Leading Article: Housing policy must link with the market
Monday 13 September 1999
Besides, those hardened by the failures of successive waves of fashion in housing are bound to ask: can changing the physical environment solve what are essentially social problems? Terraces became slums and the solution, high-rise concrete Lego, became problem estates.
Nevertheless, the physical environment is bound to influence social well- being. Of course it is true that poverty, drugs, crimes and poor schools can turn any area into a social wasteland. But density is a factor, among human beings as among rats, and so is, above all, diversity. The importance of the Housing Corporation initiative - the Brookside-isation of Coronation Streets - is that it will create houses suitable for families in the middle of areas that are now occupied only by lone parents and single men.
But one of the problems of the Housing Corporation is that it is a one- way ticket into the public sector, with no real mechanism for returning houses to the private market - even at a profit, if its policies are successful in creating more stable and desirable areas. The key to a balanced housing policy is diversity and mixing, rather than polarisation between uniformly rich and uniformly poor zones. The new Housing Corporation initiative is welcome, but the role of the market in identifying low-priced opportunities and exploiting them should also be encouraged.
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