featured/selected – updates below
whoownsengland.org Who owns England? This blog is an attempt to answer that question – one of the most closely-guarded secrets in the thousand-year-old history of this country.
Who owns our country matters. It matters because land is a scarce resource – as Mark Twain put it, ‘they aren’t making it any more’ – and because ownership of it often confers wealth, power and influence. It matters because who owns land gets to choose how it’s used; and that has big implications for almost everything. Where we build our homes, how we grow our food, how we protect ourselves from flooding, how much space we set aside for wildlife – all this is hugely affected by who owns land.
Our quest follows in the footsteps of much greater adventurers, such as Kevin Cahill’s Who Owns Britain? (2001), a colossal work that re-opened the question of land ownership in the UK. Where Cahill simply lists the owners of England, however, we hope to map them. Taking advantage of the great strides made in digital mapping over the past fifteen years, we want to build the most comprehensive public map of land ownership in England: a modern Domesday, ifgoodreads.com/en/book/show/43080056
theguardian.com 2019 Who Owns England? by Guy Shrubsole review – why this land isn’t your land
A compelling study uncovers the secrets of English land ownership and argues that reform is long overdue
housing, land, property – updates 1-2023
theguardian.com 27-1-2023 UK for sale: how the wealthy hold British property via offshore firms – New register shines light on how businessmen, Gulf royals and states such as China have spent billions through offshore jurisdictions – by Rowena Mason, Rob Davies , Henry Dyer
unherd.com 1-2023 Who will win the gentrification wars? – Middle-class neuroses won’t solve housing inequality – by Chris Clarke
Long-term residents and those on the public-sector frontline often see the shift as a mixed blessing at best. But anxieties are most acute, in my experience, among those doing the gentrifying. The term, after all, describes a moneyed caste pushing out “authentic” locals. Ruth Glass, the formidable Marxist sociologist who coined contemporary usage of the word, described the phenomenon as “displacement”. And many of those doing the displacing — whose politics tend also to be Left-leaning — feel a deep unease about their role. … Gentrification is proof not that our authentic urban centres are being invaded, but that exceptionally high levels of regional inequality benefit no one….”…
theguardian.com 5-1-2023 Number of households renting has more than doubled since 2001, census reveals – Figure highlights rise of ‘generation rent’ over two decades in England and Wales, as home ownership declines – by Robert Booth and Michael Goodier
reuters.com 9-2022 U.S. rents surge, leaving behind generation of younger workers – By Rose Horowitch
…Household rents in 2021 jumped 10% from pre-pandemic levels, according to Census Bureau estimates released last week. The figures came as rising healthcare and rental costs pushed U.S. consumer prices up unexpectedly last month….
spectator.co.uk 9-2022 Flat broke: my Help to Buy disaster – by Emma Hollender
Do you want a cup of tea?’ The surveyor shook his head. It would take me longer to boil the kettle than for him to do a valuation of my 400 sq ft, one-bedroom flat. I paced awkwardly around. A minute later, he gave me the thumbs-up. Valuation complete, he left. I boiled the kettle anyway.
Four years after the purchase of the flat, via the ‘Help to Buy: Equity Loan’ scheme, I couldn’t be more desperate to sell. Would I make a profit? I just want to escape its clutches and avoid a loss. Why sell? Let’s start at the beginning. Why buy?
Perhaps it was an early midlife crisis. At nearly 30 years old, I thought it time to leave the familial roost. It was unfair on my parents to have me, the resident ghost daughter, living at home for ever. I was single and had spent years flip-flopping between living at home and renting with friends. Now, my friends were either married, living abroad or on such high salaries that I could no longer afford to rent with them.
The timing was right but only one conundrum remained. Money. As a teacher, I hardly earned big bucks. My bank’s mortgage limit at the time was my annual salary multiplied by 4.5. My maximum mortgage allowance was £170,000. In London, this opened few doors. A property search engine delivered fruitless findings: long boats, parking spaces or retirement homes. Shared ownership was out of the question because my salary was too low.
