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News & opinion

3 MAY 2018

Affordability is our responsibility, too

A member recently commented that our profession should do more to enhance our image; that we need to be more visionary if we are to live up to our 'public advantage' responsibilities.

I support this challenge. I believe our professionals offer outstanding expertise in property, land and the built environment. But we’re also duty bound by our charter to deliver services with the public interest at heart. Occasionally, we need to remind ourselves these two aspects of the profession are not mutually exclusive.

Our activities have far reaching impacts on communities. Families grow up in the houses that our clients build, and relax in the green spaces we plan. New infrastructure supports growth, creates jobs and the services our members deliver support investment and economic growth around the globe. We must be mindful that what we do every day should make a positive contribution to the built environment.

A dominant issue of our times, of course, is the lack of affordable housing, particularly for young people. Ensuring an 'affordable', adequate supply across a wide spectrum of society is hugely complex. There are so many players involved in delivering homes, including planners, builders, developers, lenders and – most importantly – politicians.

A global problem

It is a genuinely global problem. In many cities, populations are growing far faster than housing supply, often because insufficient land is released for development. This drives up land prices, reducing owners’ incentives to sell to homebuilders. To counteract this problem, cities need to consider aggressive programmes to increase the supply of sites, also density where appropriate.

The construction industry suffers from low productivity gains which inflates the cost of building new housing. It needs to modernise and to invest more in innovative construction and housing solutions – offsite construction, BIM and so on. But even with the best intentions, new initiatives will take time to bear fruit. In the meantime, public funding of housing will be necessary for some lower income groups.

Growth should pay for growth

Regarding the investment in regional and local infrastructure essential to development, we should promote the principle that “growth should pay for growth” – particularly with green and sustainable solutions. By doing so cash-strapped local authorities will be less inclined to delay moving projects forward.

As our profession adapts to a digitalising world, it is vital we continue to embody the values upon which RICS was founded 150 years ago: trust, competence, integrity and professionalism.