Maps, Roadmaps and Crises: How Afghanistan Affects the UK Housing Shortage

As the UK has completed its evacuation programme at Kabul Airport and withdrew from Afghanistan, the media spotlight will remain focused on the diplomatic battle to come. However, the Government’s efforts must now also turn to the re-location and support of thousands of Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban.

Asylum seekers arriving in Britain already face well documented problems securing suitable housing – as well as accessing other services – and the pressure to house refugees will only increase in the coming months. Currently, almost a quarter of asylum seekers in the UK, and supported by the Home Office, are housed in just 10 local authorities, nine of which are among the country’s most deprived. Local Authorities across the country must come together, drawing on support from the private sector where possible.

The West has already seen a reaction. Airbnb have opened the doors of its properties to 20,000 Afghan refugees globally and called on their hosts to make more housing available for those fleeing the crisis. National and independent hotel chains across the UK have also made their facilities available to those in need.

Meanwhile, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has announced the Capital’s plans to help the city’s councils and housing associations. The mayor will expand the new Right to Buy-back fund to help councils purchase homes which can then be used for the resettling of refugees.

Whilst Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s recent interjections about the UK housing crisis were not in direct response to the Afghan Refugee Crisis, it is timely. The PM wants to see “a plan for major scaling up of self-commissioned new homes- across all tenures to boost capacity and overall housing supply”. The Government has pledged that 300,000 new homes will be built every year by 2025, up from 240,000 a year.

Simply building more homes, however, has proven a monumental challenge. Between 2018 and 2020, there has been a small increase of just one per cent in the volume of completions in the UK. For the private sector, there is currently no great incentive to flood the market with new houses. A mass increase in available housing will drive down house prices in general, running counter to the legitimate aim of private sector companies – to maximise profit.

Instead, the answer to the crisis lies in our ability as a nation to innovate. In England alone, there are roughly 250,000 homes that have remained unoccupied for six months or more. Planning regulations are preventing the beginning of reasonable and achievable developments, whilst tax breaks, grant schemes, and council partnerships often simply fuel demand – driving prices ever higher.

Due to the challenges to the construction industry posed by Covid-19, there are partially constructed developments across the country lacking the funds required to complete. Councils must support and encourage investors to finish projects quickly, without the red tape of planning restrictions and conditions delaying good quality development.

For property developers and the private sector, a shift in attention towards eco-friendly, sustainable, and affordable property may well prove to be equally as effective in solving the housing crisis. This should be seen an as opportunity for innovation, rather than a challenge to profitability.

Along with her Western allies, Britain’s place in the world has come under scrutiny due to ongoing events in Afghanistan. Attentions will now turn to the public and private sectors domestically, to ensure the rising demand for refugee accommodation helps to concentrate efforts to solve the housing crisis, and not make the situation worse.