Then Help to Buy came along. Looking back, I wish I’d never heard those three words. Like many bad ideas, it sounded good at the time. It provided a tailor-made, first-time buyers’ solution, designed for poor millennials like me. The guidance on Gov.uk was inspiring: ‘Help to Buy equity loans provide a low-interest loan towards your deposit. Customers need a 5 per cent deposit, and the government lends up to 20 per cent of the value of the home (up to 40 per cent of the value if you are purchasing in London).’
‘Whatever goes up, must go up again.’ What did this mean for me? No longer restricted to a budget of £170,000, I could buy a new-build property valued up to £350,000. On the spreadsheet, the numbers made sense. A 40 per cent government loan (£140,000), the mortgage (£170,000) and my life’s savings (£40,000) totalled £350,000. And the best thing of all? I could buy the property by myself, with no family donations required. For once I felt like a grown-up.
In August 2018, I moved to my new home turf: a one-bed flat in Zone 5, north London. I squirmed at parting with my hard-earned cash. ‘Are you sure?’ my parents asked, more than once. ‘It’s a big decision.’ Of course I was sure. Property was an investment.
After stamp duty, solicitor fees and furniture costs, I was down to my last penny. A few weeks later, I realised I’d never stopped to think about the location, or if I’d be happy to call this place home. ‘It’ll be a dream to clean,’ said a friend, smiling encouragingly. ‘It’s so tiny.’ The flat, although shiny, with top-of-the-range specifications, was soulless. It didn’t feel like a home.
This year, reality hit. I have recently changed career to be a civil servant. My salary has taken a nosedive. I’m approaching middle age, with decreased earnings, and learning the hard way about rising interest rates. I have to sell my flat. Financially and emotionally, it is the only way out.
Four years ago, five years seemed a long time. Not any more. Next August, the term on my fixed-rate mortgage ends. Furthermore, monthly interest payments on the 40 per cent equity loan will kick in – it is interest–free only for the first five years. I admit I turned a blind eye to this guidance on Gov.uk when I bought my flat: ‘In the sixth year, you’ll be charged interest at a rate of 1.75 per cent. This will be applied to the equity loan amount you originally borrowed.’
And there’s more good news: ‘The interest rate increases every year in April, by adding the Consumer Price Index plus 2 per cent.’ In other words, from year six onwards, I am doomed. The numbers in my spreadsheet have turned red. My monthly outgoings could rocket to unknown heights. It is a gamble I can’t win.
I’m not alone. In the year that I bought, some 46,000 people took out mortgages under the Help to Buy loan scheme. They’ll be hit by increased interest rates next year. Another 52,000 people will reach the end of their interest-free and fixed terms in 2024. Who knows what inflation will be by then?
What now? The property has been on the market for nine weeks with no offers yet. My estate agents remain hopeful. In my view, however, my little flat is lost in an overcrowded market of new developments. It’s a clone of thousands of other flats just like it. What’s more, the flat has depreciated. I bought at £340,000, and will be lucky to sell for £300,000. Help to Buy does at least have one saving grace, which is protection against negative equity. The payback of the equity loan is valued at 40 per cent of the final selling price. So if, for example, I sell at £300,000, then I only pay back £120,000, rather than the original equity loan value.
The repayment of the Equity Loan (£120,000), my mortgage (of which £160,000 remains) and the early mortgage repayment fee (£4,000) will cost me £284,000. If I sell the flat at £300,000, after this deduction, I am £16,000 in the black. So far, so good – or is it? Four years prior, I contributed my life’s savings (£40,000). That £40,000 has turned into £16,000. I have made a net loss.
On Gov.uk, the scheme is painted as a success story: ‘The Help to Buy equity loan scheme has helped more than a quarter of a million people to buy a home.’ The scheme closes to new applications in October. In my view not a moment too soon.
‘You’ve learnt a lot from the experience,’ sympathise my parents. But it has been an expensive lesson that I could ill afford to learn. Pride comes before a fall – which in my case, will be a spectacular fall off the property ladder.
irishtimes.com 5-9-2022 The philosophers with the answers to Ireland’s housing crisis – Unthinkable: Political theorists from past centuries have some advice ahead of a planned referendum on housing – by Joe Humphreys
A referendum on housing is currently under consideration – public submissions to the Housing Commission closed last Friday. The body, which has been charged by the Government to come up with proposals on the matter, has been consulting experts in the property industry, economics and law. But what about philosophy? Has it anything to contribute to the deliberations?
