Affordable homes - affordable to whom?

Written by Wordsmith on .

What, pray, does 'affordable housing' mean?  Are we being suckered by the powers that claim to be with a soothing but meaningless phrase?  Is 'affordable housing' just a con?

'Affordable' is a totally subjective adjective.  The word has no absolute meaning.  What is affordable to one person is a pipe dream to another.  And affordability can change over time - and alarmingly fast.  After all, to Sir Phillip Green of BHS infamy, one or more yachts are 'affordable'.

Perhaps the planners and their political masters should simply turn their fairy-dust kaleidoscopes the other way up and tell us instead how many unaffordable houses they are allowing to be built.

'Affordable housing' - even when festooned with Help to Buy, shared freehold and half buy-half rent schemes - will not solve the nation's or the Marlborough area's housing crisis.

If politicians and the media were being honest with us, they would have to resort to that much used limiter: 'so-called'.  But a politician's speech littered with the phrase 'so-called affordable homes' is as likely an event as...as a full-blooded return to social housing.

The government seems to have turned its back on social housing - and its former providers are now re-badging themselves as 'providers of affordable homes'.  And some former social housing organisations are fast trying to be rid of their tenants so they can turn their buildings into...unaffordable homes?

One of the problems is that new housing can be bought not by members of a community that needs homes, but by anyone who can afford the prices.  This covers, of course, second home-owners and people looking for a pied de terre away from their home or workplace or so they can be near, from time to time, to relatives or yachts or boarding schools.

There is a house in Marlborough that many years ago was bought by College parents.  After their youngest child finished their education at the College, the parents left the house empty for eight years.  It is now the welcome home to new Marlborough residents. But Marlborough and Wiltshire lost eight years of a needed home - not to mention eight years of council tax.

If homes are left empty - like the many flats over shops - their owners should be penalised.  Homes are now a scarce resource and should be treated as such.  We are long past the 'Englishman's home is his castle' attitude to housing.

The footprints or in planners' language the curtilage (garden beds for rose bushes or vegetables, tennis courts, driveways, swimming pools and so on) of every 'Englishman's castle' - be it ever-so humble - should be given much more weight in calculating property taxes, rather than the number of bedrooms.

And if we are aiming at Theresa-fairness it should be the size of the bedrooms that matters not their number.  An estate agent may turn a tiny box room into a bedroom for a couple of children in bunk beds, but you would not get Sir Philip Green sleeping in a box room.

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