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...]

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...]

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...]

Rehabilitating social housing

8182240298_f9770a9cbeA substantial essay by James Meek on the housing crisis, entitled Where will we live?, has appeared online today at the London Review of Books. It will appear in the print edition in the New Year. The essay roams widely across the terrain of housing policy. It focuses on past and current policy failures and contradictions, but en route touches on the problematic nature of the housebuilding industry, modernist architecture, underinvestment in social housing, and the land market. It is well worth reading in its entirety.

Meek does an excellent job of laying out why we find ourselves with our current dysfunctional housing market. The premise of the essay is that we need to rewind to the Right to Buy to start to make sense of the mess we’re in. Whether by grand design or simply through a series of unfortunate incremental steps, subsequent policy has compounded problems that have their roots in Thatcher’s most populist policy. [Read more...]

Reframing housing policy

frameYesterday I spent the morning at a meeting of housing policy types. Around the table were policy-makers, practitioners, voluntary sector representatives, and a sprinkling of academics. Everyone there was, as far as I could tell, signed up to the idea that good quality, secure and affordable housing is not only desirable in its own right but also has positive impacts on a whole range of other policy areas – health and social care, education, economic performance, combating poverty and social exclusion.

The discussion ranged widely. Part of the morning was spent considering how to get the message out. While the housing policy community might all subscribe to the powerful benefits of good housing, that isn’t a position embraced within all the relevant policy circles. Or, rather, it is a position that many politicians and policy-makers will acknowledge, but not acknowledge the issue as sufficiently high up the agenda to devote a sizable share of scarce resources to it, in the face of competing claims.*

Our discussion yesterday didn’t come to any very definite conclusions. That wasn’t the aim. But it made me think about Baumgartner and Jones’s punctuated equilibrium theory (see Paul’s excellent brief summary). [Read more...]

Bedroom tax … and beyond?

Boarded Up Council HouseWe are now beginning to get some insight into the fallout from the Government’s changes to the housing benefit underoccupation rules: the policy that Grant Shapps would like you to call the “spare room subsidy” but most people call the “bedroom tax”. It is a topic I’ve blogged about previously, including on the challenge of interpreting the evidence regarding what’s going on.

It is worth briefly reviewing the possible consequences of taking a group of people whose household incomes, after assistance from social security, are already at poverty levels and increasing the amount they are expected to pay for their housing from their own pocket. [Read more...]

New housing ideas from One Nation Labour?

street scene (2099)Under the heading A One Nation programme with new ideas to begin turning Britain’s economy around yesterday Ed Miliband outlined six bills that would appear in Labour’s alternative Queen’s speech. It is good to see him offering some policy detail, at last, but to what extent are we being offered new ideas?

The focus of the housing component of his statement was the private rented sector, which in one sense is new. The idea that the political battle to be fought over housing was going to be fought over private renting is one that would have made no sense a few years ago. And whether it is the biggest problem facing the housing system at the moment, given the broader context of poor affordability for a nation of frustrated aspirant home owners, could be debated.

Leaving that to one side, what did he offer? [Read more...]

Who is social housing for, and who should it be for?

Yesterday I participated in a consultation event organised by Bristol City Council. it was designed to start a debate locally about the revision of social housing allocations policy. My talk, which ranged rather more broadly than simply allocations policy, is a bit too long to include in a blog post, so I have bunged it on to Scribd. It can be accessed below. [Read more...]

Next steps for housing policy

[On 6th February I participated in the NHF South West Regional Conference “Building neighbourhoods”, held in Exeter. This is the text to accompany my presentation.]

Choices of a businessmanFor half a century the aspiration behind housing policy in England has been captured by the statement “A decent home for all at a price within their means”, or some variation on that theme.

Embedded in this statement are three key terms:

  • a decent home
  • for all
  • a price within their means.

The way in which this aspiration has been articulated may have remained broadly constant, but the vigour with which governments have pursued it has varied. The rhetoric may be the same, but the realities of the substance of policy and implementation may have differed substantially.

And the understanding of the three key terms is mutable. Over time thinking has shifted. For example, when we talk of a “price within their means” do we mean that housing costs need to be lowered so that they can be sustained on the basis of available earned income? This might suggest the need to reduce housing costs. Or should it be interpreted as meaning that we need to enhance households’ incomes so that prevailing housing costs come within their reach?

We could rehearse the history of housing policy over this period and trace out the ways in which the aspirations of housing policy have subtly, and not so subtly, been reinterpreted. But we won’t. For now the important point is that the Coalition government is, broadly speaking, holding to the standard rhetoric. But at the same time it is reframing the debate. [Read more...]