It may seem fitting that the new government guide to home ownership, launched today, includes pages about interior design, but as someone who has written a book on death and dying, on observing the negative effects of anxiety, on managing grief, the guide has a serious purpose.
The government is under pressure from some in the debate on renting to move away from defining housing affordability as basic income and towards better ways of providing homes.
Today’s Home Start guide attempts to explain the role of Help to Buy and the government’s plans for new tenures – a new starter home will be created with minimum deposits; 30% of workers on low to medium incomes will be given the option of renting an affordable home; housing associations will be required to have their main rental properties offer tenancies lasting five years and a new form of permanent tenancy which will not need a renewal clause.
But these changes are not wholly without importance. If demand for rental housing is going to outstrip supply and the government is going to expect people to keep paying for homes they are not building, then it makes sense to talk about other ways to assist. The government is right to clarify how the Help to Buy scheme might affect renting as long as the supposed minor inconvenience of landlords changing property and increasing rent is outweighed by the overall benefit of making homes more affordable.
The longer-term approach of the Guide makes good sense. Thousands of people will have moved house since the previous Guide, and it is fair to ask whether the home in which you were living is suitable for your needs. But the lack of meaningful guidance on what constitutes a good home is indicative of a general vacuum at the government’s core on housing. It continues to employ housing associations without sufficient scrutiny on how they work. If, as the Guide claims, more properties are being built, it is still failing to make a positive difference for those struggling to rent.
But the Guide is also an opportunity to step back and consider this in a wider context. According to the guide, people are happiest in family and close community connections; the best seats in a plane seat or the very best toilets; a good roof over their head, good schools; a workplace or college where they feel valued and safe; an environment which is clean and easy to live in. It does not get much clearer than that.
When you find yourself in low or middle income homes, which means when you are vulnerable to housing failure, you can find yourself in a community of families with the same experience. You can share about your fears, your tensions, your stories. As the Guide would say, you can help yourself if your home is “on the up”.