Shifting underoccupiers

There is little doubt that we are facing significant problems in the housing market. Most obviously, problems of access and affordability. And there is little doubt that we must be heading towards a housing statement from the Government. Reports from think tanks and lobby groups – each trying to exert some influence over the direction of policy – are appearing with alarming regularity. Last week it was the turn of the little-known Intergenerational Foundation to produce a report called Hoarding of Housing. The report received quite a lot of media coverage. As far as I could tell most of it was negative. That seems to me both fair and unfair. Read more of this post

RAGging the Coalition on housing policy

So far this week we’ve seen plenty of activity around housing policy. Yesterday we had the launch of the Intergenerational Foundation report on private sector underoccupation. This was revealingly juxtaposed with the debate in the House of Lords on the restrictions to housing benefit for underoccupying tenants in the social rented sector. That is a debate worthy of a separate post. Perhaps the most significant development this week is the launch of edition 1 of The Housing Report, jointly compiled by CIH, NHF and Shelter. This isn’t just any old housing report. Oh no, this is The Housing Report. It is an impressive work of collaboration by organisations spanning diverse perspectives within the housing policy community.

The idea is a good one. Government makes all sorts of statements about its policy aspirations and achievements. Scrutiny of those claims is facilitated by piecing together the available evidence in order to assess progress. The Housing Report does that by applying a traffic light rating to ten areas of housing policy. The aim is to return to the issues during the life of the Parliament to review the assessment.

Such a document is about holding Government to account. But, of course, if you want Government to keep talking to you, you can’t be too strident in your criticism. If you step too far over the line you’ll be banished to the outer darkness – Government will feel under no obligation to listen. So documents of this type have to tread an interesting diplomatic line.

Given that it is framed diplomatically, it is all the more striking that  the report’s overall assessment of the Coalition’s record on housing is hardly overwhelming. Read more of this post

Distinctive positions on housing

[Originally posted at Liberal Democrat Voice, 04/07/11]

There is no doubt some soul searching going on at the moment, in part as a consequence of the poor result at the Inverclyde by-election. I’m sure the leadership will seek to dismiss poor election results at this stage in the electoral cycle as to be expected when you’re “in government”. But that can hardly carry much weight, given the Tories aren’t doing anywhere near as badly. It seems to me that rather deeper reflection is needed. Is it clear any more what the Liberal Democrats stand for? Why would someone – beyond the most unwaveringly committed – vote for the Party? Read more of this post

Up to the task? Dealing with housing market volatility

It does not take great insight to realise the UK housing market is in a mess. Recently we’ve witnessed significant nominal house price declines and consequent negative equity, a massive contraction in the supply of credit, a private sector construction collapse, and social house building as a victim of austerity. Repossessions have risen. And that affects not just owner occupation but also ripples out to the private rented sector as Buy to Let landlords fall behind with their payments and tenants lose their homes. Demand for both social and private rented housing has increased as ownership becomes unaffordable or inaccessible for many.

Layered on top of all this we’ve had a series of policy initiatives around housing allowances in the private rented sector, support for independent living, and rents and tenure in the social sector that are not obviously going to improve the situation. Indeed, critics argue forcefully that these policy manoeuvres are only going to exacerbate the problems.

The dimensions of the problem are not generally contested. The question is what we do about it. The latest attempt to chart a course out of the jam we’re in is the final report of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Housing Market Taskforce Tackling Housing Market Volatility in the UK, published today. Read more of this post

Think Tanks and the policy process: Right, wrong and possibly both at the same time

I’m currently halfway through The Conservative Party and Social Policy, edited by Hugh Bochel. The contributors chart recent developments in the policy agenda of the dominant Coalition partner. The book does a good job of conveying the protean nature of Conservative thought. Of course, one of the dangers of such an enterprise is that when assessing whether Cameron’s Conservativism represents continuity or change – traditional, neo-liberal or progressive – you’re driven to the conclusion that it’s too early to say. And that is precisely what the book does.

