The activities of the housing, construction and property sectors have a tremendous economic impact. For every £1 spent on construction alone, £2.84 of economic activity is generated, with 90% of this spending retained in the UK. As the country looks to the post-pandemic recovery, our sector will have a massive role to play.
However, amidst the eagerness to bounce back from the economic shock of the pandemic as quickly as possible, we must not lose sight of the role affordable housing has to play in both the economic and social recovery.
Before Covid-19, investment in infrastructure, including housing, was already central to the government’s vision for the future. ‘Levelling-up’ between regions and, crucially, within them, has huge potential to unlock sustainable growth by realising new opportunities and tackling existing inequalities.
The levelling-up agenda and focus on infrastructure investment, plus changes to how government investment is assessed with a review of the Treasury’s ‘Green Book’, show this government won’t be satisfied to just re-establish the status quo.
We know about ‘Project Speed’ and the desire to ‘build, build, build’, but the government has also said it wants to ‘build back better’. The challenge is not only how to get things moving quickly, but how to do it in a way that meets the challenges of building a fairer society, where opportunity is more widely available and huge issues, such as tackling climate change, are met head on.
As chief executive of one of the UK’s largest housing associations, every day I see the impact good-quality, affordable homes can have. They allow people to take on new jobs, get on at school and support health and wellbeing. As we have spent more time at home during the pandemic, the value of a good home has never been more evident.
Benefits to developers
To ensure we build back better, the need to build more affordable housing has never been so urgent. Affordable homes do not just benefit the people who live in them – there are also clear benefits to developers.
Including affordable housing in a scheme increases the likelihood of securing community support and of consent being granted. And as the Letwin Review found, inclusion of a diverse range of tenures, affordable homes among them, also improves build-out rates, so that the economic and social stimulus of development can be realised sooner.
It is welcome news that the government has recognised the important need to build more affordable homes through its new Affordable Homes Programme. This will support the delivery of a range of tenures, from affordable rent to affordable home ownership products such as shared ownership.
For years, housing associations have sought to address the housing crisis by building a range of homes that tackle challenges the crisis poses. To deliver the recovery we now so desperately need, let’s work together to maximise the potential for building affordable homes, to help the economy and society become better than they were before.
Geeta Nanda is chief executive of Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing