A growing number of young people don't want to own their own home. Here's why

No thanks. Image: Getty.

Home ownership. Compared to renting from a private landlord, it’s a no-brainer. Monthly payments are cheaper. As long as you can pay no one will kick you out. You can have pets, decorate, and put up political posters. And you get to keep it.

For all these reasons, I would rather own my home – as would most young adults. But according to the latest Halifax survey for Generation Rent, the number of 20-45-year-olds who don’t want to own is rising – from 24 per cent of non-home owners in 2011 to 29 per cent now. Only 43 per cent are actively saving for a deposit.

A 5 per cent shift is hardly a dramatic reconfiguration of Generation Y’s aspirations but it is a sign that rampant house price inflation is beginning to wear on young Britons who were raised to believe that hard work gets rewarded. The past two years have seen a 20 per cent increase in the price of the average first home, and it would be an understatement to say wages have not kept up. Even if your income permitted it, there seems little point in saving for a deposit if it will just be wiped out by yet more inflation.

Halifax is dismayed by these findings, pointing out a “clear disconnect” between the perceptions of their survey respondents and the “reality” of the housing market. After all, there has been an increase in first-time buyers to 311,000 in 2014, the highest number since 2007. But between 2002 and 2007, the average number of new homeowners was nearly 400,000 a year. Since 2007 the annual shortfall against that number has added up to 1.2 million households who haven’t bought a home and they’ve ended up in the private rented sector or living with their parents.

The rate of new home-owners has a long way to rise before we’re back at a pre-crisis equilibrium. Halifax reckons that the government’s Help to Buy scheme and the 195 different 95 per cent loan-to-value mortgages available on the market would boost buyer numbers even higher if only there was more communication of the options on offer. 

It’s an interesting point. I took to the internet to see if I could buy a house near where I live on the frontier of gentrification in east London. My wife and I rent a two-bedroom flat at the cost of £1000 a month. Nearby there are similar properties going for £250,000.

Briefly allowing myself to dream that we had a deposit of £50,000, a price comparison website told me a £200,000 mortgage would cost £817 a month to pay off. Returning to reality, a 95 per cent mortgage of £237,500 would set me back £1188 a month – more than my rent, but at least a) I wouldn’t need to save anything and b) all the reasons I listed at the start.

Maybe I could buy after all, I thought. I went on Halifax’s own online mortgage calculator to see what sort of loan they’d be willing to offer us, seeing as we’re the average would-be first-time buyers they’re so concerned about. Let’s say we’re on the average household income for London of £35,740.

It turns out Halifax is very much not our ticket out of the private rented sector – on the basis of our income they would lend us an underwhelming £153,682. Enough for somewhere up north but for a home with room for two adults and a child anywhere near my job: no chance.

If we wanted to buy a property nearby we would need a deposit of £97,000 or a household income of £63,000. On a national scale, it is not much better. The average first home costs £208,000 and you can only get a 95 per cent mortgage on that if you earn £52,000 – the median income is £29,636.

Source: Generation Rent; ONS, GLA and Halifax data.

The awkward truth for Halifax is that houses are simply too expensive and not even 95 per cent mortgages will overcome that if an average earner can’t access them. The bank recognises that we need to start matching demand for homes with supply and that involves building 2.5 million homes in the next decade.

In the meantime, those millions stuck renting shouldn’t have to tolerate a second-class tenure. Reform of the sector could extend nearly all the benefits of ownership to tenants: rent control could bring costs down, while a shake-up of tenancy law can start protecting tenants from eviction at a landlord’s whim, and give them greater latitude to make their house a home. As for tenants actually getting to keep the property, we’re working on it. 

Dan Wilson Craw is Communications Manager for Generation Rent.


Here’s how we plant 2 billion more trees in the UK

A tree in Northallerton, North Yorkshire. Image: Getty.

The UK’s official climate advisor, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), recently published a report outlining how to reduce the 12 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions that come from land use by two thirds by 2050. Alongside recommending cutting meat and dairy consumption by 20 per cent, the report calls for the annual creation of up to 50,000 hectares of broadleaf and conifer woodland for the next three decades. This would increase forest cover from 13 per cent to at least 17 per cent – a level not seen in Britain since before the Norman invasion.

