housing

Free markets and housing policies

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A free market of regulated consumers or a regulated market of free consumers. Entrepreneurs favour the first, politicians the second. What do we get? A pendulum that swings between both and limited consumer choice.

Consumers need the benefit of market forces on the lion share of their weekly spending and the cost of monopoly prices on the mouse share of their weekly spending.

If the UK government spends £24B a year on housing benefit, this is the result of government decisions made over the last thirty years. If the UK government cares about the future, it needs to make smart decisions on housing policy now, so the country avoids spending double that annual figure in future years.

Future housing in Britain

As the London housing supply problem continues and lower income households are forced to move out of the city (city rents and cost of living becomming unaffordable), they may well encounter groups of economic immigrants entering Britain who want to live as close as possible to their prospective employers of the future i.e. at the city margins.

The pressure to house both groups is firstly an issue of the land. And secondly an issue of housing on that land. Both groups will want cheap land. And housing that can be rapidly and cheaply constructed (perhaps 3D printed or prefabricated dwellings).

Where might the cheap land come from that is relatively near the centres of thriving commerce in the UK? Typically, from land being sold at a discount, because of its drawbacks. Example include; ex-landfill land, land next to railway sidings or motorways, land next to busy airports, ex-quarries, land at flood risk and ex-industrial land. Councils, NHS Trusts and other organisations under financial pressure may also be interested in selling off surplus land, simply to help balance their books.

Since existing towns and villages won’t have the space (or the interest from existing residents in building new schools, shops, social and medical facilities for the new settlers), it’s likely that new towns and villages will need be constructed. Perhaps as high density settlements, Soweto style.

Central government would be wise to prohibit the construction of new towns and villages alongside existing airports, rail and road links. Why? Because this would prevent their future width-expansion, to cope with an increased settler commuter-traffic, to and from the main centres of employment.

Central government and the UK Environmental Agency would also be wise to prohibit the construction of new towns and villages on known floodplains, or in low lying areas next to the sea, for obvious reasons.

Welcome to prefab Britain.

London Housing again…

I just finished watching the BBC Panorama programme ‘Life on the front line after the benefits cap’. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-26924411.

I firstly felt sympathy for the London Council housing officers facing a thankless task, encouraging local tenants to make delayed life decisions, following the cap on housing benefits.

I also feel real sympathy for those reliant on Council housing through no fault of their own. It’s a shame the BBC TV programme didn’t focus more on them, on why Council tenants are willing to gamble that no matter who else is impacted, ‘I’ll be ok Jack/my case is special’ and on why unemployed solo parents aren’t getting the financial help they desperately need, from the absent father or mother of their children.

Whether British born, or first generation immigrants, parents in Britain have to think long and hard about their children’s best interests, including when it comes to housing them.  That’s not left or right wing ideology, just simple ‘Maslow’s hierarchy of needs’ pragmatism. In the case of immigrants, they took a chance and embraced change once, coming to the UK for a better life for their families. So why loose that positive view on change and opportunity afterwards?

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Charles Handy, management guru,  once described how if a frog jumps and lands in a pot of boiling water, it will sense the sudden threat and take personal action (jump out fast). Likewise, if the frog lands in the same pot, but this time it is slowly heating up, the frog won’t sense the change and eventually cook. In my view, the same applies to parents in Council housing, especially in London.

Being a good parent, should take priority over being the Council tenant in a particular property, or in a particular location. Even if that means putting on a brave face, relocating to a cheaper town and seeking work outside of London, if necessary.

Ironically in life, the best choices (those with the strongest long term social or personal outcomes) sometimes involve confronting short term fear (of change), adopting the self-discipline to embrace new skills (it gets easier with practice) and adopting a change of mindset (glass half empty to glass half full).

London life is seldom easy, but the changes afoot bring opportunity for those willing to be realists. Finally, I doubt any child likes seeing his or her parents portray themselves as victims – behaving like a victim (even if you are one) rarely nurtures goodwill, parental respect or teamwork from the next generation.

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