England's Novel Idea for Funding Affordable Housing

Officials propose using the money from the sale of radio frequencies to pay for new housing stock.

Image
Reuters

It's not exactly the kind of real estate most people are used to squabbling over, but the invisible bands of radio frequencies that carry all sorts of communication and broadcast information around the planet are hot commodities. Mobile phone companies are anxious for these frequencies to become available in the UK, where the government is preparing to auction off bands of radio frequency for use in fourth-generation mobile technology – the 4G service phone companies and their data-hungry customers are impatiently anticipating.

When these bands become available next year, they'll be a boon, providing mobile carriers with better services to offer their customers, and giving those customers a faster way to communicate or consume digital information on the go. And the sale could have a more tangible impact on the ground. Under a new proposal, the proceeds would be used to build affordable real estate.

Labour Party Member of Parliament Ed Balls recently announced the plan, which would use the expected £3 billion payoff from sales of the 4G spectrum to build about 100,000 units of affordable housing, according to this article from the Guardian. The plan is dependent on the Labour Party taking control of parliament in the next election, scheduled for 2015.

According to the Guardian, the last time the government auctioned off spectrum – for 3G service in 2003 – the £20 billion in proceeds were used to pay down government debt.

This time around, the debt is still there, but hopeful Labour leaders are betting that the proposal to put the money from the 4G sales into projects aimed at the poor will help bolster the party's efforts to win votes.

And it may work. According to recent census figures, not enough houses are being built to meet the needs of the growing UK population. 100,000 homes may not be enough to bridge the gap created by the more than 4 million people added to the population between 2001 and 2011, but Labour Party officials are hoping it will be enough to convince more voters to hand them control of parliament.

Top image: MP Ed Balls delivers a speech calling for the proceeds of 4G spectrum sales to be used for building affordable housing. Credit: Phil Noble / Reuters

About the Author

  • Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.