Reforestation at that rate would mean creating roughly the area of the city of Leeds every year for the next three decades. At typical stocking densities of 1,500 stems per hectare, the ambition is to establish some 2.25 billion additional trees. Given that the UK, as with most of Europe, is in the grip of ash dieback, a disease likely to prove fatal for many millions of native ash trees, the scale of the challenge is massive.

On a crowded and intensively farmed island like Britain, unlocking a million and a half hectares of land will be no mean feat. But it’s not impossible – and is an unprecedented opportunity not only to tackle the climate crisis but also the biodiversity crisis that is every bit as detrimental to our wellbeing.

Trees and farms

One million and a half hectares is just 6 per cent of the mainland UK’s land area. To give some sense of perspective on this, 696,000 hectares of “temporary grassland” were registered in 2019. So if land supply is not the problem, what is? Often it’s cultural inertia. Farmers are firmly rooted to the land and perhaps understandably reluctant to stop producing food and instead become foresters. But the choice need not be so binary.

The intensification of agriculture has caused catastrophic declines in many species throughout the UK by reducing vast wooded areas and thousands of miles of hedgerows to small pockets of vegetation, isolating populations and making them more vulnerable to extinction.

Integrating trees with the farmed landscape delivers multiple benefits for farms and the environment. Reforestation doesn’t have to mean a return to the ecologically and culturally inappropriate single-species blocks of non-native conifers, which were planted en masse in the 1970s and 1980s. Incentivised under tax breaks to secure a domestic timber supply, many of the resulting plantations were located in places difficult or in some cases impossible to actually harvest.

Productive farmland needn’t be converted to woodland. Instead, that 4 per cent of land could be found by scattering trees more widely. After all, more trees on farmland is good for business. They prevent soil erosion and the run-off of pollutants, provide shade and shelter for livestock, a useful source of renewable fuel and year-round forage for pollinating insects.

The first tranche of tree planting could involve new hedgerows full of large trees, preferably with wide headlands of permanently untilled soils, providing further wildlife refuge.

Natural regeneration

Where appropriate, new woody habitats can be created simply by stopping how the land is currently used, such as by removing livestock. This process can be helped by scattering seeds in areas where seed sources are low. But patience is a virtue. If people can learn to tolerate less clipped and manicured landscapes, nature can run its own course.

A focus on deliberate tree planting also raises uncomfortable truths. Most trees are planted with an accompanying stake to keep them upright and a plastic shelter that protects the sapling from grazing damage. All too often, these shelters aren’t retrieved. Left to the elements, they break down into ever smaller pieces, and can be swept into rivers and eventually the ocean, where they threaten marine wildlife. Two billion tree shelters is a lot of plastic.

The main reason for using tree shelters at all is because the deer population in the UK is so high that in many places, it is all but impossible to establish new trees. This also has serious implications for existing woodland, which is prevented from naturally regenerating. In time, these trees will age and die, threatening the loss of the woodland itself. Climate change, pests and pathogens and the lack of a coordinated, centrally supported approach to deer management means the outlook for the UK’s existing treescape is uncertain at best.

An ecologically joined-up solution would be to reintroduce the natural predators of deer, such as lynx, wolves, and bears. Whether rewilding should get that far in the UK is still the subject of debate. Before that, perhaps the focus should be on providing the necessary habitat, rich in native trees.

A positive response would be to implement the balanced recommendations, made almost a decade ago in a government review, of creating more new habitat, improving what’s already there, and finding ways to link it together. Bigger, better, and more connected habitats.

But the UK is losing trees at increasing rates and not just through diseases. The recent removal of Victorian-era street trees in Sheffield and many other towns and cities is another issue to contend with. As the climate warms, increasing urban temperatures will mean cities need shade from street trees more than ever.

Trees aren’t the environmental panacea that the politicians might have people believe – even if they do make for great photo opportunities – but we do need more of them. Efforts to expand tree cover are underway across the world and the UK will benefit from contributing its share. Hitting the right balance – some commercial forestry, lots of new native woodland and millions of scattered trees – will be key to maximising the benefits they bring.

Nick Atkinson, Senior Lecturer in Ecology & Conservation, Nottingham Trent University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.