Defining the challenge of UK housing policy

immobilier parisienYesterday I was back up in that London to attend an event exploring UK housing policy. Many, of not most, of the luminaries of UK housing research made the same journey. The event covered quite a lot of ground, but at the same time the agenda was relatively narrow – focusing as it did on the macro, credit, housing supply, planning nexus. The discussion left me with plenty to think about and there is no way that it could be meaningfully summarised in a blog post. So here are a few quick reflections – not all of which flow from what was actually discussed on the day.

Three of the biggest challenges we currently face in housing are not technical policy challenges. They are perspective, purpose, and politics. [Read more...]

Social housing transformations

3d Render Of House Concept (Rent Metaphor)Last Thursday I toddled up to London to take part in a conference entitled Next Generation Solutions: Housing Transformation, organised by HACT/Northern Housing Consortium. I followed Frances Coppola as part of the final plenary session. My talk on the day was called Social Housing 2.0. But I’m not entirely sure that captures what I said. So I’ve retitled it here. You can find the text to accompany my presentation below the fold.

It was a very interesting event, with the various presentations cohering well around the theme (I’ll exclude my presentation from that statement – that’s for others to judge!). [Read more...]

Lyons leaps to height?

collage of photos of the industry of construction and buildingThe final report of the Lyons Housing Review – which may well be the last major party political publication on housing before the election – was published this week. How does it measure up? Has it delivered on the ambition to sort out the chronic problems of the UK’s housing supply system?

We’ve already seen plenty of political and professional reaction. And that reaction has been mixed.

Some see the Review’s 39 recommendations as adding up to a bold intervention to address the deeply-ingrained problems facing Britain’s misfiring housing market. Others have characterised the Review as representing a rather modest set of technocratic suggestions to deal with particular problems in the supply chain. Those looking for a bold new vision for housing are likely to have come away disappointed.

But we need to understand the nature and scope of the Review itself. [Read more...]

Political Economy is in the house

(First posted at reshapedebate.net, 14/10/14)

Saving For A HouseWe need a new approach to thinking about housing. Not only do we need to think differently about housing, but political economy more broadly needs to recognize the centrality of housing. It is not possible to carry out meaningful macro-social analysis without recognizing that the housing market occupies a position at the heart of capitalist society.

Those, at least, are the contentions that Manuel Aalbers and Brett Christophers (A+C) advance in Centring housing in political economy (£), a paper that recently appeared online and which will form the centrepiece of a future focus issue of Housing, Theory and Society.

A+C start with “capital” which they rightly consider “arguably the central category of political economy” and develop their argument in three parts. They:

identify the multiple (and ever more material) roles of housing when capital is considered from the perspective of each of its three primary, mutually constitutive guises: capital as process of circulation; capital as social relation; and capital as ideology. (p3)

A+C style the contemporary analysis of housing as being dominated by housing-as-policy, which is the focus of social policy analysis, and housing-as-market, which is the domain of mainstream economics. Given this reading of the terrain they argue that there is a pressing need for a political economy perspective which takes housing seriously and theorizes it as integral to capitalist dynamics. [Read more...]

Locating a plan for housing

housing coverKate Barker has been a significant presence in UK housing policy debate for a decade. Her report for the Blair government in 2004 crystallised the idea that we need to be building north of 200,000 houses a year to stabilize the housing market. And by stabilizing the market the report meant stopping real house price rises, rather than necessarily improving affordability. This idea has been floating about in the policy ether ever since, acting as a benchmark against which current policy is judged. Estimates of target housing supply have varied a bit since then as demographic projections and models get revised, but the brute fact is that actual housing supply has only exceptionally come anywhere close to hitting the sorts of numbers Barker viewed as necessary. Since the financial crisis new supply has been hovering around half what is needed.

Barker has returned to the fray with a brief book entitled Housing: Where’s the plan? The book focuses on private sector housing. Barker notes, rightly, that the social sector deserves a book length treatment of its own.

Brian has already offered his perspective on the book. I broadly agree with his assessment. Barker’s analysis is pitched at the right sort of level – we need to think broadly and systemically about the problem if we are to get any real purchase on it. Consequently simple solutions are unlikely to be adequate. The book doesn’t pin the blame on planning and move on. Barker reminds us of the powerful forces driving spatial development at the regional level. She concisely demonstrates the complexities and contradictions in the way we think about taxation in the housing market. Indeed, perhaps not surprisingly, the strongest component of the argument is the review of taxation and monetary policy. The book does a good job of conveying a sense of the interconnections within the housing system and the perverse consequences that can arise from intervention, however well-intentioned. [Read more...]

