Why the UK needs a national housing service

The chief executive of a UK construction professional institute has taken the unusual step of calling for the nationalisation of the country’s housing market in order to fix the dysfunctions causing its housing crisis.

Acknowledging his call as "radical", Chris Blythe OBE, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Building, says a "National Housing Body" should be formed to take responsibility for matching housing demand with supply across the country.

Chris Blythe, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Building

Given the ongoing failure of the private market, such a state-led body would have strategic control of planning, and be a national housing developer empowered to provide low-cost, high-quality homes, Blythe writes in the current edition of GCR’s sister publication, Construction Research & Innovation.

Calling affordable housing a "precious national resource", Blythe says the UK should follow its own example with state provision of education and healthcare, and treat housing as a basic entitlement.

"If we are educating people and looking after their health, does it not make sense that we should close the loop with good housing that promotes health and enables people to take advantage of our investment in their education?" he writes.

In his hard-hitting essay, entitled "Nationalise the housing market: A radical proposal for an extraordinary crisis", Blythe traces the origins of the crisis over two decades, during which time a rapidly swelling population has collided with a profound decrease in the supply of new homes, leading to soaring housing costs for buyers and renters.

His proposal comes as the number of households in England in emergency accommodation hit 77,240 this year, an increase of 60% since March 2011.

Official statistics show that the median price paid for residential property increased by 259% between 1997 and 2016, while median individual annual earnings increased by just 68% in the same time period.

Over two decades a rapidly swelling population has collided with a profound decrease in the supply of new homes (CRI)

He notes that on top of an annual housing benefit bill of £25bn, the UK now spends nearly £1bn a year just on temporary accommodation for homeless households.

Large private housebuilders come under fire in his essay. Blythe says they are "thriving on the chaos" and rewarding themselves with "staggering" bonuses and share sell-offs as home prices have hit historic highs.

A nationalised housing service would also drive innovation in the industry, says Blythe, arguing that suppliers could invest in offsite and prefabrication techniques if they were guaranteed a pipeline of new homes by the new body.

"All this is quite radical, but we have come to an extraordinary pass and extraordinary measures are called for," he writes. "At the root of the NHB idea is modest proposal: that decent, affordable housing is a precious national resource as essential as healthcare and education. It should be available fairly to all."

  • For the duration of this month GCR readers can access the full, referenced version of Blythe’s essay free of charge here.

Top image: The number of households in England in emergency accommodation has risen 60% since 2011 (Ashley Van Dyck/Dreamstime)

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  1. The current housing ‘crisis’ (whatever the extent of that might actually be and how it might change within the forecast-able future) is the result of many factors and not just the manifest ‘failure’ of the private sector. The public sector still gathers, holds and issues all the mega demographic data and it governs both the planning and the building regulatory processes. Its failures seem equally to blame, if blame is to be apportioned, for any inadequate numbers and mix of the housing stock. The private sector responds to commercial opportunity at a local level and given the lack of publicly owned land, this should be managed within a longer term public plan. However, given the inability of the local authorities (and their consultants) to liaise effectively with their neighbours and come up with viable, integrated local plans for developing ‘affordable housing’ in any timeframe that might begin to address the problem in a useful and responsive timeframe, I’ve no confidence in placing any more of the responsibility for actually delivering such housing in public sector hands.

  2. Local Government Housing managed by Local Municipal Government started after the First World War was in general a well run housing system. The concept of every one owing their own home while in principle is a good idea. But it has proven that there are a lot more people who either do not want or will never reach the qualifications to borrow to buy a house Neither has the private sector proved to be a good provider of local cost rent accommodation.
    So the solution is for Government to re start “Council Housing” again

  3. You mean compulsorily purchase for a £ pound each house ? Problem is too many immigrants here now having 4 or 5 children And they want affordable / council housing ! Our guys on the streets are not allowed benefit because they do not have an address But immigrants get housing etc etc Sorry yes it is Topsy Turvy We need a stop on all immigration EU & elsewhere …Sorry but i am Jo blunt now M Bensonment

  4. I’d like to ask a genuine question. I support the idea of releasing mass housing into the market to assist first time buyers get onto the ladder and to stem the runaway affordability issues of the current trends. However, as tens of thousands of affordable houses hit the market, so the value of the existing stock will decline – and rapidly. This must be so otherwise what’s the point of doing mass housing projects to enable people to get on the ladder. So my question is how are the current home owners going to be protected from large scale negative equity? More specifically those that have bought in the last five years or so.
    Anthony Bonnett MCIOB

  5. Somewhat draconian measures set out here.
    There must be an easier way which is currently directly available to the Government by issuing a Statutory Instrument which is not subject to debate in the House.
    And there is. It’s called a rent cap. A reduction of 20% would reduce the Benefit bill correspondingly, allowing the savings to be put into social housing.
    The figures quoted in the essay indicate that a saving of 20% would equate to £5billion per year.
    Every year.
    OK, so landlords would suffer a loss of income.
    This is a capitalist society, in case we forget. It is not nirvana.

  6. I have just been watching my local BBC news (East Midlands) and they covered the tragedy that is having over 5,000 homes standing empty. We keep hearing about building new homes, why not bring those already there back into use.
    Also leaving industrial or commercial buildings empty for decades needs addressing.

  7. I believe Roger Ward is correct, it is a return to “council housing”.
    After world war I there was a large scale building programme by local authorities with homes for rent
    “homes fit for heroes” and lots of people had a home that they could never have afforded to buy.
    Again after world war 2 there was a large scale national programme of local authority homes to rent and every building contractor worth their salt was involved with a labour force including Poles, Lithuanians and other
    displaced persons plus the Irish, West Indians and migrants from India & Pakistan.
    There was a large stock of ageing & new properties requiring expensive maintenance and decisions were made to sell to tenants giving them a bonus and reducing the landlords ongoing costs.
    However this decision took away the initial concept of providing these homes in the first instance???
    There is an old saying, “You have to be cruel to be kind” there are tenants who will treat your property like their own, and there are others who will ‘trash’ it and burn the doors etc.
    If we go down this road,there must be procedures in place to protect the properties and maintain the reason for for providing them in the first place.
    I would support Chris Blythe in making a “Statement”

    John Anthony MCIOB.(retired).

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