes as affordable housing, we can delve into the numbers themselves to determine whether we are winning the affordable housing battle.  

In 2016/17, the government built a total of 217,000 homes, the highest annual rate since the government began recording net additions in 1992. The increase was attributed to the development of industrial sites, office spaces, old churches and farm buildings.  

Whilst the success of hitting its target for the first time since its pledge to build 1 million new homes 3 years ago is undoubtable promising, it’s important to note that of these 217,000 homes, only 41,530 were affordable. The target has since been increased to 300,00 new homes – a number that has yet to be reached by any government in the last decade. However, given the underwhelming statistics of 2016/17, it seems unlikely that this will be enough to fulfil the increasing demand for affordable housing across the UK.

In fact, according to a think tank analysis, almost 600 affordable rental homes must be built each week to meet the increasing demand. That’s equivalent to a town the size of Leeds each year. Under current government proposals, just 100 affordable rental homes are being built each week. This shortfall is estimated to reach 335,000 by the end of this parliament.  

This, in itself, presents a new problem. The number of sites suitable for housing is fast diminishing across the UK – especially with government’s persistence avoidance of unlocking green belt land for development. So, what are we to do?

The Solution

Like any problem, there is no single solution.  If we are to win the affordable housing battle, we must tackle the issue from all sides – increase social housing, implement a better first-time buyer initiative and, most importantly, release brownfield land for affordable housing developments.  

Last year, the government published regulations requiring all planning authorities to publish a register of available brown field land. The data showed that there are brown field sites suitable for more than one million homes, two-thirds of which are ready for development. That means as much as 60 percent of our current housing need could be fulfilled in just 5-years.  

The good news is, we could see the release of more brownfield sites in the coming months. The draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), published last month, will encourage the release of more brownfield land for sizable residential developments. The final NPPF is expected to be published before summer 2018.