“In the history of political thought there aren’t too many famous philosophers who deal directly with the question of housing,” says Joseph Lacey, assistant professor of political theory at the School of Politics in UCD.
“Major philosophers usually earn their reputation by building theories that address big questions about the role of freedom, equality, security or rights in a just society. Specific policy areas like housing are downstream from all of that.”
That’s not to say philosophers are oblivious to Ireland’s hottest political topic. Calls for “housing justice” can typically trace their roots to specific branches of ethics.
One such branch is human rights theory. The right to “adequate” housing is contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, there is some disagreement over whether it, along with other “economic” rights, should be put on a par with political rights (such as the right to freedom of expression, for example).
Another relevant branch of ethics is consequentialism: what are the consequences of particular housing policies?
An article in the “ideas” journal Works in Progress last year made the persuasive case for home-building on a massive scale in order to address, not just short-term accommodation problems, but a range of societal ills including “inequality, climate change, obesity and even falling fertility rates”. Such issues “may seem loosely related, but there is one big thing that makes them all worse. That thing is a shortage of housing,” the authors of The Housing Theory of Everything write.
Another approach within ethics is to look through the prism of fairness. In political theory, this concept is closely associated with the American philosopher John Rawls.
“He was one of the most important political philosophers of the 20th century and focused his thinking on questions concerning how goods within society should be fairly distributed,” Lacey explains.
“For Rawls, inequalities in wealth and income are perfectly compatible with a just society, but only up to a point. The big limitation Rawls puts on inequality is that any given inequality should be to the benefit of the least advantaged in society” – a rule known as the difference principle.
“How exactly to define the least advantaged in society is a contentious issue. But as a crude short-hand in the Irish context, we can think of them as single individuals surviving solely on the minimum wage.
“For example, think of the rental market. Rawls’s difference principle doesn’t reject the inequalities of some having the additional wealth to generate rental income from those who have less. What is a problem is if the rents are too high to make it affordable to the least advantaged, given the other demands on their income that are necessary to be fully participating members of society.”
The traditional response free marketeers give to renters who can no longer afford their homes is to move elsewhere. Getting out of Dublin, for example, could offer more affordability.
This idea “brings usdeeper into Rawls’s theory”, says Lacey, “because income and wealth are not the only primary goods on his view. Freedom of movement and equality of opportunity are two others. If these primary goods are to be given their true value, then access to affordable housing across the country is a necessity.”
Lacey has been studying the contribution of other philosophers to the housing question and says, “One I’ve been thinking about a lot recently is John Locke from 17th-century England.
“Much of Locke’s political philosophy is built around the idea of property. By today’s standards in Europe, but perhaps not in some quarters of the United States, Locke would be seen as an extremist in terms of how far he extends the rights of individuals to defend and do what they want with their property.
“But even Locke believed there were restrictions on the right to private property. He went so far as to consider these restrictions ‘laws of nature’. By this he means that there are certain moral limitations to property rights that any person who has a basic sense of what it is to live peacefully with others will recognise.
“These days, the Lockean principle that most stands out to me says that you have a duty to make productive use of whatever property you acquire. If you don’t use it, then you lose the moral right to that property. Because part of what entitles you to private property in the first place is its utility value in helping you to achieve goals in life.”
The principle has direct relevance to vacant sites across Ireland. “When it comes to housing as a specific kind of property, if you are not utilising a housing unit that you own by living in it or renting it, then you are harming others by depriving them of the potential to use it in a way that positively contributes to their life.
“On that basis, we could derive some pretty clear policy prescriptions from Locke’s line of thinking,” Lacey points out.
Locke believed there was another “law of nature” relating to property, which became known as the “Lockean proviso”. This says that with whatever property you acquire there must be “enough, and as good left in common for others”. The idea provides a justification for the acquisition of private property: An individual is free to mix their labour with natural resources, converting common property into private property, but this is justifiable only when it does not make anyone else worse off.
