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A better way to solve the housing crisis

Surely last week’s best story was about the house that was bought for 50p in 1999 and sold recently for 145,000. It’s one of those stories that you have to pinch yourself and read twice. But it is true and it contains a message.

Begin to dig under the story’s surface and a host of issues come to light. Although I guess in this case the cost of producing a Right to Buy application would have been more than the purchase price of the property, many issues surround the idea of Right to Buy including social housing, neighbourhood regeneration and the thorny issue of uninhabited homes.

For the owner of this property the omens were not good. A mere 50p as an investment represents virtually no risk but this has to be seen in the context of a failed ex-local authority estate with the attendant problems of high crime rates. Nobody wanted to live there.

The most important message to emerge from the story is the fact that the local agencies – the council, the police and the community – worked together to improve conditions in the area. These efforts have clearly paid off handsomely. Since 1999 crime rates have fallen steadily to just a third of their previous levels. This is now an estate that people actually want to live on.

The mortgage industry has done rather nicely on the back of the Right to Buy boom. In 1978 just 45% of the population were home owners. Today that figure is 75% and central to this rise must be the success of the Right to Buy scheme.

Clearly members of this government have changed their attitude to Right to Buy since their opposition days in the 1980s but there is no doubt that this government has made Right to Buy harder over the past five years. As there will always be a need for social housing, that was probably the right thing to do.

That housing supply is under pressure is a statement of the obvious but with the number of uninhabited homes running into the hundreds of thousands there is much that could be done to solve the nation’s housing crisis.

Hopeless cases can be turned around. There have been a number of initiatives by which local authorities have been given the power to seize vacant properties but these have been poorly received as they smack of all stick and no carrot. A better idea is to work with the properties’ owners in a constructive way.

The case of the community and the 50p house signposts a shared approach towards getting things achieved. This story gives hope to us all, as well as a rather warm and fuzzy feeling inside. It shows that with a concerted effort, areas that are unattractive can be made desirable to the extent that they not only become places where people want to live but also communities once more. Simon biddle

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