British Home Ownership Restricted to Wealthy

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Monday, October 6th, 2014
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Unless decisive action is taken to improve affordability, the goal of home ownership will be out of reach for all but the wealthiest of citizens in the United Kingdom within a generation, a housing industry lobby group in that country has warned.

In a new report, the National Housing Federation (NHF) said first-home buyers today need 10 times the amount of money as a deposit as they did 35 years ago.

They also need to borrow double the proportion of their annual income in order to purchase a home. These factors are putting home ownership increasingly out of reach for average earners including nurses, firefighters and plumbers.

The report also found that two thirds of new home buyers now receive financial help from their parents (a figure that has doubled over the past five years), meaning those whose parents are not in a position to provide such support may find themselves “stuck living in their childhood bedrooms or paying high private rents that make it almost impossible to save.”

“With the high salary, and huge deposit younger generations now need to buy even a modest home, home ownership is quickly becoming an exclusive members club,” NHF chief executive David Orr said. “Sadly, it will depend on the wealth of the family you were born into as much as your own hard work.”

Throughout the United Kingdom, housing groups say that over the past 40 years  inflation adjusted house prices have more than doubled (nationwide data) as persistently low levels of construction accumulated into a large shortage of supply.

The problem is especially severe in London, where average prices rose by £41,000 ($A76,356) last year alone.

Furthermore, the situation is expected to worsen going forward. Whereas a Town and Country Planning Association report in 2011 said the nation needed to build 245,000 homes annually between now and 2031 in order to keep up with demand, current building rates are around half this.

While opinions regarding solutions vary, most commentators agree the problem can only be addressed through long term reforms to unblock supply.

In January, for example, The Economist magazine called for the abolition or substantial reduction of green zones in areas surrounding London as well as a new tax on the value of land which would be zero for agricultural land but would jump up as soon as development approval is granted and would therefore give councils incentive to allow more housing development and money for local infrastructure development associated with the new housing.

The NHF, by contrast, called for the creation of a new Housing and Infrastructure Bank to invest in housing and infrastructure and upgrade existing housing, requiring councils to produce local land strategies and freeing up housing associations to build more homes through lifting restrictions on how they set their rents, who they house and how their properties are valued.

It challenged the next government focus on underlying structural problems.

“We have had enough short-term housing initiatives, now we need a long-term plan that tackles the underlying causes of the housing crisis – not just tinkering around the edges,” the report said. “We want the next government to publish a long-term plan within a year of taking office that will show how they will end the housing crisis within a generation.”

Key facts (according to NHS):

  • The average first-time buyer today needs a £30,000 deposit, almost 10 times the deposit required in the early 1980s.
  • A first-time buyer has to borrow 3.4 times their annual income on average, compared to first time buyers in 1979 who needed to borrow just 1.7 times their income.
  • Two thirds of first-time buyers receive financial help from parents – a figure that has doubled in five years.
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