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New York, London, Paris, Munich – everybody talk about housing strategy

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New York, London, Paris, Munich – everybody talk about housing strategy

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Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing

New York, London, Paris, Munich - everybody talk about housing strategy New York, London, Paris, Munich - everybody talk about housing strategy

By Alistair McIntosh, Chief Executive, Housing Quality Network

I love London. Why doesn’t London learn to love itself? I meet far too many people who like to boast about this, that and the next thing. Is this about insecurity?

The mayor’s London Housing Strategy wins a top prize for showing off. You have got to hand it to Boris: he has brought Harry Enfield’s loadsamoney guy bang up to date. He brags that London makes more dosh than Scotland and Hartlepool put together! That’s one way to keep the Union going. There is no attempt to fit London in with the rest of England. Michael Heseltine came up with an exciting plan to perk up lots of cities. Could this stem the tide into London? Who cares? For Boris, it is every man for himself.

I love New York City. It’s mayor, Bill de Blasio (pictured), has just put out a new housing plan. But he did not feel the need to say that NYC is so much better than Detroit. That would just lack class.

London and New York are on the up. More and more people want to live there. Just about eight million folk live in each city so it is interesting to look at them side by side. The big issues are the same. There aren’t enough homes to go round and prices and rents are rocketing up. The mayors want to sort this out and I do not question their goodwill for a second. But I am starting to ask myself if a mayor is the right answer.

Each city sets out the symptoms of the problems in great detail. The people that wrote these have done a solid job. And then the mayors start to make a nuisance of themselves. The truth is that we do not have housing strategies, in point of fact these are manifestos. If you vote for me I will help you and you and you and you. Yes, I can please all of the people all of the time. Mayors are supposed to cut through the crap to get things done. But that means making some hard choices. Mayors don’t work like that. The bigger the to do list, the less gets done.

It looks like everyone is a winner. If you asked the mayor for something you will find it in the LHS. He wants councils to be set free to borrow. He agrees that it is a mistake to let HB take the strain. So what’s the problem? There are two big flaws.

Boris says that the London housing system does not work well. He then asks 32 Boroughs (plus all the associations) to do 60 tasks. What are the chances of that happening? He is asking housing in London to run before it can walk.

Over in New York the mayor wants the five Boroughs to sort out 10 things. That sounds a lot more doable. Time will tell which mayor does the best.

What is the other big flaw? Each of the mayors has gone for a lot of eye catching ideas. But is it just an exercise in window dressing? The big priority is to get house prices down to a level that people can afford. Their plans won’t do that.

Let us say that the mayor gets his wish and we double the number of homes we build in London. The bad news is that 40,000 homes a year will not do much to dent prices. I am sure that the people who get these homes will love them and I will be happy for them. But the strategic impact will be close to zero.

Family Mosaic asked a group of housing experts to say what they would do to sort things out in London. What was the top answer? It was to look at better ways of taxing the profits people make from housing. The bank of mum and dad slams the door shut on the children of the poor.

The tax idea comes as no surprise. It is in tune with modern thinking. Have you read the new book by Piketty? It is flying off the shelves. He is a Marxist so he makes the point that the rich are getting richer. Piketty wants to use a tax on wealth to close the gap.

A hard-hitting article in the FT looked at how we could make use of Piketty’s ideas. “When Margaret Thatcher began her premiership 35 years ago this week, she was not aiming for a rentier economy of guileless property millionaires in which the most valuable skill is the cosmic luck to be born into the right family.”

It asked the Tories to turn the tables on Labour on the cost of living debate. “A Tory tax on property, one that lightens the burden on workers and entrepreneurs, has the potential to shock and impress.”

Would this work? Who knows? But the bigger question is whether we need to do anything. Piketty has a go at other economists for basing all their sums on what is going on at one point in time. Is he about to be hoist by his own petard? The Bank of England is saying that we should test business plans for big falls in house prices in London. Is capitalism going to win out over Marxism once again?

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