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OPINION: What actually is ‘affordable’?

OPINION: What actually is ‘affordable’?

Wednesday 19 October 2022

OPINION: What actually is ‘affordable’?

Wednesday 19 October 2022


I have to give credit to the Housing Minister, Deputy David Warr, and his team for at least trying, and vocally so, to meet the challenges of the affordability in housing currently faced by so many people in Jersey.

I also agree that Andium and the Housing Trusts deserve huge credit for what they have achieved and continue to provide.

You only need to look through the windows or websites of the agents who both sell and let property locally to become instantly aware just how expensive housing costs are on the island. Better still of course just ask your family and friends. They all know how tough the housing market is in Jersey.

Observing from the public gallery recently during the States Assembly meeting, I listened to Deputy Warr during questions without notice, and also during the debate led by Deputy Rob Ward (Reform Jersey) as he sought help for a particular group of Andium tenants in meeting rising rents.

For us amateur political bores who spend far too much time perhaps studying politics both in Jersey and the UK, we are all acutely aware of the ongoing debate about the cost of living. Then again, aren’t we all every time we reach for the debit card to pay for goods and services?!

David Warr.jpg

Pictured: "I have to give credit to the Housing Minister... for at least trying."

Interest rates are rising steadily because of recent bad decisions by the new UK Prime Minister and her Chancellor, although economic uncertainty exists around the world, not least because of Putin’s war in Ukraine. Naturally, we are more apt to look closer to home when the going gets tough, and those of us who see our children and grandchildren struggle tend to get very anxious indeed.

I was somewhat alarmed, therefore, to hear Deputy Warr say, in answer to a question, that he and his team were unsure what is actually meant by ‘affordable’.

We now learn that action is to be taken by the Chief Minister to address shortages in housing with the old St Saviour's hospital chosen to address housing needs.

David Warr has also announced 100 units of new housing are to be designated as key worker accommodation. All good news, of course, but one cannot wonder how long all this will take, and indeed what more can the government do in terms of the actual and very real affordability issues that we are facing right now in meeting housing costs, arguably most people's biggest monthly expense?

If rents are too high, both in the private sector and indeed in the so called social rented sector as is clear, who then can afford the full market rate or indeed a percentage thereof? And is this then the most pressing problem?

Is it also not the case that the current housing market is now looking at a readjustment as interest rates are rising significantly, as indeed are rents. With less units available across the whole of the housing market, is this set to get even worse?!

One cannot but wonder how those with very large mortgages will fare when their current fixed rates expire, but no doubt the mortgage providers are best placed to advise on this challenge as it unfolds, as indeed it will, if not already happening.

mortgageproperty.jpg

Pictured: "One cannot but wonder how those with very large mortgages will fare when their current fixed rates expire."

I remain convinced we need a radical rethink on how homes are provided for those who, in particular, cannot afford high rents or high purchase costs. If the market as it is causes problems in recruitment and retention of the very key workers David Warr is now seeking to support, will the provision of 100 units suffice? What size of housing will key workers actually need, as surely 100 x one-bed flats, for example, may not meet the need of the key workers we aim to attract. Not all key workers are (or would be) single or just a couple, one can assume.

My faithful old copy of the Oxford English Dictionary does provide a reasonable definition of ‘affordable’. However it seems, when considering this in the context of property, some feel it does not apply! "It's all about the market economy, stupid!" is the answer I once received.

So what price then, dear Housing Minister, do you put on the provision of a home and the creation of a community? And is it maybe at least worth considering if now is not the time to consider a radical solution in how you provide the much needed homes? And additionally, how you allocate, to whom they are allocated, and define clearly how much households can actually afford from their already overstretched net family income to pay the rent, or even buy in the case of a first time buyer?

Incidentally, there's another important question we are all keen to hear your answer to Mr Warr, and that is: What is your definition of a 'key worker'?

Archbishop Justin Welby once wrote that "it's not just about economics", and then went on to define what is meant by the ‘Common Good’. Welby’s vision for addressing these challenging times is well worth a read, and not least his thoughts on the provision of housing in light of today's crisis.

It seems to me that providing the homes that hard pressed islanders and their families actually need and can afford without help from the taxpayer via the housing component of Income Support, would go a very long way indeed to meeting and addressing the current crisis, whilst also improving recruitment and retention of the much needed employees across most, if not all the key sectors.

I end with yet another definition, for thought and comment: 'crisis': a time when a difficult or important decision must be made.

We await further announcements perhaps?

READ MORE...

OPEN LETTER TO THE HOUSING MINISTER: New approach to housing needed — but not like this

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Comments

Comments on this story express the views of the commentator only, not Bailiwick Publishing. We are unable to guarantee the accuracy of any of those comments.

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Posted by Joel Livingston on
I thought Deputy Warr said recently that £380K for a 1 Bedroom Flat was affordable and even more so if you had the Bank of Mum and Dad? One thing is for sure, for £380K you can get a decent House in most places of the UK so it is a no brainer for a lot of people to give up on Jersey and leave.
Posted by Bernadette Evans on
Property prices in Jersey have always been extortionate, whether buying or renting. Flats are still being thrown up in every available space and are still selling like hot cakes. It was recently announced that Andium Homes were making huge rent increases despite the fact that many of their tenants are on Income Support. Many people do not appear to realise that the income support scheme is funded by the Jersey Taxpayer, so maybe we are the ones deserving of some credit too.
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