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2 October 2017

UK Property Shortage – Practical Solutions

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The UK’s property shortage: what practical solutions are being taken to tackle it?

“The housing market in this country is broken, and the cause is very simple: for too long, we haven’t built enough homes.”

With this powerful statement starts Fixing our broken housing market, the Housing White Paper released by the Government at the beginning of the year. In this much-anticipated document, Downing Street admits – throughout a long 104-page report – that the UK’s housing market is facing severe difficulties in which new reforms are required alongside existing policies.

However encouraging this may sound, the Government’s white paper could become a void statement if all parties involved cannot find methods to offer more people the chance to own their own home or to pay lower rents.

The very structure of the housing market complicates increasing the supply. Housing associations have been doing well – they are responsible for a third of new housing completed over the past five years – but the commercial developers still dominate the market. The main issue being that there aren’t enough: 60% of new homes are built by just 10 companies, and experts alert of the pace of development being too slow. The drawback? Government’s reforms have led to the increase in the number of homes being given planning permission. Notwithstanding, developers are taking too long to complete their building projects.

It’s a known fact that we aren’t building fast enough, with many blaming the builders. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Considering the magnitude of the issue, it’d be simplistic to place the blame in just one sector. Experts are pointing out that the only way to fix the housing market is to address the political costs of suppressing house price rises, giving access to the greenbelt, bringing empty properties back into use, and building social housing.
Whilst this agenda is still being discussed by the relevant parties, the facts continue to be discouraging; more and more people are living under one roof due to a shortage in affordable homes and young Britons experience a hard time trying to get a foot on the property ladder. In fact, the Council of Mortgage Lenders predicts that by 2020 just a quarter of 30-year-old will own their own home as the current situation stops them to get onto the property ladder.

So what can be done? Are there any other solutions to the nation’s broken housing market?

Architects, designers, engineers, developers, business people and even citizens are delving into practical solutions, aside from the Government’s agenda, to fix Britain’s housing woes. Some of these proposals may not stay for long or could even be considered peculiar to say the least, but it’s worth it having a look at them:

Modular builds

In modular builds, everything from the bathroom wall tiles to the drainage systems are integrated from the start – reducing assembly time and minimising wasted material. This type of houses may have a bad image among most homebuyers, but it cannot be denied that there is a UK off-site construction industry emerging.

Last year, Legal & General set up its branch L&G Homes in a factory near Leeds to build up to 4,000 prefabricated homes a year. This summer they have presented their new modular housing prototype: a two-storey, two-bedroom property. The company is currently exploring different designs, and hopes to deliver these houses in the first half of 2018.

Modular sheds

Launched as a temporary solution, a modular ‘shed’ is a new design concept that seeks to convert abandoned buildings into temporary housing. The reusable modules can be set up in an empty building and then moved to another once redevelopment of the first is set to begin. Lowe Guardians, the company that is behind the idea, conducted a research that estimates there are currently 600,000 empty properties across the UK that could be used for temporary residency using the new shed solution, including thousands of prime sites in central London.

Micro-homes
Given the choice, most people would probably choose not to live in a tiny space not bigger than the average prison cell. But over the past few years there has been a boom in properties of less than 37 square metres, especially in UK’s urban environments. Last year alone 8,000 were built across the nation. However, experts are now warning that this is not a viable solution to the housing crisis, for many mortgage firms may refuse to lend money to purchase this type of property and micro-homes are not the best investment in the long run.

Static-home parks
These mobile homes or trailer homes are surprisingly bigger than the average micro-homes, and they take just a couple of days to be assembled. Some consider them as a short-term solution for the nation’s housing crisis, even though Ben Jackson, Shelter’s former director of campaigns, has a different point of view: “Low-cost park homes may be cheap to build and freely available on the open market – but they are not a solution to the shortage of long-term housing.”

Property Guardianship scheme
Many young professionals have already benefited from the Property Guardianship scheme, which takes a vacant building and places a “guardian” into it. The vacant building could be any property from schools, pubs, care homes and empty flats. The person living there can pay a little rent for a central location while making sure the place is properly “guarded”. It’s an agreement that satisfies both property owners and occupants but it has a catch: the living space is obviously quirky and the tenant can’t usually stay for too long.

Self-build
Finally, the self-build market has been experiencing an important growth during the past few years. Experts forecast an industry growth of 41% and 1 in 7 people in UK would love to build their own home. By 2020 there are expected 16,500 housing completions. Councils in England will be obliged to make sure plots of land are available to anyone wanting to self-build and supporters calculate this measure, plus the growing interest for self-building sector, will help increase the supply of affordable homes.

Paul Heming