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Malcolm Shykles: Partial occupancy households should be targeted before building 'affordable housing'

Malcolm_shykles_2Malcolm Shykles, a private landlord and retired analytical and research chemist, looks at some of the problems with high mortgage rates and plans to build more 'affordable housing'.

I do not see the morality of offering selected people starter homes as this gives them an unfair advantage over their equals. During the 60’s it was necessary to rent accommodation whilst saving for the necessary 10% deposit in order to buy property. Why should we now be financing what seems to be a worthwhile cause but is possibly another source of house price inflation? This often high-density, low-quality, housing seems to be favoured by Labour and LibDem administrations.

House purchase is considered to be a high risk investment by the Financial Services Authority. The number of young couples who have had their fingers burnt is illustrative of this. We cannot be sure that house values will always increase and it is always wise to have a variety of assets. If the worse scenario of bird flu had materialised house values could have fallen to rock bottom. House purchase inhibits mobility which is a major cause of excessive commuter traffic.

Affordable housing seems to be very little different from council housing. These housing estates (in general perhaps) stick out as being built by local district councils. Compared to the family homes of yesteryear they are more like people sized rabbit hutches with very mundane architecture. It is for a mix of the neediest in society, such as families desperate to get out of difficult estates and of those seeking to join the property ladder (better called a property snake at this time). The selection of tenants must be very arbitrary and then there are many who deliberately put themselves into positions to get to the top of the housing ladder. Like tenants of council houses there may be those among them who are actually landlords of housing which they privately let.

In the London Borough of Waltham Forest (Labour and LibDem administration) the council deliberately increased parking fees in the "park and ride" rail station car parks in order to clear them; months later, claiming that they were underutilised, offered them to property developers for the construction of affordable housing. Some of these car parks were used by traffic from the M11 corridor for those who preferred to travel Overground in preference to Underground. On the one hand we have the Government encouraging rail travel and on the other local government discouraging it.

Prior to the Rent Act of 1977 many people were content to rent property. House purchase was considered to be the buying of a lot of trouble. This well-meant legislation sought to protect the tenant from both unfair rent increases and arbitrary eviction and was called "protected tenancy". The act put landlords at a considerable disadvantage because eviction became almost impossible. This act and the various acts before brought about a massive decline in private accommodation from 89% in 1914 to 8% in 1990. The losers in the situation were those needing or wanting to rent. Local Government was often Labour-controlled during the Conservatives' time in government and they tended to extend council housing, probably following Herbert Morrison’s idea of building the Tories out.

My guess is that prior to around 1960 tenants were paying about a quarter of their income on rent. Now we have house buyers paying out most of their salary on rent. It does seem to me that (being of an age to remember this) that at that time people went out a lot more, could afford to go out more and generally life was far more enjoyable and the country still managed to keep a viable presence throughout the world.

There is now a situation where there could be plenty of accommodation if houses that are only partially occupied could be fully utilised. There is still not enough competition in the private landlord sector to bring rents down to more reasonable levels. Instead of building “affordable housing” why not encourage the building of “prestige flats” in safe and pleasant areas, conveniently situated so as friends and family are not too distant and where people from under-occupied houses may like to move?

The rented sector from private landlords (in preference to property developers) should be encouraged so at least young couples would have a better chance of finding a decent place to live to bring up our future generations, and have some money to spare.


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