IMAGINE a spinning wheel, like a merry-go-round, with people inside. Those in the middle are relatively safe and secure, while others cling to the outer edge, struggling to hold on.

As the wheel spins faster, it becomes increasingly difficult for those on the edge to maintain their grip. Some are inevitably thrown off.

This, I find, is a striking metaphor for the housing crisis. Those in the middle will generally weather it: they have secure housing that they bought years ago, before prices skyrocketed. Others are less secure because they can’t afford to buy, and renting is becoming more difficult than ever.

As the crisis worsens, more people find themselves losing their grip on stable housing, resulting in a surge in homelessness. With rents rising and affordable housing becoming scarce, individuals and families are increasingly forced out of their homes.

This leads them to seek temporary accommodations, sleeping on a friend’s couch or in hotels, or even leaves them with no choice but to sleep rough on the streets.

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The growing divide between those who can afford stable housing and those grappling with insecurity is widening, creating a palpable sense of societal division. The gap between individuals who enjoy the security of their own homes and those navigating uncertain living situations, whether due to substandard conditions, or temporary arrangements, seems wider than ever.

Adding to this concern, a fourth Scottish council, Fife, has officially declared a housing emergency due to the “extraordinary strain on its housing and homelessness services.” This declaration follows similar moves by Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Argyll and Bute, with Fife’s full council backing the decision during a recent meeting.

However, Scotland is not alone in facing such challenges. Across the globe, from Lisbon to Montreal, and Johannesburg, the housing situation has reached dire levels. Both buyers and renters are unequivocally confronted with mounting affordability challenges.

While the underlying reasons may vary, there is a glaring commonality among the housing crises across different regions. Public investment in housing policies has plummeted to historic lows, resulting in an alarming overreliance on the private sector. Consequently, housing is increasingly viewed as a mere financial asset rather than the vital infrastructure necessary for human wellbeing.

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This shift in perspective blatantly neglects the critical role that housing plays in people’s lives. It is not merely a commodity but an essential need that individuals, very simply, cannot go without.

At the heart of the issue lies the unequivocal recognition that housing is not a luxury but a fundamental human right. Regrettably, our failure to prioritise housing as such has undeniably contributed to the dire crisis we currently face.

Looking back on my experiences in Paris more than a decade ago, the housing scene was challenging. Even then, finding a modest studio apartment was tough. Fast forward to 2024, and the situation has only deteriorated further.

We all know of people with decent incomes struggling to find suitable housing, often resorting to months of reliance on others to have a roof over their head. Many never envisioned finding themselves in their thirties, yet unable to afford anything beyond a flatshare.

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The housing landscape for young people is undeniably dire at present. We are witnessing a concerning trend of rising student poverty, which only exacerbates the already immense challenges they face in securing stable housing.

With the cost of education and living expenses soaring, many students find themselves caught in a precarious financial situation, often forced to compromise on the quality and security of their accommodation.

Similarly, single parents are navigating particularly rough terrain in this housing crisis. The stress and anxiety of not having a stable place to call home can take a heavy toll, affecting both their mental and physical health and their children’s.

The severity of the housing crisis has not gone unnoticed on the international stage. The United Nations has vocally criticised France for its housing policies, claiming they could be in breach of fundamental human rights.

In the UK, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights has condemned the poverty levels as “simply not acceptable,” saying that the Government’s actions are in violation of international law.

The National: Homelessness

The criticisms from the United Nations should not come as a surprise, given the escalating pleas for assistance from organisations supporting vulnerable populations, such as food banks.

These organisations are increasingly overwhelmed as they struggle to meet the growing needs of diverse groups, including students, pensioners, and working parents, who tell them about facing housing insecurity. They have been sounding the alarm for some time now, underscoring the pressing need for action to address the housing crisis.

The intertwined nature of these challenges exacerbates the struggles faced by individuals. Those experiencing difficulty in maintaining stable housing often find themselves grappling with other essential needs, such as having enough food and paying their energy bills. This vicious cycle compounds their hardships, painting a stark reality of the daunting obstacles many individuals are forced to confront.

Housing costs are skyrocketing at a pace far outstripping income growth. As a result, millions of people across various demographics find themselves grappling with the housing crisis. From first-time buyers burdened with 30-year mortgages to single mothers juggling childcare responsibilities, the struggle is widespread and multifaceted.

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As we head into the upcoming General Election, I really hope that housing becomes a key issue up for discussion. It is vital that we take it seriously and give it the attention it deserves.

Over in France, the country is dealing with similar housing problems, but I feel that until now, they haven’t received the level of scrutiny they truly merit. It’s a common sentiment that housing is often overlooked in public policy debates, earning the unfortunate title of “the neglected child of public policies.”

It is true that the housing crisis is fuelled by a multitude of factors, each contributing to the growing challenges faced by individuals and families seeking affordable housing.

One significant factor is the escalating costs of construction materials, which drive up the overall expense of building new homes. Additionally, inflation plays a role, exerting pressure on housing prices and making it increasingly difficult for individuals to afford homes.

Moreover, there has been a decline in the rate of new construction, as the rising costs deter developers from undertaking new projects. This decrease in construction activity exacerbates the shortage of available housing, further intensifying the crisis.

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But crucially, there is an inadequate investment in social housing initiatives. Historically low levels of public spending on housing policies have resulted in a lack of affordable housing options for those in need.

This failure to prioritise social housing exacerbates the affordability gap and perpetuates housing instability for vulnerable populations. To quote Matt Downie from Crisis: The number of social homes continues “to be decimated”, with a total loss of 177,487 social homes in England over the past decade. Meanwhile, the number of people on social housing waiting lists in France has reached unprecedented heights.

I must confess, observing the situation unfolding in the UK has been eye-opening. It’s a stark reminder of the potential future awaiting France if we fail to address our housing challenges promptly. The CEO of Nexity, a major real estate company in France, summed up the housing crisis when she called it a “slow poison, but a very certain poison” on a recent radio show.

I was literally watching a programme where the UK was briefly mentioned, and the presenter remarked that, thankfully, France isn’t facing such dire circumstances. However, as exemplified by the situation in the UK, things can deteriorate rapidly.

Housing, like healthcare, is one of those fundamental indicators of a nation’s overall wellbeing and social infrastructure. It reflects not only the economic prosperity of a country but also its commitment to ensuring basic human needs are met for all its citizens.

When housing conditions deteriorate or fail to adequately provide for the population, it lays bare systemic failures on so many levels.