Dissent in the ranks

Modern HousingYou’d expect lefties to kick up a fuss about the Coalition’s austerity-justified policies. An agenda that is having serious negative impacts upon the most vulnerable, while at the same time transferring wealth to the already wealthy, will have a tendency to annoy those who prioritize solidarity, dignity and security over the search for profit and the appeasement of plutocrats.

But that can be dismissed as just so much hot air from the naïve and irresponsible.

The problems really begin when your own people start cutting up rough.

And perhaps we’re beginning to detect that that is what is happening in the housing sphere. [Read more...]

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Valuing housing

House valuesOn Wednesday this year’s Housing Studies Association conference featured a panel discussion on the theme “Who is best placed to judge the value of housing – the state or the consumer?”. The panel members were Vidhya Alakeson of the Resolution Foundation; John Moss, a Councillor at LB Waltham Forest; Paul Tennant of Orbit Group and the Chartered Institute of Housing; and me.

I spoke first. My talk was rather more abstract than those of the other panel members, and perhaps more abstract than the organisers were expecting. But it was the direction my thinking took when I was preparing what I was going to say.

Here’s the text accompanying what I said on the day: [Read more...]

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Welfare reform: the evidence mounts

There is little doubt that IDS’s pet project – welfare reform – is having a significant impact on the lives of some of the most disadvantaged members of our society. And for every case where we might conclude that impact is positive, it would appear there is a substantial pile of cases where the impact is negative.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee made some pointed remarks about the emerging picture last week, including offering recommendations on mechanisms for mitigating some of the worst effects. It will be a while before we see the official DWP response.

Today the Joseph Rowntree Foundation launches two reports addressing different aspects of the welfare reform agenda as they affect the social housing sector. These reports are the first outputs from the Foundation’s housing and poverty research programme.*

In between these two report launches we’ve had the pleasure of witnessing IDS face Andrew Marr for yet another session of the interviewer equivalent of underarm bowling. I’ve had words about that before. [Read more...]

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The bedroom tax and the Liberal Democrats

It was an uncomfortable experience reading today’s Work and Pensions Committee report on what we are now calling the “social sector size criteria” – aka the bedroom tax – and other components of housing support affected by welfare reform.

It was uncomfortable because the cross-party Committee highlights the diverse negative impacts beginning to be documented, a year on from a tranche of major changes to the welfare system.

It is a story of households who are unable to move, because there isn’t suitable alternative accommodation, being plunged into greater poverty.

It is a story of households who do move finding themselves in poorer quality and more insecure accommodation.

It is a story of self-defeating rules that save money under one heading only to incur it again under another.

It is a story of households already facing huge challenges – such as coping with severe disability – being caused further distress by being required to rely upon the vagaries of discretionary housing payments. [Read more...]

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Housing policy as if people mattered

We’re doing the housing policy debate all wrong. That, at least, is the argument Danny Dorling advances in his recent book All that is solid: The great housing disaster.

all_that_is_solid_danny_dorlingAt the heart of the book is the claim that the focus on increasing the supply of new homes misses the point. If you look at the statistics it is clear that there is pretty much enough housing relative to population – even in the areas of highest housing pressure – it is just that it is increasingly unequally distributed. You can’t understand what is happening in the housing market without understanding the changing distribution of income and wealth. The actions of those at the top of the pile, as they pull away from the rest, ripple through the system and make it more difficult for everyone else to find appropriate, affordable and secure accommodation.

And the Government is complicit in all of this. Indeed, most recent policy is, as far as Danny is concerned, simply making matters worse. Some of it is inadequately treating the symptoms. Some of it is exacerbating the causes. Policy makers are doing exactly the wrong thing by prescribing more of the same. They have either failed to recognise this or are pursuing policies that benefit sectional interests rather than the broader public interest. Danny is particularly critical of a Parliament in which a substantial proportion of MPs are private landlords and property investors. It is unsuited to looking beyond its own self-interest. We are heading for a Parliament just as unrepresentative as those that sat before the great reforms of the nineteenth century. If we aren’t already there. [Read more...]

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Beyond the council tax

row of potted treesThe council tax is unlovely and unloved. It was rushed into being as a replacement for the hated poll tax. Its structure has always been an uncomfortable compromise, somewhere between a charge for services and a genuinely progressive property tax. The property values upon which it is based haven’t been uprated for twenty years in England and Scotland and ten years in Wales. This means that, because local housing markets have traced out different trajectories, the relativities built in to the council tax bandings bear very little relationship to the current distribution of property values. The truncation of the council tax bands means that higher value properties are relatively lightly taxed compared to lower valued properties. The tax is, broadly speaking, regressive.

