Housing and the Autumn Statement

414585868_2c8513d269_nThe full ramifications of George Osborne’s pronouncements on housing during the Autumn Statement will no doubt take a while to emerge. Some of the rumours of nasty surprises proved to be unfounded. There were some surprises that were broadly positive – such as the increase in stamp duty on Buy-to-let and second homes. And there were some policy changes that didn’t take quite the form that commentators had guessed they might – notably the transfer of the LHA mechanism from the private rented sector to the social housing sector.

Members of the housing blogging community have already been providing valuable, and extended, commentary. If you’ve not seen it already, Joe Sarling provides a helpful overview of the changes in relation to housing supply and the likely impact on affordability and who actually does the building. Brian provides an expansive discussion on a similar theme, drawing in a number of issues and raising a wide range of questions. Whether Osborne’s push to increase owner occupation stands in the way of dealing with the more important issue of affordability is a question that looms large. That his policies can do anything to arrest the decline in the rate of owner occupation is a claim to be treated sceptically. Similarly we must be alive to the possibility that the agenda of the Autumn Statement was less to do with addressing housing issues seriously and more to do with Osborne’s leadership ambitions.

One question of major significance lies in a completely different direction. Does the Autumn Statement represent the death knell for social rented housing? [Read more…]

Housing: What Crisis?

street scene (2099)Last Friday evening I took a trip out to Coalpit Heath to talk housing at a meeting of the newly constituted South Gloucestershire Liberal Democrats. The title I was working to was Housing: What Crisis?. The talk was followed by a Q&A session in which members of the audience asked some cracking questions touching on a wide range of issues. We could have continued our conversation for much longer than the time available, which is always a good sign.

Below the fold is a modified version of what I said on the day. It is also available via my Scribd.com site. [Read more…]

Sell offs and sell outs

An awful lot seems to have happened on the housing policy front this week. Or at least the volume of housing talk has increased considerably.

We started the week with Brandon Lewis announcing that the Government wants to see a million new homes by 2020. But the Government then clarified that this doesn’t constitute anything as ambitious as a target. Nor does it appear they are proposing any significant new strategies, plans or actions to increase the likelihood that a million new homes might appear in the next four years. There was some reference to making it easier for people to build and to brownfield sites. But then there usually is. So precisely what this announcement signified was not altogether clear.

Lewis pitched the million homes figure into the news media during the Liberal Democrat conference. [Read more…]

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…]

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…]