A new year has arrived but the omens already look bleak. It is time the housing sector made a few changes before we really are up the proverbial creek with no wooden implement.
It’s a new year but it is not a new dawn and I am definitely not feeling good. Though in fairness that might be the post Christmas come-down. Those of you who keep an eye on such things will have noticed the pre-election bollocks is in full swing. As predicted by none other than yours truly (and pretty much every political commentator in existence) the rise of UKIP has seen Mr Cameron and co shift to the right. Talk of a coalition with the ‘live off EU brigade’ has been left in the air, further budget cuts are looming large and there may even be a referendum on membership of the EU earlier than planned. Goodie, haven’t had a proper white elephant in politics for a while.
On the subject of white elephants, the notion of rent controls appears to have gathered momentum again. I have blogged on this before and without wanting to sound too Milton Friedman-esk, as that guy is a monumental bell-end, this sort of state intervention is not the answer, at least not on its own. I have sympathy with Civitas, the think tank whose report promotes rent controls (as well as Generation Rent) and certainly there appears to be public support for such measures (see Mr Birch’s excellent article on the subject). However as Civitas notes, ultimately it is more housing that is needed. On its own rent controls will merely act as a mild dampener on a housing market that is only working for those already in an advantageous position.
One of my new year’s resolutions was to be bit more helpful in my criticisms, so after slagging off housing policy for the umpteenth time here are a few of my suggestions for a glorious new world. You can thank me later, or even better pay me. Some of these are for the housing sector as a whole, others for the incumbents in power, enjoy.
- Stop with the brooding introspective bollocks. The social housing sector is not Ryan from the O.C #mancrush, whilst I have also been guilty of bemoaning the fact we aren’t the most popular kid in school it is time to stop looking moodily in the distance and go talk to somebody, anybody.
- Find a friend. Campaign under one unified banner (Homes for Britain is the closest to doing this) a splintered set of competing pressures groups is about useful as a chocolate teapot (at least I could eat the teapot…). Though whoever thought of the Ho Ho Homes for Britain bit please don’t do that again, ever.
- Grow a pair (of balls or boobs, I’m an equal opportunity muse so take your pick) and get over providing properties for private rent and sale. I’ve lived in private accommodation, I’m about to go back into the sector. The majority of the muppets currently pretending to be landlords know as much about renting as they do astrophysics. Get into the sector, outperform the rest of the competition and reap the benefits for all your customers.
- Scrap Right to Buy. Because this policy provides about as much value for money to the tax payer as throwing fifties off a tour bus in central London.
- Scrap the bedroom tax and the benefit cap. Neither would pass the so called ‘family test‘ supposedly being carried out against new Government Policy and because fundamentally they don’t do what they are meant to do.
- Pay a living wage. Whether you are a social landlord, investment bank, social enterprise or a high street store pay your staff a living wage. Aside from the fact to not do so is a total d**k move. The number of working households in receipt of housing benefit is sky-rocketing because the cost of pretty much everything is outstripping wages. In addition cycles of low pay, no pay are key part of poverty and failure to act will mean further reliance on the state to make up the shortfall. Make profit through good products and efficiency savings, not through underpaying your staff you cheap son of a rabid water vole. Invest in the people who work for you and reap the benefits.
- Scrap affordable housing (the type of rent not social housing in general!). Or at the very least call it Intermediate Market Rent and let those properties out to people who don’t qualify for social housing. Because it damn well isn’t affordable for the people who need it the most. And for the love of Michael Flatley don’t complain that the housing benefit bill is going up when a policy as stupid as this is in place.
- Invest in social housing, whether the economy is in good nick or going the way of Old Yeller there will always be a need for social housing. Invest in it, it is a cost we can all share.
Positive rant over, I feel like a new me already…