IN the space available we have not had the opportunity to discuss in detail every issue of public interest including, importantly, the acute housing shortage, population and our heritage. We are encouraged by Andium Homes’ purchase of brownfield sites and consider the Environment Department should be supportive of their ambitions to provide much-needed homes. Population growth is unavoidable and government should turn its attention away from appeasing those who mistakenly believe it’s possible to set realistic population targets and towards minimising the need for immigration by reforming the education programme to encourage local people to fill local posts in hospitality, agriculture, retail and construction, as well as the finance sector. Advance Jersey wants our Island always to be a great place in which to live, work and play and it is difficult to overestimate how big a part our heritage plays in that challenge; our culture is difficult to define, but Jersey people understand that it is different in a positive way and that it is a source of pride.
LET’S start with a reality check. In an Island of just 45 square miles, with a population of more than 100,000, not everyone is going to get their ideal home. Our coastline and green fields are precious, if not sacrosanct. There is only so much building land. Moving out of a family home to a place of their own, most single people and couples will have to settle for a flat in town.
High house prices mean that many low-income households will never be able to afford to buy, while those who dream of a house in a leafy northern parish find themselves settling for a suburban terrace. We all need to make compromises.
Let’s not beat about the bush: Jersey has a housing crisis. We don’t currently have the homes we need to provide decent, affordable accommodation to our large and growing population.
Aspire Jersey will continue the policies of increasing and improving our social housing while working closely with the private sector to help more families own homes of their own.
What can the States do to help? For years it neglected necessary maintenance and renewal of the social housing stock, which should have been the first call on rental income – a scandal that hasn’t had the attention it deserves. Now States housing agency Andium is tackling the backlog energetically with a multi-million-pound programme to build affordable new homes, while repairing and refurbishing old ones. We support, and will continue this essential work, while also seeking new ways to help families own homes of their own.
One reason for high house prices is the windfall planning gain that accrues to landowners when their land is rezoned for housing, typically multiplying in price a hundredfold or more. Let’s be clear – developers and builders who, through construction work, add value and incur risk deserve to be rewarded, but it’s not acceptable for fortunes to be created at the stroke of a planning officer’s pen. Open rural land is an amenity of the Island as a whole; where it has to be sacrificed for homebuilding, any financial benefit should be shared between buyers (through reduced prices) and the communities most affected, not trousered by a lucky few.
It also follows that when it comes to new development, greater emphasis should be placed on starter homes and small family homes. For the affluent there are already plenty of mansions to choose from and the supply of land is too restricted to justify building more. Those who insist on doing so will face higher taxes and tougher planning guidelines.
IN different forms, the problem of expensive and inadequate housing has been a feature of Jersey life for decades. The current version takes it to a new level with the prospect of a generation that will never be able to own homes.
Population control, as proposed elsewhere in Big Plough’s manifesto, is part of the solution. As long as excessive immigration continues, the law of supply and demand means that property prices and rents will keep on soaring out of reach.
In the quest for affordable housing, it is worth another look at innovative measures which have helped in the past. A 21st-century reimagining of the old States Loan scheme, for example, might be able to safeguard cheaper repayment plans for young Islanders when commercial interest rates start to rise again. The States have already entered the property development business by way of the Jersey Development Company and, especially given the expertise available now here after 50 years of the finance industry’s presence, should be able to extend that principle into the realm of mortgage payments if they chose.
Another old idea to consider anew is the imposition of rent controls. This might be political anathema to the current administration but, in practical terms, could be better for both tenants and public finances than Income Support rent rebates, often described as a landlord’s charter. It might also be applied to commercial premises in the interests of enterprise and economic vitality.
The shortage of rental properties should continue to be tackled through public and private developments on urban and brownfield sites, subject to high standards of design, while stricter control is applied to the scale of building or rebuilding in the countryside.
There are no easy answers but equally no doubt that Jersey will not tolerate a government that rolls out the red carpet for so-called high-value residents and permits the development of multi-million-pound houses while elsewhere, as revealed in the wake of the Care Inquiry Report, children are using a bucket as a toilet or turning up at school hungry and rat-bitten. We are all ‘high-value residents’ and will be treated accordingly.
