21 September 2012

Politicians Face 4 Choices On Housing

1. The George Osborne/ Tory Business approach: -

Scrap restrictions on green belt and on affordable housing and increase profits for building firms and landowners. The wealthy get bigger housing in rural surburban sprawl despoiling countryside and angering rural nimbys and environmentalists alike. Tories are split on this.

2. The Ken Livingstone/ Public Housing approach.

Build more 5 bed council houses using higher taxes and more borrowing. Pays for itself over few decades and saves on housing benefit to landlords who provide overcrowded and overpriced private rented accomodation. Does nothing about under occupied private housing and empty homes or wealthy widows in 5 bed houses. Needs left-wing government so will probably never happen.

3. The Land Value Tax approach.

Developers are sitting on land with planning permission for 300,000 properties just waiting for most profitable moment to build. With LVT, waiting costs money, so it encourages quicker development. Also discourages under occupying of homes. Politically difficult as it involves taking on powerful landowners, wealthy homeowners and developers.

4. The Status Quo.

Watch as our European competitors such as France and Germany build a million more homes a decade thereby increasing their infrastructure assets and economic growth while decreasing social costs of homelessness and high rents. The only good thing about present policy is that high house prices improved the housing stock and environment especially as Labour concentrated 80% of newbuild in brownfield sites. Least politically difficult option so also most likely.

So no easy choices. Since the 1960s the UK population has grown by 10m and households by 9m. The decrease in household occupancy has stalled since 1980s when Thatcher stopped new public housing. We are stuck on 2.6 occupants per household and sq. meterage per occupant is also falling compared with our European neighbours.

The biggest problem is household inequality which has reflected the growth in income and wealth inequality. So poorer large families are left renting 1 bed flats while wealthy widows rattle around in 5 bed homes. Only the politically brave introducing wealth taxes can cure this.

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