These are my thoughts on housing policy as I see it currently;
We are in the middle of a housing crisis, with homelessness at shameful levels, rent and purchase prices at levels that exacerbate the issue. Part of the solution is of course to build more houses, but the question needs to be asked to what standards, at what cost, and how it should be paid for?
An excellent article in The Guardian this morning (gu.com/p/4eek4/stw) warns that
Housing built in the UK today and in the next few years may have to be expensively retrofitted with energy-saving technology within the next two decades, according to the government’s climate adviser, the Committee on Climate Change.
There is no doubt in my mind that from an environmental and technological viewpoint, all new housing (all buildings actually) should be build to the PassivHaus standard. Foresighted and brave local authorities are currently writing this into their legislation, regardless of the State’s inability to lead the way. This is to be welcomed. It is also understandable that elements of the political spectrum find themselves unable to support this measure, due to a fear that doing so will slow down the production of, or reduce the volume of, urgently needed housing. Whether this is true or not, I won’t argue here for brevity. The reality is that we have an election ahead of us in early 2016, so whatever happens will be decided by new leadership. It is my view that the cost/affordability of building to a high standard should not trump the technical/environmental imperative to do what is right. Rather, we need to change our society, to stop building to awful building standards as we have been. Not everyone needs to own their own home. Perhaps it is time to try building state-developed housing, to very high quality and sizes, with fully resourced community amenities in our towns and cities? Housing that people are happy to rent with adequate security of tenure, knowing the buildings are safe, cheap to heat, and free from toxins such as mold and poor air quality.
Secondly, a massive investment is required into the existing housing stock, to make it energy efficient, comfortable and healthy. This too should be to the EnerPHit standard, Passive house for retrofit. It would require massive state investment in supporting existing building owners to reach this target over a 10 year period, but this can be done with the right political will and funding mechanisms. It makes sense to address the wastefulness of our stock before funding massive investment in renewables energy production, a bit like fixing a leaking water pipe before you invest in new water production facilities.
I think a correct political policy position would be to have a long term strategy as per above, and implement a short-term emergency measure to get immediate results for those in urgent need. But the message should be both in parallel, not one or the other.
Does this sound like something our State might aspire to on its 100 year centenary? If not, we will be paying through the nose to upgrade buildings built in the coming decade for the rest of our lives.