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What Are The Generational Implications Of The Uk Housing Shortage?

By Author: Bradley Weiss
Total Articles: 139

Already strapped with education loans and lower wage expectations, the under-35 set of UK workers face difficult economic factors. More houses would help.

It is well understood in the UK that there are too few homes. Also, that this shortage has social and economic implications - for individuals and the country at large. But this housing shortage hits different demographics harder than others. Specifically, it’s the younger people and families who are put at the greatest disadvantage.

Unfortunately the inability of those under the age of 35 to get on the property ladder could affect them for years to come, possibly the rest of their lives. There is no certainty in such predictions, of course. A reordering of how homes are paid for and how many are built could alter the trajectory.

Policy makers and land development investors are working to solve this dilemma. The Government’s Help to Buy scheme, now in its third year, has stimulated progress; and the newer Starter Homes initiative, which provides a 20% discount on new-build homes on brownfield land, shows promise. From the private sector, strategic land partnerships help unlock and develop unused land for large-tract development. When land is made available for building, per local authority approvals, homes can be built by those partnerships where workers want and need to live.

But if these programmes and developments are thwarted, or fall short of their goals, the younger workers and their families could continue to suffer in several ways:

• Home prices will continue to rise steeply, as they did in the 1980s and the 2000s (up until 2008). The longer it takes for someone to buy their first home, the less likely it is they will ever be a homeowner.

• While about two-thirds of working people under age 35 owned their own homes as of 2004, the proportion dropped to just 36 per cent in 2014, according to the English Housing Survey.

• Forced into renting with a dearth of social housing available, working people in the 25- to 34-year-old age group rent from private landlords. In London, the average per-week rent is £281, about half the median take-home pay in that city.

• Wealth distribution is already poor in the UK, but that distribution is even greater in the housing category. The top 10 per cent own 100 times more than the bottom 10 per cent, according to a 2010 study (“Home-ownership and the distribution of personal wealth,” Joseph Rowntree Foundation/Housing Market Taskforce).

• Another indicator of the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” is widening, is seen in outright ownership, itself probably a function of age / generation. Those owner-occupiers who have a mortgage number 6.9 million households while 7.4 households have no mortgage, either because theirs is paid off or they had enough cash to purchase without a bank loan.

• Homeownership is a primary means of saving for retirement. Particularly with equity release schemes, or outright selling a larger home to ease down to a smaller residence, the pensioner who owns his or her home has additional money that the renter lacks.

Economists project that if these trends continue, it can play out in poverty and social dependence decades down the road.

Social housing and housing subsidies play a role in that they can provide affordable rents while households save money for a first-home deposit. But the price of housing cannot stabilize or drop until the inventory of residences increase. Institutional investors (insurance companies, pension funds and the like) are drawn to housing as an investment, a hopeful sign that has stimulated increased activity among homebuilders. Property fund managers too are increasingly active, scouting locations and engaging with local planning authorities to release land for development.

Individuals who show interest in UK land investment, property development and other real estate ventures generally do so to realize asset growth. But the social consequences can be positive as well. No investor should embark on any programme before discussing it with an independent financial advisor first.

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