Policy-induced uncertainty

[Originally posted on The Policy Press blog, 24/07/15, under a different title. Reposted here under the original title.]

Choices of a businessmanGeorge Osborne’s recent “emergency” budget proposed many changes to state support to lower income households in a bid to fulfil the Conservatives’ manifesto pledge to cut £12bn from welfare spending.

One unexpected aspect of this package was the proposal to cut housing association rents by 1% each year for the next four years.

This proposal was justified with reference to social housing rent rises over the last few years. These have pushed up the already substantial housing benefit bill. Households have needed greater state assistance in order to afford the rents being set. Bearing down on rents over the next few years will, it is claimed, both reduce the housing benefit bill and force social landlords to deliver efficiency gains.

To the unwary or unfamiliar this argument could appear entirely plausible. It is surely time to try to rein in this sort of behaviour: landlords extracting income at the taxpayers’ expense.

Yet, it is important to understand how we have arrived at the current situation and what the consequences of this policy change are likely to be. [Read more…]

Through a glass, darkly

414585868_2c8513d269_nThe community of housing bloggers has already offered plenty of comment on the implications of the Chancellor’s “emergency” budget for housing. Comment from almost all quarters – be it Jules, Ken, Joe, SteveTom or Gavin – highlights, in more or less lurid terms, the challenges the budget measures are going to present the housing sector.

Some of the changes announced in the budget – the reduction in the benefit cap, cuts in tax credits, and the benefit freeze – were heavily trailed. However unwelcome they might be, they didn’t come as a huge surprise. Yet, the precise dimensions of the change – the reduction of the cap to £20,000 outside London and the inclusion of LHA in the benefit freeze – made for grimmer reading than many might have hoped.

But other policy changes were rather more of a surprise. [Read more…]

The disconnected housing debate

There is something of an oddity in the debate over the nature of the problems facing the UK housing system, and therefore by implication where the focus of policy attention is best directed. I’ve remarked on it before but it struck me forcefully this week when reading Christian Hilber’s new briefing, prepared with the aim of informing the election debate, UK housing and planning policies: the evidence from economic research. This was reinforced by Andrew Lilico’s contrarian post at CapX yesterday, which argues that there is no housing crisis and never was one. I don’t agree with Lilico’s overarching argument, but in the course of his discussion he makes a very important point. [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…]

The political classes lagging not leading on housing

The signs of housing stress accumulate. On top of established problems of affordability among young people living independently we are seeing increasing numbers of households sharing and a rise in multigenerational households as children find it more and more difficult to leave the parental home.

A sense of injustice about the state of the housing market sits just below the surface of many conversations across generations. It doesn’t take much to trigger some heated words from those who feel they have been shut out of the housing market by the selfish actions of their elders. Something I experienced again the other day.

Allister Heath has a comment piece in today’s Telegraph in which he highlights what he describes as Westminster’s deafening conspiracy of silence over the major policy challenges facing the UK. He highlights three policy areas. The first two are funding the NHS and dealing with the public spending deficit.

The third is the dysfunction of the housing market. Here he argues: [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…]

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…]

Lyons leaps to height?

collage of photos of the industry of construction and buildingThe final report of the Lyons Housing Review – which may well be the last major party political publication on housing before the election – was published this week. How does it measure up? Has it delivered on the ambition to sort out the chronic problems of the UK’s housing supply system?

We’ve already seen plenty of political and professional reaction. And that reaction has been mixed.

Some see the Review’s 39 recommendations as adding up to a bold intervention to address the deeply-ingrained problems facing Britain’s misfiring housing market. Others have characterised the Review as representing a rather modest set of technocratic suggestions to deal with particular problems in the supply chain. Those looking for a bold new vision for housing are likely to have come away disappointed.

But we need to understand the nature and scope of the Review itself. [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…]

The value of planning

Earlier this month there was a small flurry of comment in the media about the impact of planning on house prices (for example, here). The question was why house prices in Britain have grown faster than most other countries over the last forty years. A big chunk of the answer was “planning”, in the form of development planning and development control. If only the planning regime had been more lax more houses would have been built and the escalation in house prices would have been attenuated. The commentary was triggered by the imminent publication of a paper in the Economic Journal by Hilber and Vermeulen, which in turn is – I presume – a version of a paper that has been available as a SERC working paper for a couple of years.

This is the latest in an intermittent series of papers, largely generated by economists based at LSE/Reading, making similar sorts of points. The headline message is that the planning system is at the heart of the British housing supply problem. It is the primary cause of our sluggish housing supply response.

The “planning is the problem” position is making most of the running in this debate, and seemingly is never far from the heart of policy thinking.

If you have been reading this blog for a while you will know that it is a position that I don’t have a huge amount of sympathy for. It is too simplistic. It leaves out consideration of the influence and divergent interests of the range of stakeholders in the housing supply process.

Back in June, partially as a counter to this dominant strand of thinking, a report entitled The Value of Planning was published by the Royal Town Planning Institute. I’ve only just had a chance to read the report properly.

Publication through the RTPI might elicit a sceptical response – after all they would say that wouldn’t they? But that would be unfair. [Read more…]