United Kingdom Civic Housebuilding – History Shows How To Build

Snow in Milton Keynes photo by Suzanne Little is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Milton Keynes, an affordable housing community built after World War II.

Shelter, a UK based charity, published New Civic Housebuilding 2017 to present an approach to building affordable housing using strategies used successfully in the past. The report argues that developing housing on land removed from the speculative market is essential to achieve the number of houses needed at rents that households with low incomes can afford.

While it is not surprising that a charity would take this view, there are people in the private sector who agree. Try: Top UK Housing Developer: Public / Private Affordable Funding Is Crazy!

Shelter‘s report explains why approaches that depend solely on the private market don’t work. The explanation is clear and easy to understand.

The report investigates three options to develop and sustain quantities of affordable housing: less regulation, more public spending and land market intervention.

From one perspective, less regulation is appealing. Approval processes are complicated and take a long time, driving up costs. Regulation is also deemed necessary to ensure that affordable housing gets built. Shelter contributes additional insight which sets regulation in a larger social context, pointing out its potential to facilitate development which builds on community strengths.

The second option, subsidies, are commonly held to provide a direct benefit to those who need help. Shelter’s report traces the flow of subsidy money and identifies inflationary effects in the housing market, which are an indirect and opposite result to the intended purpose.

Turning to land purchase / land trust, Shelter reminds us that land purchases were a component of the post war housing boom and argues that it continues to be essential to success. They are not alone in identifying the importance of controlling land prices to successful affordable housing initiatives. Try: Miami Wants To Lead A National Parade Towards Affordable Housing Land Trusts

The options of regulation, subsidy and land purchase / land trust in and of themselves are a helpful framework. They provide a way to understand and compare approaches in different communities and countries. And the analysis opens up ways of thinking that have been lost in current discussions. For more about this report and the organization behind it, see: New Civic Housebuilding 2017, and Shelter.