Boris’s housing plan

[This post originally appeared at The Conversation under a different (longer) title, 27/11/13]

London’s population is increasing rapidly and forecasts say this growth is set to continue over the next decade and more. However, the last time the capital had enough new houses to match this rate of population growth was the 1930s. Homes are becoming less affordable; needs and aspirations are going unfulfilled. London has a housing problem of serious dimensions.

This week, Boris Johnson gave us an indication of what he is proposing to do about the situation, with the publication of another draft housing strategy for consultation.

The strategy starts with a broadly sensible diagnosis of the nature, complexity, and consequences of the housing problem. The scale of the problem is already alarming, and it is only going to get worse.

The document is equally interesting when it moves on to proposed solutions. [Read more…]

Uncertain terrain: issues and challenges facing housing associations

3d puppet, building the houseI was asked to produce a brief note setting out some of the context and challenges facing housing associations.

The note was to inform thinking as part of a strategy discussion taking place somewhere in England.

I took that brief note and elaborated upon it a bit.

Given that the discussion was couched in pretty broad terms, it may be of interest to others. So I’ve posted the resulting document on Scribd and you can access it here beneath the fold.

[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…]

Housing strategies in challenging times

[On 10/01/13 I gave a brief overview of the context facing rented housing as part of an event called Housing Challenges in Exeter organised by Exeter City Council. This is the text to accompany my presentation.]

Building a StrategyOur housing system faces significant pressures. Short term pressures generated by the fallout from the financial crisis have been overlaid upon longer term problems. These pressures are felt particularly acutely in the rented sectors. Difficulties accessing home ownership boost the demand for private and social renting. Social housing is only able to rehouse a relatively small proportion of those on the waiting list. Difficulties accessing social housing boost the demand for private renting. But in many areas the demand of private renting is such that there are access difficulties here too.

These are challenging times for those seeking to ensure populations are adequately housed.

The other key component of the context is cuts. [Read more…]

Laying the foundations for private renting?

[Originally posted as a Guest post at the National Landlord Association blog, 12/12/11]

The long-awaited Housing Strategy for England Laying the foundations – has now arrived. The headlines were dominated by the mortgage indemnity guarantee, restarting “shovel ready” developments, and revitalising the Right to Buy. But what does the strategy have to say about private renting? [Read more…]

A housing horror show

Yesterday the problems facing the English housing system got some much needed airtime. Channel 4 is performing an important service in raising the profile of some of the most pressing issues. Perhaps a week focusing on housing problems can really give the debate some momentum.

Last night’s first offering was Dispatches’ continuing investigation of rogue landlords. Then we had The Great British Property Scandal, looking at the coincidence of Empty Homes and housing needs that are either going unmet or are met through grossly inadequate accommodation.

Dispatches provided some vivid illustrations of the appalling conditions to be found in temporary accommodation and at the bottom end of the private rented sector. Cockroaches, bedbugs, dodgy wiring, streaming damp, mouldy carpets and leaky slates – all were clearly in evidence. There were also illustrations of the less tangible risks of poor management and fears for personal safety. [Read more…]

A new approach to housing policy?

[Originally posted at Dale&Co, 22/11/11, It is an earlier version of material discussed in Laying the foundations?]

The much anticipated, and heavily trailed, housing strategy for England – Laying the foundations – arrived on Monday. The Government’s claim is that the strategy will “get the housing market moving again”, while at the same time “laying the foundations for a more responsive, effective and stable housing market in the future”. How do those claims stack up?

The document presents a plausible portrait of the situation we find ourselves in, in terms of the housing shortages and affordability problems. And some of the diagnosis of the problem is equally sensible. The problems of the housing market are not of recent origin. They are the product of some longstanding failures. To take one example, as the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister observe in the foreword: “for decades in Britain we have under-built”. The Government is promising that it is taking “a new approach”, which “marks a decisive break with the failed policies of the previous Government”. I wouldn’t seek to defend Labour’s housing track record, but this seems a cheap shot, given the nature of the problems. It is also the case that some of the deep presumptions that have caused these problems – such as housing being the most appropriate vehicle through which households can and should accumulate wealth – are reinforced rather than questioned in today’s statement.

Much of the housing strategy document is, in fact, simply bringing together in one place a number of policies and initiatives that have already been announced. It is hard to argue that placing them between two covers transforms them into a coherent strategy. [Read more…]

Communication breakdown

We’d all like everyone to like us. We’d all like everyone to think everything we do is great. Unless we’re very lucky, that doesn’t tend to be how things are in real life. But apparently it is in CLG-land. I invite you to have a quick look at this news item published by CLG today, summarising the responses by “housing groups” to the long-awaited housing strategy launched on Monday.

You will have spotted two things about that post. First, the reported responses to the strategy are unanimously positive. And there’s no reason to doubt that is the case. For example, Stewart Baseley, of the Home Builders Federation, refers to the proposed mortgage indemnity guarantee (MIG):

This scheme will allow people to buy their new home on realistic terms and help in particular hard-pressed first time buyers.

It will also be a huge boost to house building. Since 2007, the biggest constraint on homes being built has been mortgage availability. This scheme will see more desperately needed homes being built, create jobs and give the economy the boost it needs.

Second, with the exceptions of Harry Rich of the RIBA and Kate Henderson of the TCPA, who give bigger picture responses, all those quoted in the post stand to benefit directly, in the short term, from the policies announced.

That raises a question. What about those who are approaching the issue from a more – shall we say – disinterested perspective? [Read more…]

Laying the foundations?

Yesterday saw the publication of the Coalition’s housing strategy. It brought together policy touching upon housing from across a range of Whitehall Departments. The document represents a welcome recognition of the importance of housing to the broader economy and society. It covers quite a lot of ground, although not a lot of it represents news. There were, however, some high profile new proposals.

I have decide not to post an exceptionally long blog – even for me! – on the whole document. For a change I’ve written some of my initial thoughts up as a paper. I hope some of it is of interest. [Read more…]