As well as having plenty to say on the substance of policy, the book also has something to say about the policy process, although that isn’t really central to its purpose. Read more of this post

Under-occupation, over-accommodation, and the question of tax

It is always welcome when someone wanders on to your patch and looks at it with fresh eyes. That is why I found George Monbiot’s article in yesterday’s Guardian so stimulating (available here). Not that I entirely agreed with him, but I think he is right to pose unconventional questions about British housing policy.

Monbiot’s argument is, briefly, that if and when we think about under-occupation as a housing problem the focus is always on social housing, but this is to miss the bigger issue of under-occupation in the private sector. This is surely correct. Read more of this post

One and a half cheers (at least) for Mr Shapps

Our Housing Minister must be congratulated. Today’s Observer carries a front page article under the heading Minister pledges to end the housing price rollercoaster. Mr Shapps acknowledges that the rapid increases in house prices we have witnessed over the last decade have caused considerable pain for those seeking to enter the owner occupied market. Effectively many young people are completely shut out of the market by a combination of high prices and tight lending criteria – stringent deposit requirements in particular. Those without access to the ‘bank of mum and dad’ are further disadvantaged. They may be looking at heading into early middle age before being able to purchase a property. The remedy for this problem in Mr Shapps’s view is a housing market characterised by ‘house price stability’. The ideal, from his perspective, would be house price inflation of 2%, which is outstripped by the growth in real wages. This, of course, means housing becoming progressively cheaper in real terms.

This is all good stuff. It could turn out to be a defining moment in UK housing policy. Read more of this post

The housing policy jigsaw – the changing picture

[Originally posted on Liberal Democrat Voice, 31/12/10]

I started this discussion of current developments in policy towards housing by noting that it is an area in which the tensions in inherent in balancing “the fundamental values of freedom, equality and community” are absolutely central. Housing policy needs to strike a balance between the individual and the aggregate – neighbourhood, city, regional – outcomes if it is going to deliver economically and socially (and environmentally) successful settlements. In this last post I will reflect briefly on changes in where this balance has been struck over time. Read more of this post

The housing policy jigsaw – identifying the pieces

[Originally posted on Liberal Democrat Voice, 29/12/10]

Yesterday, I suggested that it would be valuable to piece together the housing policy jigsaw in order to reflect on the picture that emerges. Policy in this field speaks directly to our fundamental values -freedom, equality and community – and how they are to be reconciled. My aim today is to identify more fully the key pieces of the current policy jigsaw.

So what can we make of the way policy towards housing is developing?

The key proposals on social housing reform in the Local Decisions consultation paper were heavily trailed. Many are embodied in the Localism Bill. They have been discussed in a number of posts here at Liberal Democrat Voice (for example, here and here) and beyond. The proposals are being pushed towards the statute book with what appears unseemly haste (as I discuss further here). Read more of this post

Piecing together the housing policy jigsaw

[Originally posted on Liberal Democrat Voice, 28/12/10]

The Coalition government is seemingly intent upon drowning us in a blizzard of consultation papers, green papers, white papers, and hasty legislation. No doubt there is also a bit of kite flying taking place for good measure. One problem with all this activity is keeping track of overlapping agendas. How do we sum the parts in a way that allows us to get a sense of the likely cumulative impact of change?

One area in which this is particularly acute is housing. Policy which impacts upon housing and the housing market sits with a number of government departments. Housing policy and planning policy are formally the responsibility of Communities and Local Government, while responsibility for housing benefit and the local housing allowance rests with the Department for Work and Pensions. At the same time, responsibility for aspects of housing finance that fundamentally affect access to and affordability of housing – such as mortgage market regulation – lie elsewhere. Housing also crops up in the Department of Health’s (DoH) bailiwick: it gets frequent, though vague, mention among the determinants of well-being in the recent public health white paper. Interestingly, one of the more specific housing initiatives the DoH white paper mentions approvingly is the ‘warm front’ fund, which the Department for Energy and Climate Change has just announced it is freezing (if you’ll pardon the pun). Read more of this post

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