False economy

It seems a bit strange when the national media is obsessed with housing shortages to talk about low demand. But like so many other issues, the national picture sometimes obscures regional differences.

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Here in Bradford we suffer from high tenancy turnover and low demand for some of our stock, and we are not alone in the North.

I feel this needs to be better understood, and I feel the time is right to view the many facets of the housing crisis through the prism of the underlying economy before we drive inequality still further into national policy.

Like many areas outside of London and the South East, Bradford has a low wage, low skill economy, underpinned by an overreliance on the public sector and poor educational attainment.

Social rents are low, private rents and social rents are not much different from each other and the private rented sector has been growing at the expense of owner-occupation due to low property values.

The overall result is a high reliance on welfare benefits including for many in work, poor standards in the private rented sector where rental income struggles to deliver profit and maintenance and a struggle in the social sector to realise any significant resources for regeneration or investment in communities.

Despite its relative affordability, some of our properties are effectively inaccessible to some due to welfare reform.

So although we are relieved the proposals around the local housing allowance have been dropped, we still have people hit by the benefit cap and the spare room subsidy who will not be able to meet our rents.

For Bradford, the poor performing economy is reflected in house values, so developers tend to avoid large areas of Bradford as building does not make a return.

Regeneration, that so often involves cross-subsidy, is seriously hampered in many areas due to low values.

It is not uncommon for buy-backs of derelict or abandoned private rented property (often previous Right to Buy property blighting our estates) to not stack up financially.

So how does this relate to the overheated South?

Well in my opinion it’s all underpinned by one thing – the uneven distribution of a functioning economy.

Where the economy is buoyant, housing is in short supply and owner occupation increasingly unaffordable, but people have a greater chance of finding well paid work.

Where the economy is struggling, wages are low, and housing is still unaffordable because people have a poorer chance of finding well paid work.

If this does not change, what will happen? We held a number of focus groups with young people; almost unanimously they intend to move to London or Manchester to find work.

That’s more empty properties in Bradford and a bigger housing waiting list elsewhere.

Unless we deal with the underlying economy instead of simply pumping money into areas of high housing demand, we are unlikely to deal with the housing crisis.

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