Last week I did my first in depth radio interview for some time on the topic of housing. This was a discussion with Tony Gosling from BCfm Politics Show (21st March 2014). Preparing for it got me thinking about a whole host of issues to do with housing and how successive governments have approached these issue – has government policy created housing bubbles? has it helped or hindered the stabilisation of the housing market? what is the motivation behind much of our housing policy? does it make any real difference to housing aspirations and housing choice? Key questions to address if we are to understand what the solutions to our housing crisis are. Some or all of these issues will no doubt find their way into future blogs.
But back to the interview – we covered lots of different issues all of which form part of the housing problem as well as some of the solutions – such as, housing waiting lists, help to buy, affordable housing, why we don’t build enough homes, land banking, criminalisation of squatting, custom build and the conversion of empty office buildings before we got into a conversation about “what is town planning?”. What struck me during this discussion was the number of issues that immediately come to mind when talking about housing and how so many of these things are interlinked and connected. So is it any wonder that when faced with the big question of how we solve the housing crisis politicians take cover or merely come out with 1 or 2 simple policy interventions that may or may not make a positive difference?
From a policy perspective it seems to me that the solutions are less than clear, many are not easy to implement and there may well be some we haven’t yet thought of or haven’t tried recently. Equally, there seems to be disagreement about what will make the most difference, where our priorities should be and what we should focus on. Again, it is not entirely surprising that national and local politicians therefore fix on some simple solutions, or quick fixes, that may well have a whole range of unanticipated or unintended consequences, that could actually make the problem worse.
The challenge for anyone involved in housing policy, it seems to me, is threefold:
- reaching some kind of consensus on what we are seeking to achieve as well as the priorities and solutions that are needed;
- identifying simple and quick solutions that will satisfy the political game leading up to the next election that won’t have significant adverse impacts on the desired longer term direction; and
- developing a longer term strategy for shaping housing policy into the future which we can work towards in short, medium and long term.
There’s a serious job of work to be done by housing and policy professionals to lay the groundwork for a solutions based realistic answer to the housing crisis, otherwise it will only get worse as politicians flounder, grabbing at any easy solution presented to them. The debate is already happening and politicians are taking note, now more so than for many years, but will it be enough and are we focused on the right issues? It’s a fascinating time to be interested in housing policy and politics and it’s a debate I’ll watch with interest.
If you listen to the podcast of our discussion (my interview starts at about 25 mins) it will very soon become clear that I know less about housing issues than I thought and even less about how the economy works! I can however talk about it all for hours, even if I do hate listening to myself on the radio.