The era in which all Britons aspire to own their own home may be coming to an end, according to the Housing minister, John Healey. In a controversial speech, he suggested that Britain may be moving towards a European model, with renting on a roughly equal footing with buying. He said home ownership had fallen from 71 per cent of households in 2003 to 68 per cent today, noting that this trend began in 2005, well before the recession. "I'm not sure that's such a bad thing," he said.
You can read John Healey's full speech, which was hosted by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, on the Fabian website as well as Next Left's live report from the event.
Healey was clear that he was not arguing for hostility to home ownership but for a more balanced approach.
So we need a new ownership model. Not all or nothing, but a flexible system which suits the different stages in people’s lives. With shared ownership arrangements like HomeBuy Direct allowing people to buy more of their home when they can afford to.
And in the future, I’d like to see it be just as easy to sell equity in your home back, to the council, housing association, or co-operative, allowing people flexible tenure in the same property, that adapts to their circumstances. People may choose to release equity whenever it suits them and build it back up when they can, and if they want.
Of course, not everyone will want to own property. So we need new choices in tenure – more opportunities for everyone to have a decent, secure, affordable home. That means increasing the diversity of tenures, it means allowing people to move more easily between tenures and it means putting them on a more equal footing with home ownership, as they are in other European countries.
The Independent reports support for that broad approach from Martin Gahbauer, Nationwide Building Society's chief economist.
Gahbauer said he did not think the era of people aspiring to own a home had come to an end, but added it would be "no bad thing" if renting became a stable alternative. "In Germany, over 60 per cent of the population rent their homes and stay in one rented property for many years, whereas here most people stay in one for six months to a couple of years. If renting makes sense in the long term, it's not necessarily a bad thing," he said.