As a result, according to a new report by the Housing Forum, the nation's housing stock is in danger of heading into serious deterioration. Although the decline may not yet be fully under way, in 1991 there were 1.8 million homes unfit for habitation and nearly four million requiring substantial repairs.
It may be argued that a private house is a private house, and no concern of the Government except at the level of help for the very poor. But this is to take too narrow a view. If a house deteriorates until it is uninhabitable the Government foots the bill for rehousing the occupants and eventually, perhaps, for clearing the area. Furthermore, as the report points out, poor housing is associated with mental and physical illness, criminality, and wasted energy, all of which cost money. So a policy that promotes maintenance of the housing stock should save public money in the end.
Meanwhile, however, it would cost billions to bring all houses up to decent levels. No government will find that sort of money in a hurry. Policies are needed that strike a realistic balance between spending public funds and pushing or coaxing the private owner to spend more. The Housing Forum has strings of useful ideas on the subject which lean more towards public spending than is realistic under present conditions. With the disappearance of quick capital gains on housing, owners will have to become more realistic about the costs of maintenance.
But the Government should not evade its broader responsibilities for housing stock and for the burdens that have fallen on poorer owners as result of its own policies.Reuse content