Two blog posts this morning help to crystallise my thinking about how we have become addicted to individual ownership of capital assets, that widespread home ownership is a drug, and we may need to be weaned off it.
Julian Dobson's concept of Peak Property which he summarises on his excellent Urban Pollinators site challenges us to think about the true sustainability of individual ownership, dependency on land profits for public benefit, and the need to keep generating that profit through wasteful demolition of assets which could be reused. Our work on historic building restoration is founded on the belief that quality assets hold value - both monetary and cultural - which is lost if they are destroyed. In our desperate search for the profit margin today, are we squandering our investment for the future?
And Julia Unwin reports on the Joseph Rowntree Foundation's Housing Market Taskforce report which questions our attachment to home ownership, describing it a 'doomed love affair'.
I sometimes feel like a successful case study for David Cameron, socially mobile, financially comfortable, able to make choices and help my kids to 'get on'. But without a reasonable start in council housing followed by a house tied to my dad's job at the local colliery, a good state education, free school milk and rosehip syrup, I might not have made it. My parents struggled in the 20s and 30s, their liberation ironically came through the War and the prospects of employment in mining and manufacturing during the 50s and 60s.
My current precarious prosperity has come through (overall) making it through (so far) the roller coaster of employment and property markets in the 80s, 90s and 00s. I have lost money on property, I have recovered from redundancy several times. I am resilient, maybe, because I had a good start.
My worry is for an ever widening gap between rich and poor, with rungs so wide that many will not get very far. It can't be like this and be sustainable. Continuous growth is not, it seems to me, a sustainable concept. We must rediscover the benefits for ourselves and our future of ensuring that everybody can have more than just an existence, but a good quality of life with the things that are important. Housing, shelter, is a basic need. We should not tolerate homelessnes, and we should ensure that everybody can have a home which provides sufficient warmth, comfort and space to allow for rest and recreation, nurturing a family or caring for elders.
Leaving the provision of good quality housing - and all that means, not just for people but for the quality and vibrancy of place- to a profit driven system, underpinned by too little profit, is too risky. Current reaction to the NHS reforms highlight the public recognition that a free market, a privatised system is not what we want or need.
Good quality housing, a functioning system, public-private, market-driven or subsidised by the State, is a public asset. I am not making a case for the nationalisation of the housing system, but I am saying that we must recognise that control of the housing market, and the right kind of balance of tenure and funding is essential for us to ensure individual prosperity, as opposed to individual wealth.
Finding new ways of investing in public assets, or rediscovering old ones is crucial now. Relying on a banking system which is only about the value derived from trading money - it creates no other added value along the way - has left us feeling adrift. We need to find ways of investing in housing which captures both the return on investment in bricks and mortar ( let it be modest and long term) but also the value that the housing provides through its use. Business benefits from good housing, so does the health and care system, the education system and so on. We need to recognise the benefit of the housing system as part of our social provision.
This is a challenging time there is stagnation and the worry of even worse to come. I do see more people on the streets, people's lives are on hold. I hope we can not only generate new ideas but that we can grasp them on a big enough scale to make a difference for the future.