Thursday, 24 April 2014

Making Room

Another of our self inflicted problems at the moment is what we call the housing crisis.  In the late 1940's there was a severe shortage of homes and one approach was to encourage emigration.  For some, notably orphans, it was deportation.

At the time it was claimed by certain experts that the population problem was one of the factors.  These days, despite having a rather larger population suggestions that this might be an issue is frowned on for many reasons.

One factor is that that the expectation of life has risen so more live rather longer.  Despite the efforts of some NHS services to curb this trend the numbers still rise inexorably.  I really should have bought shares in zimmer frames, wheelchairs and walking sticks.

The latest reports suggest that soon there were be not enough immediate family members to support the aged and not long later there will not be enough available labour to care for the rest.  There are no plans for any radical increase in either care homes or lesser residential homes.

Economically, once day to day housing was regarded very much as consumption because of its nature and the impact on ordinary family budgets.  Nowadays, it is assumed to be largely investment because it has become not just a store of value or has value in use, it is expected to yield a significant rate of return on outlays.

To add to our troubles housing has been a key political issue for some decades leading both to short term fixes and creative accounting in government budgeting.  We may have lost sight of the wood for the trees.  So for many reasons the complications of rapid building are leading us down other roads.

Rebuild rather than new build is one approach.  In the case of the linked article it is applied to London and the more intensive use of existing areas whose older properties are either worn out or have become places to shun rather than to shelter.

There are now parts of London where unplanned use and additions to garden and other areas have made extra room but with the dangers of creating areas of semi-shanty towns.

There are different needs for some that go against the grain of that of the majority with their ideas of individualism with singles, partners or nuclear families in separate little boxes.  There are those for whom the extended family is the norm and the proper way to live.

But this is not modern living as most of us understand it and when before there have been hints of imposing on families the reactions have been strong.  We pay our taxes so the state should do the job, despite the taxes paid not being half enough to cover those costs.

One important feature of building and housing is that we have forgotten the effect of differing forms of tenure and ownership in property.  Additional to this is the muddle we have over leaseholds.  At one time leases were the usual holding, it was during the 20th Century that we saw the shift to freeholds.

The consequence was that when leasehold streets reached the end of the then relatively short leases the way was open to major redevelopment.  There were downsides to this, notably the deterioration common into slum conditions as the leases came close to their end.

Last but not least is what we can afford.  Because so much property is now part of speculative finance and sometimes unoccupied as a result the market is being skewed against the ordinary buyer.  Also, as a financial operation the charges have gone up as well, adding to cost and credit issues.

It is difficult to see much improvement.  Another economic crash might do for the prices but it might make it impossible for more people to afford what housing might be available.  America has been a stark example of this.

It is yet another key area of life, politics and policy where few understand what is happening and fewer realise the serious consequences of potential extensive failures in both the market and in social provision.

1 comment:

  1. A natural evolution would be more slums or shanty towns as in the past or in other countries.
    Or even forced lodging as in WW2.
    Then the politicians might begin to solve things.
    As has happened before.