Who should build our houses?

Why should the government loan money to small construction firms that build homes (at a profit)? Could this money be used in a different way to supports the development of a not for profit building industry?

These questions are prompted by the government’s decision to set aside £500 million to create a ‘Builder’s Finance Fund‘ in a desperate attempt to increase the number of houses that are built in the UK. We are still waiting for more details but it seems that the government will lend money to small and medium sized house builders.

This idea has wide support in policy circles, and has been broadly endorsed by the Labour Party and by Shelter but it is a limited idea with many downsides. 

It comes from the undoubtedly true twin observations that we are not building enough homes and that the construction industry is increasingly dominated by a small number of large house builders. These two facts are linked. These large house builders do not currently seem to be inclined to dramatically increase production.

Given this situation you can see why the government would want to create more competition between house builders. Hence today’s announcement.

This is a missed opportunity. The government could have used this moment to signal that they would support a different type of house builder. Not just small builders but value based builders.

Rather than giving cheap loans to small private house builders, the government could be doing much more to support not for profit construction companies such as housing associations or council owned construction companies (such as the one recently established by Newham council). 

Instead we are left with yet more state support for private industry.

40 thoughts on “Who should build our houses?

  1. Fully support your objections to these state subsidies to development firms (large or small) and the need for a great deal more not-for-profit housing production. I’m less happy about the forms you suggest: “housing associations” is a category now so wide that it spans some exemplary progressive outfits through to corporations which behave much like any for-profit corporations except that they don’t have shareholders to distribute to. I suggest you be a bit more precise. As for Newham Council… what justifies them building for private (market level) rent? Some other boroughs are building for genuinely affordable rents and there are available forms like co-housing and coops which could equally build well and fast.

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