There are good reasons for reforming the council tax as a basis for gathering revenues to fund local authority services. But there is another aspect to the debate. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Housing Market Taskforce argued a couple of years ago that property taxes may well have the potential to act countercyclically in the housing market and dampen housing market volatility. That is, as prices rise the tax burden will increases, and that puts a brake on further price rises. Such a property tax could take various forms, including creating additional council tax bands for higher value properties or moving to a flat rate or progressive property tax. The latter has the advantage of removing discontinuities, but brings greater informational demands in assessing property values.

These are ideas I have blogged about before.

Last week, Chris Leishman and colleagues produced a report that explores these issues empirically. It is based on an ambitious attempt to create a comprehensive dataset of property values for England and then model the impacts that changes to local property taxation would have both spatially and at household level. The researchers were interested in how alternative tax structures could improve fairness between places and fairness between people, and whether it is possible to detect any influence of property taxes on price volatility. [Read more...]

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Doing something about housing

Modern HousingWhat to do about the housing crisis? It’s a question that, should you have been so inclined, you could have focused on throughout much of yesterday’s proceedings at Liberal Democrat Spring Conference.

A motion on the reform of planning policy was passed, unamended, during the morning’s official business. The motion was particularly critical of the role of the Planning Inspectorate and the Communities Secretary in overriding local democracy and aspirations.

The programme for the conference fringe offered you a near overdose of housing. The lunchtime fringe included a session on social housing jointly organised by CentreForum, The Fabian Society and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. On the – metaphorical – platform were Sir Michael Lyons, Tim Farron, and Kathleen Kelly of JRF. The session was packed.

The early evening fringe offered a session asking where new housing should be built, organised by the Green Liberal Democrats. Mid-evening allowed you to move on to consider private renting, in a session organised by ALDC, before finishing up with a reappearance of Tim Farron among those at a late evening session on Liberal Democrats in Housing – the future of the priced out.

I have to admit I didn’t manage to stay the course. I was feeling a bit too rough and had to have a very early night – not at all appropriate behaviour at conference, I realise, but I couldn’t do much about it.

What points would I draw from the sessions that I attended? [Read more...]

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We want to break free

What could housing associations do? What should housing associations do? How should individual associations respond to the risks and opportunities presented by an increasingly demanding environment? What sort of future is shaping up for the sector?

These are questions that many housing association boards and senior management teams are turning their minds to. They are also the sort of questions that the sector has shown a willingness to deliberate upon collectively. Over the last six months the National Housing Federation – under the HotHouse banner – has been facilitating a series of events at which senior practitioners come together to share their readings of the situation, and to work towards an articulation of what the world could look like for housing associations in 2033. It is a process I played a very small part in.

This week the NHF published An ambition to deliver – housing associations unbounded, a distillation of this thinking into a relatively brief vision statement.

I’m not entirely sure that I had very strong priors about what this document might look like. So I can’t really say whether it feels like it offers any big surprises or not. It is a fascinating document nonetheless. [Read more...]

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Pragmatism and principle on housing and support

rough sleeperWhat is the Coalition’s biggest policy-making failure? I suspect a short poll would generate a long list of contenders.

Quite high on the list must be irrational short-termism. Cut the Environment Agency’s budget significantly in an attempt to save money. End up paying out much more money to clear up the mess created by the flooding that an adequately resourced EA could have prevented. Type of thing.

Patrick Butler’s post today at the Guardian got me thinking about this issue. Patrick highlights the cuts that many local authorities are making to Supporting People and supported housing budgets. While this may save money under one heading – housing and support – it will without doubt incur substantial costs under a range of other policy headings – including policing and health services. [Read more...]

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Bubble-talk

stock graphWarning about an impending housing bubble or denying that any signs of a bubble can be detected are popular media pastimes in the UK. Bubbles are bad. Bubbles shut people out of the housing market because property is unaffordable. Bubbles store up trouble for those who buy at the height of the market. Bubbles are a sign of a market out of control. Bubbles lead to the demand for government action to avert disaster.

The alternative not-a-bubble view is that increases in house prices – and no one can sensibly deny increases are happening in parts of the country at the moment – are justified on the basis of underlying economic conditions and therefore not necessarily a cause for concern or a trigger for action. Not only that, rising house prices have positive consequences in terms of consumers’ confidence and wealth effects. [Read more...]

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