5 solutions to ease the UK’s housing crisis

Tom Lawson

From asking the elderly to downsize to banning second homes, five potential solutions to the UK’s lack of affordable housing

1. Build in unconventional spaces

Floating house ‘The Chichester’ by Baca Architects

Thousands of floating homes have been mooted as a way to help ease London’s chronic housing shortage, tapping into the city’s canal and river network. Or, what about building thousands of homes on top of hospitals, schools and libraries? Another suggestion is to squeeze ‘micro-housing’ into gaps between semi-detached homes.

2. Ask the elderly to downsize

A row of houses in Exmouth, Devon. Image: Dun.Can

As our population ages, providing incentives such as tax breaks for single, elderly people to move out of family homes could free up a hefty chunk of stock. The Intergenerational Foundation estimates more than a third of housing is under-occupied and government figures suggest that around 200,000 UK homes sit empty. This week, the government announced a plan to make it easier for older people to move into smaller homes.

3. Build tiny

A tiny home. Photo: Vasenka Photography

‘Tiny homes’ – those smaller than 46 m² – are cheaper to construct than conventional buildings and more efficient to build and heat. Long popular in the US, they are making their way to the UK. Charity Social Bite is planning 10 such buildings to house 20 homeless people in Edinburgh. The first residents are set to move in this summer.

4. Ban second homes

Residents in St Ives, Cornwall campaigned to stop new second homes being built

Property prices in some parts of Cornwall are 18 times higher than average local salaries. The high proportion of second homes there is one factor. In 2016, St Ives residents voted overwhelmingly to ban the construction of new properties unless they were reserved for locals. The High Court backed them.

5. Open source homes

A WikiHouse plan. Photo: Martin Luff

Building from scratch can be more cost-effective than buying an existing house. But most people are short on time let alone architectural knowhow. A growing number of open source plans are available on the web, including the plywood WikiHouse. Some ‘snap together’ modular homes can be constructed within days.

Main photo: Tom Hannigan


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  • strictlynoelephant

    When houses will stop being a profit machine they will become affordable again. Nothing to do with tiny houses, opensource plans and so on. Property market regulation is the only viable answer (not sure it will ever happens…).

  • Sebastian Behrens

    Thank you for your post! I think it is high time people educated themselves on the economic mechanisms that lead to inflated house prices and – wherever you stand on the political spectrum – how this speculative, financialised economy in the long run will be detrimental to wealth creation and wellbeing.

  • Scott Williams

    Part problem is that in the Thatcher era government decided that the best way to manage wages was to use the housing market to build wealth the in the lower and middle classes – that meant increasing supply in the private buying market then slowly narrowing it. Successive governments continued that policy, which eventually morphed into promoting buy-to-let, well beyond the point where it was a benefit rather than the appalling drag it is now. Unfortunately we’ve now arrived at a point where you can’t take it back without destroying the wealth that has been created, which by turns would inflict unbearable damage to swathes of families.

    To make matters worse there was a widespread failure to recognise that combined effect of policies that kept elderly people in their homes, built homes in the wrong places, people living much longer, encouragement of middle aged people to buy-to-let, and the reduction (and elimination) of the ability of councils to build homes without private developer support amplified the the effect of narrowing housing supply to the point we now find ourselves.

  • strictlynoelephant

    Thanks for your excellent post.

  • sixtyten

    It would be good to also mention community-based affordable housing such as cohousing and housing cooperatives. There are several successful examples of the former and many of the latter in the UK.

  • sarah_davies

    But these solutions don’t get at the cause of the problem? Which is that there are too many of us! Also the divorce/separation rate means that many people live on their own, rather than in family groups. We are also of course benefitting from healthcare which means we can live into our 80s or 90s so we need a house for longer than ever before! You don’t say where elderly folk should move to? Old people’s homes are in short supply. Many old folk like to continue to live independently as long as possible since that’s the one ‘control’ they have left in their lives. There are so many human reasons why we’re in this state that could be tackled – need to be tackled first?

  • DILLIGAF

    In 2000 my partner and myself bought a 3 bedroom house, thinking that at some point in the future we might like to move out of London and go to another part of the country, this we would now love to do and thus free up our house. There would now appear to be no chance of this as the properties that we’d like to move into (2 bedroom) are now more expensive than ours, even when they’re not in London.
    So, now you have 2 pensioners who want to move and who can’t, as even the properties where we live have just touched on the latest telephone number of £500,000, great if you sell and want to live in a tent, however where do you move to ?
    Maggie Thatcher thought she was onto a winner when she opened up the market, however time has (quite obviously) shown that if your council sells off it’s housing stock into private housing then you’re actually left with zilch if you don’t use the money you actually make selling them off, to build more council housing or is this really just me living in some kind of an alternate reality ?
    So, in the words of one of the UK’s most senior citizens, “I don’t BELIEVE it”.

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