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The housing crisis has built up over time and can’t be fixed overnight. But there are things the government can do to make homes more affordable to lower-income families

Much of Britain is unaffordable to lower-income, working families according to Home Truths, a report published this week by the Resolution Foundation.

The report finds that a third of local authorities are unaffordable to a low-income couple on £22,000 and with one child who are looking to rent privately, while around four in ten are beyond the reach of the same family if they want to buy a house with a mortgage. Affordable in the context of the report is defined as rent or on-going mortgage costs taking up no more than 35% of a household’s net income.

It is no surprise that the problem is most acute in London, where no areas are affordable to a low-income family on £22,000. The cheapest borough, Bexley, would see 43% of the family’s income going on rent. In most London boroughs (28 out of 33) rent eats up more than half of a family’s income. But the problem is broader than the capital. Towns and cities such as Warwick, Poole, Bournemouth and Southampton are all unaffordable, as is Aberdeen.

In almost half (45%) of local authorities, private rent is now more expensive than the cost of monthly mortgage repayments. This is concerning at a time when private renting is increasingly the only option for low-income families who are not vulnerable enough to be in social housing and not wealthy enough to accumulate the deposit they need to buy. Most low- to middle-income households under the age of 35 (52%) are now private renters.

The report shows that shared ownership – where families can buy part of their home and rent the remaining share – is a highly affordable tenure. Only 6% of LAs are unaffordable to a family on £22K under this tenure. However, few families can access this type of housing. Less than 1 per cent of low- to middle-income families are living in shared ownership, and attention should be paid to innovative ways to increase supply.

Reassuringly, social housing is affordable in all areas of the country. However, we may see trouble ahead. On average across Britain, social rents are 62% of local market rents. The government’s affordable rent regime will impose a much higher cap of 80% of local market rent. This may leave many families struggling to meet their housing costs and maintain a decent standard of living.

We have allowed the housing crisis to build up over time, and it can’t be fixed overnight. But there are things we can do to make Britain more affordable to lower-income families. Government needs to maintain its focus on solutions across a wide range of tenures, not just those for first-time buyers.

Its commitment to build to rent (demonstrated through its equity fund to support the development of purpose-built homes to rent and a loan guarantee to attract investors) is welcome but has been muddied by the return to a strong focus on buying in the Budget. Government needs to send a clear signal that build-to-rent projects are a safe investment to get developers and investors on board.

Local action is crucial, alongside this national support. In areas where families are trapped into the private rental sector yet have limited options for affordable, secure tenancies, LAs can require residential land developers to build homes to rent rather than homes to buy.

Public landowners can also provide land on a long-term lease and charge an annual ground rent, or invest it and take a return over time. Both these options would increase the viability of build-to-rent developments without pushing up rents for the families who will eventually live in them.

The relatively low on-going costs of shared ownership together with the much smaller deposit required in comparison to owning with a standard mortgage make it a potential housing solution for low-income families. However, the current product needs development. For example, rising house prices mean that fewer shared owners can staircase to full ownership and can become trapped in the tenure, unable to take their equity share elsewhere.

Without this support at the local and national levels, low- to middle-income families will find themselves increasingly squeezed by stubbornly high housing costs as the cost of living climbs and wages continue to stagnate.

This article originally appeared on Public Finance