Only a ‘whole stock’ approach can fix housing

New metro mayors will struggle to boost local prosperity without tackling the housing crisis, says Kevin Gulliver.

The election of metro mayors in city regions in the Midlands and north of England this week constitutes a significant devolution of power and spending from Westminster and Whitehall. Yet the devolved authority apparatus in the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Sheffield city region, Tees Valley and Liverpool city region face considerable challenges to boost the prosperity of their sub-regions.

How the national housing crisis plays out in city regions is particularly significant since generating greater levels of economic growth while investing in new infrastructure will be compromised if there is insufficient affordable housing to meet the needs of existing citizens and migrating workers.

This is why Human City Institute has published a new report to raise the profile of housing issues in the West Midlands.

The report, entitled Accelerating Prosperity through Housing in the West Midlands’ describes the key housing challenges in the area, including demand of an additional 250,000 households over the next two decades. This rate of household formation is equivalent to an additional local authority added to the seven core councils in the area, of Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton.

A backlog of housing needs has also been building for many years. Housing supply has been inadequate for a long time, although there are signs of an increase in housing completions, greater rates of conversion of offices into residential spaces and bringing empty homes back into use.

There are more than 50,000 applicants on waiting lists across the West Midlands combined authority area, statutory homelessness runs at about 6,000 households yearly and the use of temporary accommodation has doubled in the last two years. Affordability in the home ownership and private rented sectors in the West Midlands is noticeably worsening, exacerbated by stagnant wages, the impact of welfare reform and rising costs of household essentials on family budgets.

At the same time, in-situ housing needs persist – especially overcrowding, indecent housing and fuel poverty. Concerted action to tackle older and poorer housing, thermal efficiency and environmental obsolescence are required alongside new housing.

Our report argues that a focus on new housebuilding does not take into account the effects of these wider housing challenges. Rather, a ‘whole stock’ approach is recommended that stresses investment in existing housing, bringing empty homes back into use, conversion of offices into homes, and underscoring the benefits of urban renewal and place-shaping.

Such investment is good value for money. It not only supports economic development – by improving labour mobility for example – but also creates economic value of itself by providing jobs, training and apprenticeships, and by sustaining local supply chains. This is particularly important as a means of supporting fragile neighbourhood economies and in improving local environments.

New house-building, and investment in existing housing and neighbourhoods reduces the burden on the NHS by promoting good physical and mental health, as well as boosting the life chances of disadvantaged communities.

Combined authorities and metro mayors will need to play a pivotal strategic role in housing strategy alongside development of the economies of city regions and upgrading transport infrastructure.

Short, medium and long-term strategies are needed. Such strategies should deploy a range of housing solutions that maximise economic impact together with enhancing quality of life.

New housebuilding, use of both brown and green field sites, refurbishment of existing housing, bringing empty homes back into useful life, experimenting with off-site manufacture, temporary and mobile housing provision, public and private investment, and community-led and self-build housing, should all be in the strategic mix, as part of the recommended ‘whole stock’ approach.

Housing investment should be overseen from a city region perspective and needs to be coordinated with infrastructure investment – particularly transport – and linked to employment growth areas to promote economic sustainability. Fostering construction skills and innovation in supply of building materials are equally essential to accelerate prosperity.

So in summary, the report calls for a ‘whole stock’ approach that:

  • Increases investment in both new and existing housing.
  • Extends opportunities, choices and benefits for existing communities, vulnerable groups and new households.
  • Develops sustainable places that will attract and retain the workforce needed to accelerate economic development and to improve health, wellbeing and life chances.
  • Stimulates, pilots and evaluates innovations in housing supply and management.


  • The full report, which was supported by the West Midlands Combined Authority, the National Housing Federation, the Chartered Institute of Housing, Coventry University, and housing associations Black Country, Housing & Care21, Pioneer Group and Stonewater, can be read here.


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Tony Hutchinson
Tony Hutchinson
7 years ago

Yes to everything here.

I think that changing outmoded commercial space into homes is important for securing investment in new commercial space.

Also it is crucial to consider developing green belt land where a choice of new homes can be built quickly for households who do not want or need to be in urban centres.

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