Housing minister Yvette Cooper today promised to deliver housing for the many and not just the few.
Unveiling the government's housing green paper, Ms Cooper said "without further action housing will become one of the greatest sources of social inequality in the next 20 years".
The government plans a three-pronged strategy for combating the housing crisis: it will rapidly increasing house building to meet demand; new homes will be better designed and able to meet changing social and environmental demands; and it will deliver new homes for the poorest in society.
Ms Cooper told MPs: "We need to build more homes across England. The housing shortage means first-time buyers and young families are finding it increasingly hard to get their first step onto the housing ladder unless they have financial help from parents or relatives - and that's just not fair.
"Unless we act now by 2026 first-time buyers will find average house prices are ten times their salary. That could lead to real social inequality and injustice.
"Every part of the country needs more affordable homes - in the north and the south, in urban and rural communities.
"We need more homes - but we need better designed, more sustainable homes. This is a green green paper, responding to the challenges of climate change, with zero carbon homes and new eco towns, and with tough planning rules on building in flood-risk areas."
Ms Cooper outlined government plans to invest £8 billion in affordable housing, with an overall plan to deliver three million new homes by 2020.
Some two million will be built by 2016 and Ms Cooper said these would be distributed throughout the country.
Land for 1.6 million new homes has already been identified in current regional plans and Ms Cooper said the remaining 1.4 million would not infringe into the greenbelt - despite allegations from the Conservatives that the countryside was under threat.
The government will also consider new proposals to prevent property developers sitting on land where planning has been approved, as well as offering more incentives to councils to reclaim empty properties.
The green paper contains "historic proposals" for five new eco towns, championed by Ms Cooper as the first new towns for 40 years.
The housing minister promised not to repeat the mistakes of post-war construction in the government's rush to build new homes. Rather than recreating segregated housing estates, the government will prioritise mixed developments and all new housing projects will be well-designed and environmentally sustainable.
All new homes will by carbon neutral by 2016, a target Ms Cooper claimed was the first of its kind.
Projects must also be designed to withstand environmental challenges, she said, repeating the government's claim it is unrealistic to rule out further building on flood plains.
Ms Cooper also pledged to prioritise social and affordable housing, telling MPs "we believe a decent home should be for the many and not for the few".
By 2010-11, 70,000 affordable homes will be built a year, 45,000 of which will be social housing, she said.
The government will set further targets for improving affordability in rural areas later in the year.
Gordon Brown promised to make affordable housing one of his priorities as prime minister but the Conservatives today dismissed the government's stance as rhetoric instead of reality.
Shadow housing minister Grant Shapps said: "Home ownership has fallen for the first time since records began. First-time buyers are at their lowest since 1980 and pay an average of £1,500 in stamp duty - £8,000 in London - where in 1997 the average was nothing.
"We will lend our cross-party support to measures which build sustainable, eco-friendly communities on brownfield sites."