If you think of the “common” as the existing housing stock, the proviso would put an onus on the government to ensure there is a minimum standard of housing available that can meet demand, says Lacey. “When the quantity and quality of the housing stock is falling short of the demands being placed on it, then every extra decent housing unit an individual acquires that is not intended for rental comes at a cost to others who have no access to a decent unit.
“In concrete terms, the Lockean proviso would seem to support the imposition of disincentives on the acquisition of holiday homes or the like in areas of surplus demand, for example.”
Both Locke and Rawls belong to that democratic tradition known as liberalism – a philosophy that emphasises the value of individual freedom. Neither of them was a revolutionary. For that one must look elsewhere.
“Karl Marx and post-Marxists like Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe have developed a tradition that is often critical of liberalism, especially because of the high priority it tends to place on private property and its related tolerance of what they see as a level of inequality that is often too high,” says Lacey.
“For them, recurrent crises in housing are just a symptom of the wider power imbalances that are entrenched in contemporary capitalism, requiring a more fundamental rethink of how we organise society than incremental policies that would tinker around with the existing housing market.”
So who do you want in your constitution: Marx, Locke or Rawls? Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien says the wording on a referendum on housing may be put to the people as early as next year.
economist.com 7-2022 How high property prices can damage the economy – A fresh strand of research studies the consequences, both in China and the rich world
techchrunch.com 8-2022 3 views: Thoughts on Flow – A nonexhaustive list of why Marc Andreessen and Adam Neumann have misread America’s housing problems – by Tim De Chant, Dominic-Madori Davis, Amanda Silberling
theguardian.com 8-2022 Adam Neumann’s latest big idea? To become America’s biggest landlord – The WeWork co-founder is reportedly at the helm of Flow, a new company looking to reinvent apartment living – but have any lessons been learned? by Lauren Aratani
>inequality,inflation, housing, wages
mishtalk.com 15-4-2022 Housing Affordability Declines Nearly 23 Percent In Less Than a Year – by Mish
..”…The NAR defines affordable as the degree to which a typical family can afford the monthly mortgage payments on a typical home. (affordability calculation here) … The US Housing Affordability Index has moved down to its lowest level since 2008. This is based on February data when mortgage rates were over 1% lower than they are today. The result: current affordability is much lower, plummeting over the last 2 months. … Accounting for CPI inflation, wages for production and nonsupervisory workers is nearly the same today as February of 1973. For details, please see Inflation Has Eaten Up Nearly 100 Percent of Hourly Wage Gains Since 1973. Mortgage rates are now above 5 percent and inflation jumped again in March. Expect another big decline in affordability next month. …”…
newstatesman.com 8-2-2022 Boomer mathematics: why older generations can’t understand the millennial struggle to buy a house – What makes the likes of Kirstie Allsopp insist that millennials are financially inept? They inflate the cost of young people having fun – By Sarah Manavis
phys.org/ 3-2-2022 Millennials locked out of Australian housing market by older generations
…”…Over three census periods (2006, 2011 and 2016) researchers found that 80 percent of older generations were long-standing homeowners compared to only about 50 percent of millennials. It’s a situation that’s exacerbated by Australia’s soaring house prices, where recent reports indicate that Australian home buyers paid an average of $1,066,133 to secure a home over the past year (a national increase of 25 percent). Lead researcher, Dr. Braam Lowies says aside from the massive financial constraints, the research highlights how government policies designed to protect one generation, can hinder another. “In Australia, owning your own home has always been the great Aussie dream. But each year, this dream is becoming further out of reach for younger Australians,” Dr. Lowies says….”…
cnbc.com 2-2-2022 Housing wealth is setting new records for both owners and sellers – by Diana Olick
- The profit on a typical home sale last year was just over $94,000, an increase of 45% from the profit in 2020 and 71% from pre-pandemic profits.
