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  • Lawrence Bailey

Maybe we need to re-think affordability

Five years ago, I used this column to ask if the UK would ever see affordable housing again. It wasn’t a rhetorical question either.

The underlying economics behind government policy is based upon supply and demand. In other words, the more you build, the cheaper new homes will become.

That’s something of a fallacy of course unless there’s going to be a dramatic drop in the cost of land, materials and skilled construction crews. And, when you learn how many bricks that go into new homes are imported due to a domestic shortage then you can guess the post-Brexit impact as well.

Help to Buy schemes are a undoubted boost for first time buyers. The problem is that the mechanics of the scheme favour those who don’t actually need that much help in the first place.

Latest research states that something like 40% of young adults cannot afford to buy even one of the cheapest homes available in their area.

House prices have risen by 173% over the last 40 years while average pay for 25-34 year olds has grown by barely 19% over the same period.

Because housing is now basically a commodity rather than anything to do with public provision, our perspective changes depending on whether we’re buyers or sellers.

To the buyer, it’s a case of raising a deposit and borrowing four and a half times your salary. Good luck with that.

To the owner – especially the generations who joined Thatcher’s ‘property-owning democracy’ through the Right to Buy – it’s a pensionable asset (and one that you can rent out too).

Strangely, the correlation between property prices and renting isn’t as straightforward as you’d think. In some places rents are reported to have jumped from an average £140 to £200 a week. In others the market is stagnant if not over-supplied.

Prime minister Theresa May recently surprised a Conservative party conference by mooting the possibility that council housing wasn’t such a bad things after all.

However, there are those who reckon public housing bodies will struggle to get back into the house-building habit to any significant degree. What they produce will cost more and take longer to deliver, say the market gurus.

An alternative is to get more for your public pound through social housing providers buying new properties in bulk from house-builders at fixed discount prices. It’s a option that would tick a lot of boxes in my opinion.

Missing that syncing feeling

Ok, it’s probably me. I mean, ask anyone and they’ll tell you my relationship with new technology is of estranged kind.

I’ve long come to the conclusion that if my smartphone could actually speak then it wouldn’t bother to talk to the likes of me. Maybe that’s why I can’t get it to link to anything else successfully either.

Although I have a hands-free phone facility in the car, the reception can be a bit dodgy. The other day I pulled over and got out of the car to get a better network signal. Despite having four bars I couldn’t hear the person I was calling.

It was only when I turned around and saw my car passenger gesticulating and pointing to the dashboard did I realise that my smartphone was still connected to the car. Not very after all smart, I thought. My phone was probably thinking the same.

Thankfully the free wi-fi setup in Swansea’s city centre has proved to be remarkably idiot-proof and problem-free so far. Just give me time though.

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