Notes from a small gathering

Last night I attended a fringe meeting entitled Ten years since the Orange Book – What should authentic liberalism look like? organised by the Institute for Economic Affairs and chaired by Isabel Hardman of the Spectator. I can’t quite remember the last time I went to an IEA event. Generally speaking I tend not to make a habit of it. Layer on top of that the fact that the hook was the OB and I wasn’t really on home territory. I went along largely out of curiosity. What might transpire in a corner of the Liberal Democrat universe that I don’t generally hang out in?

The event didn’t really take the turn I had anticipated. [Read more...]

Why vote Liberal Democrat?

brownecoverYou can tell we’re heading towards a General Election. The mud-slinging has become more vigorous. The uncosted promises of jam tomorrow are appearing more regularly. The differentiation is happening with greater urgency. And publications are starting to appear laying out the case for the various parties.

Biteback publishing has launched a series of short accessible books on the theme “Why vote X 2015: the essential guide”. Nick Herbert has written the book where X = Conservative and Suzanne Evans has chipped in where X = UKIP. The Labour version is slightly different because Dan Jarvis has edited the volume, rather than it being single authored. He also gets a Foreword by the party leader, which Dave and Nigel don’t appear to have supplied for their champions.

When we come to the Liberal Democrats what do we get? We get Jeremy Browne, that’s what. Unlike an equivalent publication written by Danny Alexander in the run up to the 2010 General Election, we don’t get a Foreword from Nick Clegg. But we do get an endorsement from David Laws: “A compelling argument for liberalism as the big idea in politics today”.

I can certainly see why one might turn to Browne for a robust position statement. But what sort of position will be stated?

Well. [Read more...]

A quick post on human rights

Today the Conservatives published their long-promised proposals for the replacement of the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights, although their thunder was stolen somewhat by early publication of the announcement yesterday at Jack of Kent.

There has been plenty of speculation about what such a bill might contain, especially since David Cameron sacked Dominic Grieve as Attorney General. The assumption – which is looking increasingly accurate – was that Grieve was a serious impediment to moving the agenda forward simply by virtue of the fact that he understands and supports international law and human rights law, and the rule of law more broadly. So he had to go.

In the right wing press today Chris Grayling’s proposals have been warmly received. The proposals are combative in tone and make all sorts of noises about stopping judges from interfering from outside the UK, curtailing rights, and linking the exercise of rights to fulfilment of responsibilities. The press has been characterising this as ending the human rights “madness” and reasserting the sovereignty of the UK Parliament.

Commentary in the liberal press has been of a rather different flavour, and the more right-leaning press is by no means entirely supportive.

For all Chris Grayling’s posturing and for all the fanfare of a concerned campaign of media spin, it is, however, less clear what difference the proposals would or could make in practice. It may be, as Jonathan Freedland has argued, that achieving real difference in the law isn’t the primary objective.  [Read more...]

A bit of substance on housing to end the season?

House being builtWe’re most of the way through the Party Conference season, with only the Liberal Democrats left to play. So far it’s been a bit underwhelming on the housing policy front.

Labour offered a number of proposals. Some of them had been announced previously. Many of them were rather vague and aspirational.  Some of them looked kind of familiar – the Mansion Tax proposal most specifically. However, the proposal that many were hoping for – the big prize – relaxing the fiscal rules so that local authorities were allowed greater freedom to borrow for new development – was squashed by Ed Balls. Labour housing colleagues are now looking towards the Lyons Review – which is alleged to be emerging soon – to add a bit of ballast to the policy position.

The Conservative conference was rather short on specific housing policy announcements. Most of the announcements relevant to housing were focused on curtailing benefits to various groups deemed undeserving. I imagine one or two social landlord CEOs will be having sleepless nights worrying about their cashflows should the Conservatives be elected to govern alone come May 2015.

The eye catching announcement at the Conservative conference was the proposal to deliver 100,000 homes to first time buyers under the age of 40 at a 20% discount, with the homes to be cheaper because they’re built on brownfield industrial land. [Read more...]

The Q#3 quintet, and then some

Here are the five posts on this blog that recorded the most hits between July and September 2014:

  1. Uncertain terrain: Issues and challenges facing housing associations (11th May 2013)
  2. Developments in the ongoing Bedroom Tax saga (6th Sept)
  3. Why is Owen Jones so annoying? (4th July 2013)
  4. The miraculous power of welfare reform (11th Aug)
  5. The value of planning (30th Aug)

 

This quarter feels a bit like deja vu all over again.  [Read more...]