FOR A BETTER LIFE
OVER the last 20 years house prices have risen much faster than wages and the prospect of owning your own house is now unachievable for many local families. The high level of rents makes it almost impossible to save for a deposit unless the bank of mum and dad is able to provide a loan.
There is an urgent need to establish a truly affordable housing scheme. Previous policies have been agreed but are not being used. The small-scale parish schemes currently offered are based on the normal market value of the home but allow the purchaser to buy an agreed proportion of the total value of a property. Under this principle, it is difficult for the homeowner to increase their equity share so that they can own their home outright.
Despite the wealth that the Island has generated over recent decades, there has been little evidence of any trickle-down effect. Instead, the proportion of owner-occupiers is actually decreasing. This leads to a two-tier society where many young local couples are being permanently excluded from the property market.
To make a real difference, the price of new units must be brought down. Removing the value of the land from the purchase price offers one simple solution. The States or a community land trust would own the land on a very long-term basis. A buyer would purchase the full value of the building, without needing to pay for the land on which it sits. This would reduce the price but the purchaser would still own the whole building. Homes would be reserved for first-time buyers to ensure that the stock remained available to local families in real need of help.
The other key way to reduce the price of purchasing is to use different building techniques. Modular units allow larger units to be built within a budget of £250,000. This would be affordable to a family with two earners on median incomes. A family home needs to be adaptable as families grow and children leave home and start their own families. Building in flexibility means that the family can put down roots in the community, perhaps run a small business from the premises and remain there into old age.
Around 25% of Jersey’s land area has been built on – in many cases at very low density. Land has been used up without achieving its full potential. There is still plenty of land available in the built-up area for extra units to be built but we cannot afford to waste these sites. Buildings could be one or two stories higher without any detrimental effect on the environment.
Where Andium and other providers build new estates for rental, these should place far more emphasis on creating communities where people feel they belong. A mix of dwelling types should be included on each development so that long-term residents can stay in the area they know and move from a family home to a lifelong flat designed to allow residents to live safely even with mobility or sight problems.
NOWHERE is it more clear that Jersey needs a radically new way of doing things than in housing. There are major
problems at every level of the housing market.
We have an acute housing shortage, and an affordability crisis. Many people are struggling to pay rent – a cost which falls on the whole community through increased Income Support.
Meanwhile, at the top of the market, Jersey is in danger of allowing its beautiful countryside and coastline to be spoiled forever by allowing the construction of huge ‘show-off’ houses by the very wealthy. If you have the money, it seems, you can get whatever you want.
Jersey Together believes that housing is a fundamental human right. We should be using every policy-making tool available to increase the supply of affordable homes to buy and rent. Vested interests should not be allowed to stand in the way. It’s time for a new deal around housing.
At the moment we find ourselves running just to stand still. With the population increasing by over 1,000 a year we can never hope to satisfy demand. This is another reason why we believe that Jersey must aim for a stable population.
At the last census there were about 3,000 empty properties in Jersey. It’s estimated that around half were only temporarily vacant, but that still leaves 1,500 properties that could be brought onto the market. It is simply not acceptable for properties to be kept empty for long periods in an island with a housing crisis.
There are too many cases where exceptions to planning rules appear to have been made and huge houses permitted because of the perceived need to attract the super rich. At Jersey Together we are happy to welcome the very well-off to Jersey, but it should be on the basis that they – like the rest of us – respect the Island’s rules.
We need much greater transparency around Andium Homes. While it is good that we have an organisation spearheading investment in new social housing and improving the existing stock, there are troubling aspects to the way it has been set up. Taxpayers are subsidising increased rents through income support, so around a third of Andium’s supposed profits are simply a result of taxpayers money being handed from one part of the government to another.
Our ‘Stable Population’ policy will ensure that new houses are available to meet demand from existing residents. Only with a stable population can we hope to increase supply, reduce waiting lists
and make home ownership more affordable.
Our plans for a separate, beefed-up Environment Department will protect the Island from overbearing developments.
We will implement an empty property tax to incentivise the return of empty housing to the market.
We will review the way in which Andium Homes operates so that its business model is transparent. If necessary we will make adjustments to avoid it distorting the construction sector.