We need a Right To Buy for private sector tenants, too

Make 'em sell. Image: Getty.

The Conservatives fancy themselves as the party of property ownership, a theme that they hope will win them the General Election. They’ve made the revival of a property-owning democracy a cornerstone of today’s manifesto.

The trouble is, their record on home ownership is pretty terrible. The number of owner-occupied households has been falling since 2003, when it peaked at 71 per cent, and the coalition government has failed to arrest that fall. Owner-occupiers now make up 63 per cent of the population, with renting having increased as more and more people are priced out of the market.

In 2002, more than 500,000 households bought their first home. On the coalition’s watch, the annual average of 248,000 is half that. That’s a lot of thwarted first-time buyers, and a lot of ground to make up.

It’s not like the Tories haven’t tried really hard to promote home ownership. They introduced Help to Buy mortgages and equity loans to make lending more accessible to would-be first-time buyers. Since 2013, 70,000-odd households have taken that up.

The coalition also decided to bribe the hell out of people who are still in council houses and in a position to exercise their Right to Buy. Since 2012, 26,000 council tenants have received discouts of up to 70 per cent to buy their home – though only 2712 new homes have been built to replace them.

That’s around 100,000 families in total. To be frank, that’s a feeble attempt to create a property-owning democracy. What could be the government be doing wrong?

One argument that’s doing the rounds is that house prices are too high. This analysis might appeal to Conservatives, who tend to believe quite strongly in market forces.

The idea is that there is not enough supply of houses to meet our demand for them. That pushes prices up, which means that even with subsidised mortgages, people on average incomes can’t access enough loan to buy an average home. The solution would be to allow more houses to be built.

But for some reason this didn’t appeal to the coalition; 250,000 are needed per year – in addition to the 1m backlog – but only half that were built in 2014. The government vetoed nearly 10,000 new homes this year and its planning legislation makes it hard to expand cities.

The other possible explanation is that the government is not handing out enough bribes – a theory that explains why there are those within the Conservatives who, instead of using taxpayers’ money to build new homes, would prefer to give it to people to buy existing ones.

This is the analysis that appears to hold sway in Downing Street. The Chancellor announced a £3,000 bribe for first-time buyers through the Help to Buy ISA in his March Budget, but that has been put in the shade by newly announced bribes of up to £102,000 for housing association tenants to purchase the home they live in. The Conservatives reckon that will help 1.3m tenants become homeowners.

The policy requires a touch of legal wizardry that makes it possible to sell property that doesn’t already belong to the state. But once the government can force private organisations like housing associations to give up their valuable assets, then the home ownership revolution can really begin.

Selling off housing association homes would boost owner occupation rates back up to 68 per cent. But if the Tories are serious about helping people buy their home – you know, not just saying it because it sounds good – there needs to be a right to buy for tenants in the private sector, too. Why should social tenants have more right to buy a home than private ones, who typically put up with higher rents, lower security and poorer conditions as it is?

There are more than 4 million households renting from a private landlord – 1.4 million of whom have been living in their current home for at least three years. Offering bribes to help these private renters buy their home – and compelling their landlords to sell – would boost home ownership levels past their historical peak to 74 per cent. David Cameron has a golden opportunity to take on the landlord class on behalf of all those hard working private renters and change even more lives. He could achieve more than Maggie Thatcher ever did to forge a property-owning democracy. What’s he waiting for?

Dan Wilson Craw is head of communications for Generation Rent.


17 things the proposed “Tulip” skyscraper that London mayor Sadiq Khan just scrapped definitely resembled

Artist's impression. See if you can guess which one The Tulip is. Image: Foster + Partners.

Sadiq Khan has scrapped plans to build a massive glass thing in the City of London, on the grounds it would knacker London’s skyline. The “Tulip” would have been a narrow, 300m skyscraper, designed by Norman Foster’s Foster & Partners, with a viewing platform at the top. Following the mayor’s intervention, it now won’t be anything of the sort.

This may be no bad thing. For one thing, a lot of very important and clever people have been noisily unconvinced by the design. Take this statement from Duncan Wilson, the chief executive of Historic England, from earlier this year: “This building, a lift shaft with a bulge on top, would damage the very thing its developers claim they will deliver – tourism and views of London’s extraordinary heritage.”

More to the point, the design was just bloody silly. Here are some other things that, if it had been built, the Tulip would definitely have looked like.

1. A matchstick.

2. A drumstick.

3. A cotton ear bud.

4. A mystical staff, of the sort that might be wielded by Gandalf the Grey.

5. A giant spring onion.

6. A can of deodorant, from one of the brands whose cans are seemingly deliberately designed in such a way so as to remind male shoppers of the fact that they have a penis.

7. A device for unblocking a drain.

8. One of those lights that’s meant to resemble a candle.

9. A swab stick, of the sort sometimes used at sexual health clinics, in close proximity to somebody’s penis.

10.  A nearly finished lollipop.

11. Something a child would make from a pipe cleaner in art class, which you then have to pretend to be impressed by and keep on show for the next six months.

12. An arcology, of the sort seen in classic video game SimCity 2000.

13. Something you would order online and then pray will arrive in unmarked packaging.

14. The part of the male anatomy that the thing you are ordering online is meant to be a more impressive replica of.

15. A building that appears on the London skyline in the Star Trek franchise, in an attempt to communicate that we are looking at the FUTURE.

14a. Sorry, the one before last was a bit vague. What I actually meant was: a penis.

16. A long thin tube with a confusing bulbous bit on the end.

17. A stamen. Which, for avoidance of doubt, is a plant’s penis.

One thing it definitely does not resemble:

A sodding tulip.

Anyway, it’s bad, and it’s good the mayor has blocked it.

That’s it, that’s the take.

(Thanks to Anoosh Chakelian, Jasper Jackson, Patrick Maguire for helping me get to 17.)

Jonn Elledge is editor of CityMetric and the assistant editor of the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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