20 April 2013

Why aren't young people in England angry about housing?

Apologies for being such a bore, but it drives me nuts that we aren't building enough houses in this country. Every year there are twice as many new households as there are new houses built. Every year. This is the first lesson of economics - prices are set by supply and demand - if demand continues to outstrip supply twofold every year then prices will continue to increase and houses will continue to be split into ever smaller fragments. I rented a beautiful apartment last month from a young married couple, both Oxford graduates, one of them a doctor. It was beautiful, except it was also quite symbolically the converted basement of a much more beautiful house above it. Even the most successful people of my generation are doomed to living in the basements of our parent's generation.

And yet simply building more houses, in the places that people want to live, and yes occasionally on some muddy field in a part of the greenbelt, would create jobs, reduce prices, reduce the housing benefit bill, and create all sorts of new positive dynamic externalities as places like Oxford are allowed to follow their natural economic geography and increase in density of smart people. But when the university does try to build more housing, on brownfield land next to the railway in the centre of town, campaigners complain about ruining the skyline. Not even building on "greenbelt," not destroying animal habitat or some beautiful piece of land itself, but obscuring the view of a church spire. Why aren't young people angry about the miserable hovels we are forced to live in? Most of us have been lucky enough to escape Britain at some point in our lives - we've seen the possibilities of better cheaper housing that exists in almost any other country in the world. Where is the angry youth pro-building lobby?

And now in addition to already having the smallest and most expensive houses in Europe to choose from, my  search in Oxford is thwarted by "Housing in Multiple Occupation" rules. Any rented house with more than one "household" in it needs to be registered, with increased legal obligations on the landlord, which means lots of landlords just don't want to bother registering, and so can't or won't rent to a group of young professionals instead of a family. So after being priced out of getting our own houses and basically forced to share because of government planning regulation, we're now thwarted in attempts to find a house which the government will allow us to share because of yet more well-meaning but utterly self-defeating regulation. Here's a better way to take power from landlords and give it to renters: Build. More. Houses.


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