Yesterday the Government announced that it would ease requirements on property developers to include "affordable housing."
Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said:
The Government will now introduce legislation, to be effective in early 2013, which will allow any developer of sites which are unviable because of the number of affordable homes, to appeal with immediate effect. The Planning Inspectorate will be instructed to assess how many affordable homes would need to be removed from the section 106 agreement for the site to be viable in current economic conditions.
The Planning Inspectorate would then, as necessary, set aside the existing section 106 agreement for a three-year period, in favour of a new agreement with fewer affordable homes. We would encourage councils to take the opportunity before legislation comes into effect to seek negotiated solutions where possible.
Responding for the Labour Party, the Shadow Minister Hilary Benn asked: "How many affordable homes does he anticipate will now not be built because of his proposed changes?" Rather missed the point. If a scheme is not viable then nothing is built. If it made viable then something is built. As Mr Pickles responded:
The problem with Labour—I say this with lots of respect—is that it seems to think that because a plan has been passed it happens. If social housing is uneconomic and developers build nothing, it does not matter if the ratio for social housing is set at 50%, because 50% of nothing is still nothing.
One of the more tiresome examples in the long lexicon of municipal Newspeak is the term "affordable housing." All housing is affordable. If a landlord is charging too high a rent or a vendor trying to sell a house for too much then the the good old price mechanism kicks in prompting them to cut the rent or the sale price until someone can afford it.
What people mean by "affordable housing" is subsidised housing. This might not be subsidised directly by the state. It could be subsidised by the requirement on a property developer to provide some properties in a housing scheme at a loss – to then be sold or rented out at a low rate to some favoured groups at the behest of the state. This would be part of the deal for being given planning permission. The "affordable" housing – such as "intermediate" housing – will still be unaffordable
to some people. Others, as noted earlier are able to afford housing even
when it is not subsidised. Sometimes the rich are in subsidised housing while the poor are in unsubsidised housing.
The reference to "affordable" housing is an example of where the Left has managed to distort the meaning of language. Often we will hear the complaint that a proposal from a developer for say, 100 new homes, will include, say, "only 10 affordable units." The implication being that the other 90 homes are worthless as they are unaffordable.
The requirement for "affordable housing" in the bureaucratic sense of the term reduces the supply of affordable housing in the sense of its true meaning. The reason is that the requirement constrains the supply of new housing. It is by increasing the supply of housing that we would reduce its price and allow more of us a wider affordable choice.