Housing

Building more social and affordable housing could save taxpayers £1.5 billion a year, academics say

Tackling the housing crisis to eliminate homelessness could save taxpayers billions of pounds, a new report from the University College London has found

Goldsmith Street in Norwich has been held up as a good example of social housing to tackle the housing crisis and end homelessness

Mikhail Riches and Norwich City Council's Goldsmith Street development won the prestigious RIBA Stirling Prize in 2019. It was the first time a council-housing project had scooped the architectural prize. Image: RIBA / Tim Crocker

Building more affordable and social housing to tackle the housing crisis could save taxpayers £1.5bn by slashing homelessness, a new report has claimed.

University College London (UCL) researchers said if government subsidy for house building was gradually raised from the current £1 billion to £5bn a year over the next five years it could see 72,000 additional social/affordable homes built every year. Just 28,000 are currently built annually, researchers found.

That could reduce homelessness to a minimum level and have a dramatic impact on health, social and criminal justice services as well as unemployment and education. Ministers could also save £1.5bn a year with that figure likely to be an under-estimate.

UCL professor Rosalind Raine said: “The housing crisis impacts on individuals, families and communities directly and indirectly. It is possible to tackle the holy grail of improving everyone’s lives, with benefits accruing the fastest for the most vulnerable.

“Our report does not rely on polemic but on published data. This summarises the evidence on the health and wider social impacts, the economic costs and savings, and highlights exemplars of social and affordable housing which can feasibly be scaled nationally.”

Successive governments’ failure to build enough social housing in the last few decades has led to an affordability crisis in the housing market with house prices out of reach for many prospective buyers and rents at record-high levels.

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Homelessness has also risen in the last year and it is proving costly to the wider economy.

UCL researchers estimated the cost of people living in temporary accommodation, inadequate housing or sleeping rough on the streets came to £6.5bn a year.

People who are homeless or in precarious housing suffer worse physical and mental health and poorer access to health care, leading to higher healthcare costs and more disability benefits. Slashing these extensive health and social costs associated with homelessness could also bring huge economic benefits.

By building more affordable housing to tackle homelessness, more revenue will be generated for councils and through corporation tax while there will be greater economic growth and productivity.

The report argued local authorities should build a mix of new housing to meet demand, including social-rent housing and partially discounted affordable housing. But new homes to be sold or rented at full market value are also needed to subsidise the cost of social housing and prevent ghettoisation. 

Goldsmith Street in Norwich has been held up as a good example of social housing to tackle the housing crisis and end homelessness
The social rent homes in Goldsmith Street even have letterboxes on garden walls rather than on front doors to save energy. Image: RIBA / Tim Crocker

Researchers pointed to new and existing housing developments as examples to follow, including the social housing developed by architecture firm Mikhail Riches for Norwich City Council that became the first council house project to win RIBA’s Stirling Prize in 2019.

The project impressed judges as it was built to a Passivhaus standard, which slashes energy bills and boosts green credentials.

Professor Murray Fraser, from UCL’s Bartlett School of Architecture at UCL, said: “Both retrofits and new housing should aim for a Passivhaus standard which not only limits carbon emissions, but nearly eradicates fuel poverty for generations due to its high energy efficiency.”

UCL has formed the Social and Affordable Housing Initiative, alongside architects John McAslan + Partners and the Dolphin Living affordable housing charity, to come up with solutions to the housing crisis.

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The coalition brings together experts from multiple sectors, including architects, engineers, public health specialists, charities, as well as the public and private sector.

The coalition is aiming to develop a “transformative national housing plan” to solve the long-running crisis and deliver 100,000 social and affordable homes each year.

John McAslan, founder of John McAslan + Partners, said: “The UK has one of the least affordable housing markets in the world and the highest rate of homelessness in Europe. Urgent action is required now to address this.

“With some of the finest architects, engineers, public health experts, housebuilders, educationalists and creative power, Britain’s community of makers, thinkers, designers and doers need to be mobilised now to put social and affordable housing at the top of the societal agenda.”

We’re calling on the prime minister to make sure everyone can afford to stay in their homes and pay for the essentials by:

  • Unfreezing Local Housing Allowance rates
  • Increasing Universal Credit to £120 a week for a single adult and £200 for a couple

Will you add your voice to our call and sign the petition?

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

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