Time to abandon the promotion of home ownership


Speaking yesterday at the Chartered Institute of Housing I argued for a new overarching aim for housing policy. This, I said, should be achieving parity of esteem between different forms of housing tenure; essentially between home ownership, private and social renting.

I’d like to make the argument more fully as a pamphlet, but in the hope of attracting another crop of interesting comments here are the top lines.

Five reasons why making the expansion of owner occupation the overarching aim of housing policy is now wrong:

• Privileging home ownership as a goal and linking it in the public mind with social mobility and getting rich has led to the residualising of social housing; now a sector associated with multiple deprivation and poor life chances (see the work of Professor John Hills). 

• Pursuing home ownership as a route to making money exacerbates economic volatility.

• High levels of home ownership reduce population mobility – this is bad for employment and the economy.

• Acquisitive home ownership leads to the socially damaging and environmentally unsustainable hoarding of homes and space. There are a million empty homes in the UK and millions more under-occupied houses.     

• Anxieties about home ownership are a barrier to an affordable, flexible policy to resolve the growing social care crisis.

Six ways we could achieve parity of esteem and advantage between tenures:

• We should acquire and build more and better social homes. And we should stop fleecing social tenants to plug the public finances (every year over £200 million is lifted by the Treasury from council rent and sales receipts).  

• We need an explicit commitment by Government to manage asset inflation using interest rates, regulation and taxation to deflate any emerging bubble. The message should be loud and clear; home ownership is no longer a get rich quick scheme. 

• We need to modernise the private renting sector with a better investment framework, improved regulation (especially to deal with the scandalous quality of letting agencies) and more innovation.

• We need to transform the quality of estate and housing management, mainly in the social sector (where there is virtually no competition between providers) but also in the private sector.

• There has been real progress these last ten years in improving the poorest neighbourhoods (overwhelmingly in the social housing sector). We must not allow this progress to be a victim of the recession and spending squeeze.

• We need to hire an advertising agency to make the case publicly for renting to be modern, flexible and fun (Sing along now; “My old man’s a designer, he wears a designer’s hat, he’s got Armani trousers and he lives in a council flat”).

You may by now be thinking I have taken leave of my senses. Home ownership has been the priority policy goal of successive governments since the late 1970s. But before you suggest to Barbara that I lie down in a darkened room, here are two statistics to mull over. First, the proportion of households in home ownership had started to fall even before the credit crunch. Second, a CIH survey released this week revealed that less than a third of young people say that owner occupation is their tenure of choice.

I am not saying no one should own. I recognise that people can have a different relationship with their home when it is ‘theirs’. But what we should abandon is the idea that policy should tilt the choices people make in favour of buying or that governments should be judged by how many more people they get to own a mortgage.

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