Fifty years ago a BBC film changed housing history. Watched by 12 million people the story of Cathy and Reg becoming homeless and losing their children caused a flood of calls, a debate in Parliament, massive support for Shelter, the creation of Crisis and a new generation of housing associations. Together these organisations campaigned to bring an end to homelessness leading to the 1974 Housing Act, new funding for housing associations and an explosion of housing association development.
Without this one defining moment on 16th November 1966 we would not be where we are today. But it is a sad truth that the housing crisis today is worse than it was when Cathy came home.
In 1966 we produced almost 400,000 new homes. Last year we produced 170,000 new homes and that is the best we have done for years. To make matters worse, in London the population was falling in the sixties; by 1971 it fell to 7.1 million. Today London’s population stands at 8.6 million and is predicted to rise to 10 million by 2034.
Today’s housing crisis is far deeper and wider than anything Cathy saw.
But there is good news; change is coming.
In Theresa May we have a Prime Minister whose main focus is on those who are just getting by. We are seeing a shift from home ownership to housing supply, from short term rhetoric to long term strategy, from a free market to direct intervention.
Communities Secretary Sajid Javid is promising the largest state backed housing investment programme since the 1970s. Housing Minister Gavin Barwell is talking about housing as a moral issue.
In London Mayor Sadiq Khan has made housing his number one priority and housing associations, local authorities and house builders have pledged to set aside their parochial differences and work together to achieve a step change in housing supply.
Only yesterday we heard Sir Michael Lyons, Labour Party housing adviser, praising Gavin Barwell for his broad based view. And today the Labour Party commissioned Redfern Review calls for a long term multi tenure cross party approach. This crisis is becoming too big for politics.
This week the National Housing Federation launched in Parliament a new vision for housing associations. Together we have committed to treble housing completions from 40,000 to 120,000 homes each year.
G15, the group of large London based housing associations has committed to double production in ten years, from 90,000 to 180,000 homes.
And L&Q in partnership with East Thames has announced a 100,000 home programme.
On the fiftieth anniversary of Cathy Come Home we are witnessing another defining moment in housing history. Next week the Chancellor has the opportunity to seize this moment and ensure that, in fifty years’ time, we are speaking about the housing crisis in the past tense.