Sunday, 4 July 2021

"Homelessness and the housing shortage"

If you Google/Bing those phrases, you end up with lots of statements like this (from Crisis):

A shortage of homes and high rents both cause homelessness.

Statements like this have always struck me as fatuous, based on the most tenuous of links. They have both got to do with 'housing' but that's about all.

For example, there are some people in the UK who have barely enough to cover the essentials, but do we exhort farmers, clothes manufacturers, power stations to produce more? Do we say that people can't cover the cost of essentials because food, clothes, power prices are too high?

And while superficially a housing shortage causes high rents, what about all the vacant and derelict housing? If rents were even higher, wouldn't the owners be motivated to get them done up and back on the market?

'Homelessness' clearly exists, it's a serious issue, but it is difficult to define and there are endless categories and degrees. Rough sleepers are clearly homeless; then there are people on welfare who have been evicted and are living in temporary accommodation; people who are couch surfing at friends' homes or who have moved back to their parents; tenants whose leases are about to expire who have to live with the stress of finding somewhere new sharpish; people sharing a flat who can't stand each other any more etc etc.

Where exactly do you draw the line and say which people are truly homeless and which ones are on the other side of an arbitrary line? What about a youngster who has run away from home? Maybe their parents are violent shits who have more or less thrown them out (I'd consider them truly homeless), but what if they ran away from reasonably nice parents just to teach them a lesson (voluntarily homeless)?

And there are also endless reasons why somebody is in the mess they are in. There are the Ds: drugs, divorce, debt, dole. Ex-military and people who grew up in foster homes or care homes often struggle. There's no point apportioning blame, there's a sliding scale between 'it's your own fault' and 'that was a string of really unlucky events'. Girlfriends chuck out their boyfriends, people lose their jobs, people run up rent arrears etc. And once you have no fixed address (somewhere to shower and put on clean clothes), it's difficult getting back into work to rustle up a rent deposit, get a fixed address etc in a vicious circle.

Given the infinite permutations of personal predicaments, does anybody really think that adding a few hundred thousand new dwellings every year would make a difference, or that all the 'homeless' would magically find somewhere to live if rents only came down by a few percent?

To sum up, these are social or personal issues and not really related to housing supply or rent levels at all. So the only solution is political i.e. build more social housing (always a good thing) for the hardship cases, regardless of their ability to pay.

Which would ameliorate things, but it's a moving target. If the council says that anybody who has been homeless (as defined) for more than a certain period gets bumped up the priority list, then wouldn't some people make themselves voluntarily homeless (as defined) for a period in order the jump the queue? That could lead to an apparent increase in the number of people who are officially homeless.

This is just something that has been bugging me for decades, all I can say is that the problem is huge and vague and that there are no easy answers (and I'm not offering any).


Bayard said...

"If the council says that anybody who has been homeless (as defined) for more than a certain period gets bumped up the priority list, then wouldn't some people make themselves voluntarily homeless (as defined) for a period in order the jump the queue?"

Well, no, if there were enough social housing, there wouldn't be a queue, that's the definition of "enough". Also, even in the days of plentiful social housing, people had a prejudice against living in a "council 'ouse".

Mark Wadsworth said...

B, yeah but no but. Plenty of people would love to get a council house, hence the long queue.

Bayard said...

That's because there's a shortage and all the people who didn't like living in a council house bought it for half nothing back in the day. I didn't mean to imply that there would be a shortage of tenants for social housing if more were built, as you say, there are plenty of people who want to be council tenants, what I meant was that some people who would otherwise qualify for a council house would find other accommodation, even if it meant paying a bit more, or that some council tenants would be keen to save enough to buy their own place.

Mark Wadsworth said...

B, agreed. If council tenants can save so much on rent that they can afford a deposit for their own home, then great, another good outcome, freeing up a council house for somebody else.

Bayard said...

The other thing to remember is that homelessness charities are another example of an organisation that, strictly speaking, exists to put itself out of business, something that they don't really want to do.

L fairfax said...

A friend of mine split up with his girlfriend and the council said "You are homeless but we can't help you."
I used to help with a soup run and mental illness is part of the problem as well.

Mark Wadsworth said...

B, true.

LF, good point, there's mental illness linked in, but my lists had got long and depressing enough.

Lola said...

I have one daughter who the authorities would love to classify as 'homeless'. In that she has no 'place of her own' as such. But 'homeless' she ain't. That is as you are saying defining homelessness is manipulatable as suits your agenda.

Mark Wadsworth said...

L, good example. But there is a hard core who clearly are homeless, even by the most hard hearted of definitions.

Derek said...

Good summary, Mark.

As you say it's a big and complex problem with a lot of causes, so no single solution can fix it all. But it still needs to be tackled, and the way it's being tackled just now (as far as it actually is being tackled) isn't getting results.

Lola said...

MW Yes. And as helping the 'hard core' is absolutely not what welfarism is all about, that 'hard core' always gets the worst of everything.

James James said...

Homelessness and house prices should be dealt with completely separately. Homelessness is fixed by citizen's income, then targeted support for the mentally ill.

"Affordable housing" policies are generally ones which decrease supply, thus having the opposite effect to that intended.

James Higham said...

There’s a mental incapacity factor in here too.

Mark Wadsworth said...

D, ta.

L, agreed.

JJ, exactly.

JH, yes, being homeless would drive anybody mad.

Robin Smith said...

You are trying to change the mind,
Of a cult of the collective unconscious,
In society.
The cult is all powerful,
And only another cult can compete with it,
Logic and reason are the weakling minnows,
Are you afraid to accept that,
If you really mean your cause,
You must lead that new powerful cult.

Robin Smith said...

Agreed, Bayard on 2nd point to Wadsworth.
Its all a pantomime
Where the planet savers are in it for the ego and the gains
...yet are not even aware of that