Policy capture, busy work and the housing problem

It is tempting to think that the UK housing system is uniquely dysfunctional. Policy over so many years has so manifestly failed to get the measure of the problem and failed to take sufficiently radical action that we might be tempted to consider those in charge uniquely inept. If it’s a choice between cock up and conspiracy, go for cock up every time. Type of thing.

We might, however, review the recent policy past in the light of a paper by Gurran and Phibbs entitled Are governments really interested in fixing the housing problem? (£), which has just appeared online in Housing Studies. It tells a story of policy inadequacy in the face of chronic housing affordability problems that feels rather familiar. But the authors take Australian housing policy at federal level and in New South Wales as their subject.

The themes of their policy story have features strongly in the British context over the same period: placing the blame for sluggish housing supply on overly burdensome regulation and state attempts to capture value from rising prices for public benefit; in the face of calls for more radical action, rejecting public housing as a solution to affordability problems. Gurran and Phibbs offer some examples of high profile policy pronouncements that seek to carefully construct the issue as one to which income redistribution or public housebuilding cannot be seen as effective solutions. The policy response is therefore to dilute planning regulations and lift requirements to provide affordable housing and infrastructure through the planning system. Significant funding for public housing only featured as part of the extraordinary response to the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. All the while prices and rents continue to rise.

Gurran and Phibbs are, however, very much not on the side of the cock up theory of inadequate policy. [Read more…]

Further leverage in the housing policy debate?

I’m not sure quite how I missed it the first time around. Most probably because, like many policy commentators, I’m inclined to focus too closely on the relatively parochial and the marginal shifts in domestic policy position.

As a consequence of this failure to look sufficiently far beyond the end of my own nose I only recently became aware of the Geneva UN Charter on Sustainable Housing, a document that was finalised back in October 2014. This document is not legally binding, but it offers a potential resource in ongoing discussions over the direction and ambition of housing policy emanating from Westminster. [Read more…]

Policy unpacked #9 – Housing and the General Election

Policy UnpackedFor this podcast I am joined again by Ken Gibb to discuss housing policy ideas emerging from the political parties in the run up to the General Election. We review some important discussions over the future direction for aspects of housing policy in Scotland, and reflect on the development of policy competition between the Edinburgh parliament and Westminster. We also consider one or two policy proposals emanating from other commentators.

(Running time: 50′ 05″) [Read more…]

Social housing futures

[First posted at the SPS blog: Comment and Analysis, 21/01/15]

The housing problems facing the UK are multifaceted. They include the failure to build sufficient new dwellings to keep pace with population growth; significant market volatility; problems of affordability for both owners and renters; and problems of insecurity in the private rented sector.

The Coalition government has been quite strong on rhetoric and has announced a succession of new policies and initiatives. In the social housing sector these have included changes to subsidy, tenancy security, regulation, and rent levels. The Coalition has had rather less success in bringing affordable, secure accommodation within reach of a greater proportion of households. Indeed, housing circumstances have become more precarious for many.

In the run up to the General Election, the Chartered Institute of Housing has published a series of policy essays looking at various aspects of the housing challenge and the policy responses not only in housing, but also in related areas such as welfare reform.

In the most recent essay in the series I have provided a perspective on the future of social housing, focusing on housing associations in England. The essay covers four broad areas: the squeeze; looking beyond housing; narratives; and marginal voices. [Read more…]

Policy unpacked #7 – What will make the housing market work?

Policy Unpacked 5Yesterday I took part in a panel discussion on the housing market as part of the Festival of Economics 2014. The panel was chaired by Julia Unwin of JRF; it comprised Kate Barker, Michael Ball, Diane Coyle and me.

It was an enjoyable event, with plenty of questions and comments from an informed and concerned audience.

I had arrived with rather more to say than could sensibly fit into my allotted time. So I ended up speaking rather fast, as a number of audience members pointed out to me after the session. I’m usually not too bad at timing these sorts of things, but clearly I was all over the place yesterday. [Read more…]

Pathways to housing-related poverty

Affordable housing concept.The JRF report What will the housing market look like in 2040?, released yesterday, provided an eye-catching and headline-grabbing answer to the question that acts as its title. Presumably grabbing the headlines was the point.

The answer is that under plausible assumptions about future trajectories on tenure, costs and incomes we are looking at a future of higher housing costs, more private renting, and a substantially increased incidence of poverty. The authors, from Heriot Watt and Sheffield Universities, forecast that private renting will accommodate 20% of the population by 2040 and half of them will be living in poverty.

The authors argue that four factors, all to an extent under policy control, could combine to prevent this unhappy outcome. We need to see housebuilding in England rise to 200,000 homes a year by the 2020s and 220,000 by the 2030s. We need the decline in the proportion of households living in social renting to be halted. We need social rents to remain indexed as they are at the moment to prices. And housing benefit needs to continue to meet the same share of housing costs as it does at present. If the stars align favourably in this way then the unpleasant future sketched out might be avoided. [Read more…]

Making the case for housing

case in collina#housingday will be marked for the second time on 12th November 2014. It is an opportunity for people in the UK to make the case for housing, and for social housing in particular. Social housing organisations and tenants will be sharing experiences and stories of the difference housing makes. You can find out more here.

My blogposts only rarely deal with housing at the frontline. The focus is more often on policy, politics and principles than on the detail of the difference good housing makes to people’s lives. Nonetheless, #housingday feels like a good opportunity to draw some thoughts together. I have therefore assembled a collection of blogposts – the first one I’ve done in nearly a year. This collection comprises a selection of nine posts since early 2013 on issues relating to the direction of housing policy and the importance of good quality housing.

I hope some readers might find it an interesting complement to the more grounded discussions and activities of the day. [Read more…]

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…]

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…]