Housing Specification Blog

A New Benchmark for Affordable Housing

July 2, 2012 Alexandra Blakeman Housing Issues

The Serpentine, Aylesbury. Click on image for original source.

IPPR, the Institute for Public Policy Research have published a final review on British housing policy. Claiming that the majority of our housing stock is “unfit for purpose”, the study calls for a radical change in our approach towards domestic construction and the housing market.

The average age of first time buyers has been on the increase for a number of years. The study blames this for the deceleration in the housing market.

“Homeownership is an aspiration that runs deep in the vast majority of English people. It allows us to put down roots, gain a measure of security and feel part of the neighbourhood in which we live. Owning a home is about far more than accumulating an asset. Indeed, our current housing problems stem in part from various attempts to suggest otherwise.

Our present housing system is very far from embodying this ideal. The principal reason is an under-supply of homes of the type, in the places and at the prices people want and can afford.”

What does “affordable housing” mean? In the current economic climate, affordability is a slippery term. Budgets are more disparate and circumstantial than ever. According to the IPPR study, the average age of a first time buyer in this country is now 37. Priced out of the affordable housing strand, young people are having to live at home for longer than ever.

Last week The Guardian reported on Central Square, the new “affordable housing” development in east London:

“The biggest of the apartments, with a floor space less than the standard three-bed semi but without a garden, are on sale for between £695,000 and £705,000. It is, probably, the most expensive ever new-build offered by a housing association, yet it still meets the official criteria used to describe “affordable” – and qualify for taxpayer support.”

Affordable housing is traditionally defined as social or intermediate housing, priced below market levels. With escalating house prices, affordable housing seems to be moving up a price bracket.

The Serpentine in Aylesbury is a recently completed development from Thames Valley Housing. Apartment prices range between £41,000 and £195,000. Marketing itself as a benchmark in affordable housing, The Serpentine is designed to achieve “the highest standards in eco efficiency”. Where affordable housing was once expected to provide a comfortable living environment, nowadays developments are obliged to adhere to the latest innovations in design and sustainability. While one might argue that this is necessary, the cost of such installations has a significant impact on the market as a whole.

The IPPR calls for a supply of homes “in the places and at the prices that people want and can afford.” The problem still remains though; where is the boundary drawn?

In order to accelerate growth, the study claims that:

“The housing market is a vital component of our economy. It is of huge strategic importance. We need it to be an engine of national recovery, contributing to growth and employment. That means making markets work and protecting against their inherent tendency to speculation, bubbles and crises.”


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