My criminal past

Back in the early 80s I did what many people arriving in London did: I squatted in a house that had been left empty. Anyone doing the same after Saturday will be a criminal.

The house in question was owned by the Greater London Council (GLC) and like many others owned by local authorities all over London it had been left empty for years because of a road scheme that never was or a slum clearance scheme that was never finished. Nobody was living there and, given the big hole in the floor of one of the bedrooms and the water streaming down the walls of most of the others, that was understandable. So when we squatted it we were not denying anybody else a home, we were simply fixing it up and creating one for ourselves in what became one more squat in a whole street of squats. Given that we were all on the dole (this was 1981, the worst time to be a graduate until now) we were probably even saving the taxpayer money.

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Economic ally

Housing has gained an unexpected new ally in the battle to convince the government to fund more affordable new homes.

City broker Tullett Prebon is better known for its warnings of financial Armageddon and for shoot-from-the-hip appearances on the Today programme by its chief executive Terry Smith. It has even argued that financial austerity and severe cuts in public spending are a myth spun by the government to the bond markets.

But now a report by its global head of research Tim Morgan argues not only that a house building programme is one the few options left for the government, but also that it must be social housing funded by public investment.

Read the rest of this post at Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Our dysfunctional housing market

Anyone wondering why the housing market is so dysfunctional can find plenty of explanations in figures released over the last few days.

Exhibit one: the Bank of England’s account of the effect its £375 billion (so far) quantitative easing programme. Most of the publicity has gone to the revelation that the richest 5 per cent of the population have gained 40 per cent of the benefits as the result of the way it has inflated the prices of assets like shares. However, it also includes an estimate of the way that borrowers have benefitted at the expense of savers because of record low interest rates. The total impact of lower rates on secured lending (mostly mortgages) is estimated at £94.4 billion since September 2008.

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RIP Neil Armstrong

I was nine years old when Neil Armstrong landed on the Moon and uttered the immortal words that he didn’t quite get right.

At the time the landing seemed most memorable because we got the day off school to watch it. In retrospect, of course, it was almost the end of term anyway so the teachers were probably glad to pack us all off into a room to watch TV.

Re-watching it now the main thing that strikes me is how blurry and black and white it looks but it was a completely different story then. It’s important to remember that hardly anyone had a colour TV and live TV of any kind was pretty primitive, so it did not seem that way at the time. The whole thing with the beeps on the soundtrack etched its way so far into the national consciousness that we would be doing them on the school playground for months afterwards.

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Give Montague a chance

Here’s why I think the housing backlash against the Montague report is being overdone.

From some of the reactions so far, the review group seem to a bunch of pin-striped latter-day Rachmans intent on squeezing out affordable housing and trousering the profits in between slaughtering the first born and unleashing plague, pestilence and famine.

Read the rest of this post at Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


The road home

If the government can change the public borrowing rules for roads, why not for council housing?

The papers this morning (see here and here) have been briefed that the government growth package to be launched when parliament returns next month will include not just a housebuilding stimulus but a radical new plan to boost road building.

Read the rest of this post at Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


End game

Policy Exchange is well known for its opposition to the Green Belt but that has not stopped it proposing what amounts to a Blue Belt in expensive areas of the country.

The influential right-wing think tank published a report this morning calling for social rented homes that become vacant expensive areas to be sold off to fund the construction of more homes in cheaper areas.

Read the rest of this post at Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing.


Victorian values

Octavia Hill retains an extraordinary ability to inspire and infuriate. The ideas of this pioneer of housing management, social work and environmental protection almost seem more influential (and more contradictory) now than they did when she died 100 years ago this week.

She was a high-achieving woman in a society dominated by men but she was not by an stretch of the imagination a feminist. Her housing managers were women because, ‘ladies must do it, for it is detailed work; ladies must do it, for it is household work; it needs, moreover, persistent patience, gentleness, hope’. Yet she was opposed to women’s suffrage on the grounds that, as Kathryn Hughes puts it, ‘women were unsuited to thinking about the big issues of finance and foreign policy’.

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Rise and fall

Behind the good news story of falling mortgage repossessions a different tale is starting to emerge of rising possession actions against tenants.

Figures published by the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) yesterday showed that its members repossessed 8,500 homes in the three months to June. That was the lowest quarterly total since the final quarter of 2010 and implies that the total for the year is likely to undershoot the CML’s forecast of 45,000.

Read the rest of this post at Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Buy, buy…rent

Four years after it was supposedly killed off by the credit crunch, buy to let continues to go from strength to strength as first-time buyers are squeezed out of the mortgage market.

Figures published by the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) yesterday confirm that the total number of buy-to-let mortgages has increased by 45 per cent since the third quarter of 2007 from 978,900 in the third quarter of 2007 to 1,415,000 now. According to CML director general Paul Smee it is ‘growing broadly in line with expectations’. He goes on: ‘The rental sector has grown strongly over the last decade or so, and buy-to-let continues to help deliver a wider choice for tenants.’

Wider choice? I doubt very much that would-be first-time buyers will see it that way when tighter lending criteria mean their only choice is to be a tenant. After all, the same banks who are unwilling to give them a loan against their future income unless they have a sizeable deposit seem quite willing to give an amateur landlord a buy-to-let loan to be repaid from the rents (and therefore the future incomes) of their tenants.

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