Comment: Welcome to the general election housing auction
There’s a general election campaign in full swing, so welcome to the housing auction.
Labour is bidding for your vote by pledging to build 100,000 new council homes a year by 2024.
But hold on, what’s this? Yes, the Tories want your vote too, by saying they will deliver a million homes over five years, and help first-time buyers.
There are awkward questions. Where are the houses going to be built, and will the planning mechanisms be able to cope with those ambitious timescales?
And is there a sufficient reservoir of skilled labour that will make such huge building programmes feasible?
Political parties have talked the talk on housing but when it’s come to delivery, there has been disappointment, and to a certain extent that is because many of the factors which largely govern the market are not susceptible to political control.
House prices have periodically surged, crushing the dreams of those saving in the hope of gaining a foothold on the housing ladder.
The credit crisis led to lenders adopting a more cautious approach, adding to the difficulties. There is demand, a yearning among young people to buy their own home, but it isn’t at any price.
Building lots of new homes sounds like it will rebalance the supply and demand equation, by churning out the supply to meet the demand.
However, if those houses are out of the price reach of those who aspire to buy, all that will happen is the “haves” have more home-buying choices, while the “have-nots” continue to be shut out.
The other way to get a home is to rent.
Housing experts are agreed about the need, but opinions are divided about whether Labour could deliver on its council housing promises.
It would require a monumental effort in a programme which would cost many billions of pounds.
Yet while market forces have been no friend to people trying to buy a home, in the rental sector, the government, through council housing, can at least exert some control.
The reality is that even if these political promises are honoured in full, it’s going to take years for their impact to be felt.