Priced Out – affordable housing campaign

PricedOut is a campaign group which acts on behalf of first time buyers and owner occupiers who cannot afford to buy a house in Britain. They argue that the government is largely to blame for this because of the tax advantages of buying a house simply to let it and the encouragement it gives to property speculators. Their tagline that they are part of a ‘priced out generation’ . Their website has a great deal of useful information about the tension between rising house prices and the lack of available mortgages.

The campaign has a slightly confused or mixed agenda. If you use their ‘How much richer has my home made me’ calculator then you will likely get an answer that basically argues that houses are not meant as investment vehicles, but as homes and that the only ‘profit’ you make is from inflation.  But the campaign argues that it is important that we each own a home, and as such seems more concerned with being excluded from being part of this investment opportunity than it does about how we own our homes, or why we must own our own home. Nor do they comment on the variety of government schemes which are designed to make buying a home more affordable (such as HomeBuy or part-buying via a Housing Association) perhaps because these tend to be restricted to ‘key workers’ or others eligible for council housing.

The campaign make some good demands – such as making use of the thousands of homes which lie empty in Britain (estimated at 762,000 homes), improved tenants rights, and increased taxation on buy-to-let properties and second homes. But they also argue for the building of 5 million new ‘affordable’ homes. They define affordability as ‘when the average price of a home equals no more than 5 times the average salary’. This is actually still very expensive and whether the campaign are simply trying to be pragmatic and not ask for too much, or whether they really believe that to be affordable is unclear. Most ecological mortgage lenders in Britain will not lend more than 3 times your salary, an indication I would argue of what they perceive to be a sustainable price for the occupier. There is no mention about these new builds being in any way environmentally sustainable either, which is a missed opportunity.

PricedOut also suggest that there should be ‘incentives to encourage older people living in larger houses to ‘trade down’ to smaller properties and make these properties cheaper for younger people with families’ – quite a controversal and radical aim. They are effectively arguing that you should only live in a house which is an ‘appropriate’ size for your needs. This is a good idea, and one that I have come across several times in the eco-communities I have been visiting, but it sits awkwardly with the rest of the campaign aims which are basically about enabling freedom to buy and build, rather than a more radical aim of determining how we live in our own homes. It is also unclear why it is only ‘older’ people who should downsize, there are plenty of people of all ages living in large houses they do not necessarily need.

PricedOut can be understood in different ways – as a group simply annoyed at being excluded from the property market, or as a more radical initiative which argues we should reconsider how we own and live in our homes. It has some socialist underpinnings in its assumptions, but at first glance it does little to challenge the capitalist approach to building, buying, and making profit from our homes.

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