- About 42% of homeowners were considered equity-rich at the end of last year
- The amount of tappable equity (equity above the 20% usually required by lenders to back a mortgage) grew by $2.6 trillion last year to a record total of $9.9 trillion
ft.com 21-1-2022 Who caused the UK’s housing crisis? Margaret Thatcher’s Right to Buy is often blamed but New Labour policies contributed to low affordability and price inflation – by Anna Minton
stuff.co.nz 11-2021 The return of the landed gentry: why the wealthy are getting wealthier – Inheritances will widen intergenerational inequalities, author Max Rashbrooke writes in his new book Too Much Money: How Wealth Disparities are Unbalancing NZ – Aotearoa
…”… inequalities will only have widened since, given the compounding effects of economic inequality and, of course, the housing market. As endless news stories have noted, young people’s chances of buying a house are increasingly dependent on their parents’ ability to help them with a deposit – the fabled ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’. And most of these bankers will, of course, be themselves homeowners. Advantage is transmitted from generation to generation. Some will inherit houses; others will never afford one. …
… A similar pattern here seems likely. ‘There is a new kind of wedge between the haves and the have-nots,’ the economist Shamubeel Eaqub says. ‘Home ownership will soon become the purview of those with property lineage – the landed gentry … Now, even if you have a good education, it is unlikely that you will have sufficient income to buy a house, unless you have access to the bank of mummy and daddy.’ Beyond housing, a ‘bequest bulge’ is looming, as wealthier baby-boomers die off or make lavish gifts. ‘The world is about to witness the greatest intergenerational transfer of wealth in history,’ writes business journalist Nicola Shepheard, citing estimates that globally US$30 trillion (NZ$41.4 trillion) will change hands in the next fifteen years.
https://www.bwb.co.nz 2018 Inequality – A New Zealand Crisis by Max Rashbrooke
inews.co.uk 12 /2021 I’m being evicted from my flat with an 8-week old – our lack of renters’ rights has hit home by Adela Ryle
“This country is no place for anyone other than the few rich landlords who profit from that most basic of needs – the need for home …Some basic protections would make all the difference. Increased renters’ rights … So would more investment in affordable housing, increases in the national living wage and changes to the mortgage market to discourage property speculation …This country has become unliveable. It’s no place for a baby. It’s no place for families; for couples; for those who live alone; for those on benefits; for the poor; for the young. Until the Government listens and our broken housing market is mended, it’s no place for anyone other than the few rich landlords who profit from that most basic of needs – the need for home…”..
theguardian.com 10/2021 While the rich can profit, housing inequality isn’t going anywhere
As long as buy-to-let and second home purchases continue, property prices are unlikely to go down, writes Eileen Peck. Plus letters from Laura Rollin and Dave Verguson on school selection by housing wealth
I was surprised that in responding to Coco Khan’s questions about the housing market (Are UK house prices ever going to crash? We ask the expert, 22 October), left an important part of the whole picture until the last sentence: “We are one of the most unequal countries in Europe.”
>property inequality, rent control
majorcadailybulletin.com 10-2021 Legislation necessary to “influence rental prices” in the Balearics – Land is limited and expensive
themarket.ch 10-2021 China Is Probably the Most Overvalued Property Market in the World. Evergrande is a Symptom of That – Beijing-based economist Michael Pettis sees the looming collapse of real estate developer Evergrande as a signal that China needs to fundamentally shift away from its investment-based growth model.
theguardian.com 3-2021 UK housing crisis: how did owning a home become unaffordable? Buying a house is off-limits to many thanks to rising rents, pay freezes and a lack of affordable homes. But it hasn’t always been this way. What went wrong? – by Lydia McMullan, Hilary Osborne, Garry Blight, Pamela Duncan
- Covid frontline workers priced out of homeowning in 98% of Great Britain
- How can we fix the UK housing crisis?
theguardian.com 25-1-2022 George Osborne’s help-to-buy scheme has been an utter disaster by Polly Toynbee
>property inequality, rent control
ft.com 8/2021 Berlin’s referendum and the housing costs fury
theguardian.com 4-2021 Bill Gates is the biggest private owner of farmland in the United States. Why? – Gates has been buying land like it’s going out of style. He now owns more farmland than my entire Native American nation – by Nick Estes
whoownsengland 2017 WHY IS JAMES DYSON HOOVERING UP LAND?
…”…Dyson has also been making headlines lately by warning the Government not to cut farm subsidies after Brexit. Commentators have been quick to point out that Dyson himself is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the current system of farm subsidies: last year, his company, Beeswax Farming (Rainbow) Ltd, received £1.8million in payments. …”…