Thursday, 15 October 2020

Universal Basic Housing

I have been hesitant about writing this post. I want this blog to be a place where I can share some policy thoughts and ideas, but if one is too far outside of the metaphorical box does it damage the credibility of those at least in the same neighbourhood as the box? I'm going to take the plunge.

There is a phrase I've been playing about with for a while: Universal Basic Housing. One cannot move in political circles these days without someone extolling the virtue of Universal Basic Income (UBI). I've written about that previously so will not repeat myself here, but if the idea of the state paying out large sums of money to citizens on an ongoing basis is up for debate, perhaps so too should be the idea of the state providing everyone with a home.

On the one-hand this sounds very socialist, but on the other it is also a platform for individual freedom. Our current model of housing for those who are not able to purchase a property is to rent. This creates a cycle of earned money going on rent each month and inhibits the ability to save to buy a home. While social housing has a strong lobby in its favour, I believe that given the choice the majority of occupants of social or privately rented property would prefer to be home owners. Yet, they can become caught up in the system with limited options. Unlike UBI, the one off cost of providing a home would not tie the household into reliance on state largesse. Instead, it provides safety, security and an asset from which a household can build their lives. As they would own the property they could invest in upgrading it if they wished or they might simply use it as a first home and then move onto something larger with the money they have saved up as they did not have to pay rent.

The proposal is that each household wishing to own a property to live in, it could not be let, but was not in a position to get on the existing housing ladder would have a home supplied to them. This would be basic and functional in its utility, although one hopes that the architecture would not necessarily fall under the same description. 

The homes would be an option, whether there should be some form of income threshold as to who would be entitled to claim one would be an interesting debate, though I wonder if that overcomplicates matters and they would simply appeal to those who were most in need of the scheme. Safeguards would need to be included to mitigate against unintended consequences such as every member of a family claiming their own separate property just to build up assets courtesy of the state. Similarly, precautions may need to be taken so that people are not able to 'trash' one property safe in the knowledge they would be eligible for another.

This could not happen overnight and would require a major building programme, but frankly we need that to happen anyway. Such a policy would also impact on the value of existing properties but the current housing market is already failing to deliver for many in society.

I accept, there would be a lot of detail to work through. And yet, if we are serious about tackling long standing lack of supply and affordability of housing and we are to adapt to an increasingly automated society, it will take radical solutions.