Website of the Chartered Institute of Building
The number of households in England in emergency accommodation has risen 60% since 2011 (Ashley Van Dyck/Dreamstime)

Why the UK needs a national housing service

11 December 2017 | By GCR Staff 7 Comments

The chief executive of a UK construction professional institute has taken the unusual step of calling for the nationalisation of the country’s housing market in order to fix the dysfunctions causing its housing crisis.

Acknowledging his call as “radical”, Chris Blythe OBE, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Building, says a “National Housing Body” should be formed to take responsibility for matching housing demand with supply across the country.

Chris Blythe, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Building

Given the ongoing failure of the private market, such a state-led body would have strategic control of planning, and be a national housing developer empowered to provide low-cost, high-quality homes, Blythe writes in the current edition of GCR’s sister publication, Construction Research & Innovation.

Calling affordable housing a “precious national resource”, Blythe says the UK should follow its own example with state provision of education and healthcare, and treat housing as a basic entitlement.

“If we are educating people and looking after their health, does it not make sense that we should close the loop with good housing that promotes health and enables people to take advantage of our investment in their education?” he writes.

In his hard-hitting essay, entitled “Nationalise the housing market: A radical proposal for an extraordinary crisis”, Blythe traces the origins of the crisis over two decades, during which time a rapidly swelling population has collided with a profound decrease in the supply of new homes, leading to soaring housing costs for buyers and renters.

His proposal comes as the number of households in England in emergency accommodation hit 77,240 this year, an increase of 60% since March 2011.

Official statistics show that the median price paid for residential property increased by 259% between 1997 and 2016, while median individual annual earnings increased by just 68% in the same time period.

Over two decades a rapidly swelling population has collided with a profound decrease in the supply of new homes (CRI)

He notes that on top of an annual housing benefit bill of £25bn, the UK now spends nearly £1bn a year just on temporary accommodation for homeless households.

Large private housebuilders come under fire in his essay. Blythe says they are “thriving on the chaos” and rewarding themselves with “staggering” bonuses and share sell-offs as home prices have hit historic highs.

A nationalised housing service would also drive innovation in the industry, says Blythe, arguing that suppliers could invest in offsite and prefabrication techniques if they were guaranteed a pipeline of new homes by the new body.

“All this is quite radical, but we have come to an extraordinary pass and extraordinary measures are called for,” he writes. “At the root of the NHB idea is modest proposal: that decent, affordable housing is a precious national resource as essential as healthcare and education. It should be available fairly to all.”

  • For the duration of this month GCR readers can access the full, referenced version of Blythe’s essay free of charge here.

Top image: The number of households in England in emergency accommodation has risen 60% since 2011 (Ashley Van Dyck/Dreamstime)