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Putney Debate, Housing Crisis


Last night’s debate on housing attracted a diverse audience which condemned the lack of attention to this vital policy area which is now in crisis. A lack of investment over many years combined with the current economic crisis have led to a situation where the cost of shelter is taking up more than 50% of many people’s income. The lack of a decent housing policy was contrasted by one speaker with education and health which, whatever your view of the outcome, have been subject to numerous policy shifts over recent years.

A post war consensus and bipartisan commitment to public housing led to many homes being built up to 1979 when the mania for owner occupation took off. The Thatcher government wanted to eliminate public housing and give everyone a “stake in the housing market” primarily for political advantage – house owning “Mondeo Man” was not going to vote for a socialist government. We are now reaping the rewards of this short term political expedient.

Expanding debt fuelled the astronomic rise in house prices and the consumer boom on the back of easy credit. As a result of “right to buy” policy the public housing stock has been decimated, driving many into the private letting market with precious little security of tenure. House purchase is beyond most people wishing to start a family due to exorbitant prices and tight credit. Draconian anti-squatting laws will render many properties uninhabitable and even more people homeless.

But we face a huge political challenge. Owner occupation is prevalent among MPs and policy advisers who have a personal bias towards house ownership. Some say it is a cultural issue but the real issue is security of tenure. Ownership is irrelevant if you have the right to stay in your house or flat until you die. The quality of housing design was also criticised as lacking imagination and being unsuitable for modern evolving lifestyles and demographics. While there has been a shift to smaller households where single occupancy is common, there’s been little consideration to creating space to enhance quality of life and sense of community.

It was generally agreed that land or location value should accrue for the common good rather than be captured for private gain. There were a number of solutions discussed including community land trusts, where the location value accrues to the community rather than members individually, and land value tax. A majority also strongly supported a significant increase in public housing along the lines proposed in the Occupy housing petition, delivered to 10 Downing Street in the summer.

Friday’s Putney Debate, A New Economy, will include consideration of housing as a basic citizens’ right and how to capture land value for the common good. It will also be examining the role of debt and interest in fuelling inequality and creating the economic crisis.

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