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…]

Home, security and locatedness

Bishop_James-003There seems to be an awful lot of housing news and comment circulating just at the moment. And it isn’t just more of the same. The arguments for a change of gear on housing policy seem to be growing louder and more frequent. The housing sector, it’s argued, needs to come out fighting. Some of this is no doubt about manoeuvring for position in the run up to the next election. But I don’t think it is only that.

Concerns about the consequences of current policy directions are growing. There’s a lively debate going on about the significance and consequences of the Government’s Affordable Rent programme, and whether or not participation in it means housing associations are complicit in the demise of social housing. There are suggestions that a change of government might herald a reorientation of housing policy. And there are growing concerns about the levels of gearing in the owner occupied sector and the impact that increased interest rates, as and when they arrive, are going to have on household budgets.

But perhaps the most interesting and important element of the debate is the discussion over housing supply. [Read more…]

Top blogging on housing policy

BlogA bunch of statistics about the housing market have been published over the last few days. Housing issues have been hitting the headlines in the mainstream media harder than is usually the case.  A number of the key pressure groups have made the point forceful that current developments in the housing market are by no means entirely positive. It is interesting and welcome to see commentators who usually focus on the economy more broadly also getting in on the act and giving attention to our pressing housing problems.

But the mainstream media does not always have the time, the space, or possibly the inclination, to do justice to the complexity of the issues. In that respect the blogosphere comes into its own.

Without the strict constraints of maximum word counts or limits on the the use of images, expert bloggers can often quickly produce better informed and more indepth analysis than is possible in other media. [Read more…]

Cramped, crammed and crap

We are heading towards a degree of consensus regarding at least one part of the mess that is the UK’s housing system. Pretty much everyone agrees that there needs to be a significant increase in the supply of new properties. Some have arrived at this view from the perspective of the potential positive impact it could have on macroeconomic performance and national infrastructure. Others would seek to highlight that some of the problematic characteristics of the housing market flow from poor housing supply response.

There isn’t quite so much agreement on the solution. The Government gives the appearance of believing that it’s doing enough to deal with the problem. Almost everyone else thinks that more could, and should, be done. Many believe that more far-reaching structural reform is necessary.

One of the Government’s key innovations has been the NewBuy scheme, which provides guarantees that allow purchasers to access 95% loans on new properties. The principle behind this scheme has been roundly criticised by many commentators and academics because it artificially supports prices when what is needed to restore affordability is more price deflation. But, leaving aside problems with the underlying principle, the scheme is now up and running so we might ask whether, in its own terms, it is working. Here again there is a divergence of opinion. [Read more…]