05/01/2011

Your spare room belong us

George Monbiot has caused something of a stir with his latest green eyed wittering - the state owns your spare rooms. :
The issue is surplus housing – the remarkable growth of space that people don't need. Between 2003 and 2008 (the latest available figures), there was a 45% increase in the number of under-occupied homes in England. The definition of under-occupied varies, but it usually means that households have at least two bedrooms more than they require. This category now accounts for over half the homes in which single people live, and almost a quarter of those used by larger households. Nearly 8m homes – 37% of the total housing stock – are officially under-occupied.
With George and his mates deciding what we need of course. It doesn't matter that we may have scrimped and saved for something because we want it, if George and his mates say we don't need it, we don't get it. You can just imagine the star chambers where you have to beg to be able to keep a couple of spare rooms for your obscure hobbies like making matchstick models or maybe because you like entertaining friends or grand children. In our last house we had two rooms dedicated for painting, would the star chamber decide if my wife's art is good enough to justify such extravagance?
The only occasions on which you'll hear politicians talk about this is when they're referring to public housing. Many local authorities are trying to encourage their tenants to move into smaller homes.
There's a good reason for this. If someone is in subsidised housing and they are entitled to a larger subsidised house as their family grows then it is not unreasonably for them to move to a smaller home as their family leave, not withstanding a spare room for the grandchildren to visit.
But public and social housing account for only 11% of the problem. The government reports that the rise in under-occupation "is entirely due to a large increase within the owner-occupied sector". Nearly half of England's private homeowners are now knocking around in more space than they need.
See that bit about owner, George, that means someone has paid for it and its there's to do with as they please. As Shuggy (hardly a right winger) says:
Anyway - and I appreciate some might find this an unsettlingly rightwing argument - the house isn't part of some 'common stock'; it is hers because she bought it.
But here's the real problem, George doesn't want to solve the housing shortage in the customary way, by providing more:
The only answer anyone is prepared to mention is more building: let the rich occupy as much space they wish, and solve the problem by dumping it on the environment, which means – of course – on everyone. I think there's a better way.
Its that Gaia thing again. We can't build more houses because George doesn't like that solution, despite the fact that we really do have a lot of spare land in this country as a quick look at Google maps shows.

I know that columnists have to be controversial and raise difficult subjects, but when they come up with such idiocy they not only get a good fisking and leave themselves open to charges of hypocrisy, as you can see in the comments section, but sometimes an interesting idea is doesn't get a fair hearing:
I would also like to see an expansion of the Homeshare scheme, which could address several growing problems at once. Instead of paying rent, lodgers – who are vetted and checked by the charity that runs the project – help elderly homeowners with shopping, cleaning, cooking, gardening or driving. Typically they agree to spend 10 hours a week helping out, and to sleep in the house for at least six nights out of seven. This helps older people to stay in their own homes and lead an independent life, gives them companionship and security and relieves some of the pressure on social services and carers. It provides homes for people who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford them.
On a purely voluntary basis there may be some mileage in this, but any rational discussion will have to wait for another day columnist than George.


H/T dearieme in the first comment here






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