Mohammed Ul-Haq, associate examines the role existing housing stock may take in addressing the housing crisis

The debate on housing is well known, extensively reported and has been investigated for years. A number of reasons, we are told, drive a chronic shortage, whether open-door immigration policy, greedy landlords, NIMBYs or even greedier private housing developers limiting the flow of houses entering the market to avoid devaluing their land.

Governments typically like their policy gestures painted in primary colours. But with 16 housing ministers in 20 years, a slew of policy interventions that have failed to hit the target and an ongoing, entrenched gap between aspiration and reality, urgent action is needed. We have seen policy statements over the last few days in Liverpool at the Labour Party Conference and no doubt we will see more at the Conservatives’ one in Birmingham as they seek to re-engage with younger voters. It feels that the response to this complicated and multi-faceted social issue is chest banging, optimism or lunging from one reactive measure to another, whether that is a tweak to the planning system, Help to Buy or altering Stamp Duty thresholds. All solutions thus far have failed to adequately respond to the challenge. The Autumn 2017 budget set an ambitious target of delivering 300,000 new homes a year and in the 12 months to December just over half that figure were actually built.

At HLM, we believe a more systemic remedy is required to enable significant and sustainable change. Part of this is to deconstruct the problem and consider a blend of approaches that focus on different parts of the market. One area to look at is existing housing stock and in particular the older demographics. Figures suggest the 55 – 79 age group are sitting on £720bn worth of homes, with a quarter of this age group considering downsizing but are put off by the lack of quality and attractive options to meet their changing needs. This is soluble; lack of choice, quality and flexibility can be addressed. Sensitivity to the importance of health, well-being and community can reframe the options. HLM, through our research and innovation initiatives, are exploring how we can contribute further to this debate and offer innovative and robust solutions with the help of our partners and colleagues.

By creating greater churn in this substantial part of the market, there can be a pertinent impact on the housing shortage with homes re-entering the market that are affordable to the average young person or family.