Friday, 17 May 2013

Want To Buy A House For £1? No Thanks, Too Expensive!

Stoke City Council, some months ago put 35 houses up for sale for just £1 each!!! The offer also included a guaranteed loan of £30,000, to be repaid at an interest rate of just 3% over base rate, to be repaid over ten years. Yet, it has failed to secure buyers for eight of the 35 houses, all of which are in the same street. On the one hand it indicates just how depressed the property market really is, despite all of the lies, purveyed by the media, government, estate agents and other vested interests about rising house prices. On the other, it also indicates what is wrong with all those proposals for trying to persuade people to buy houses in inner city, brownfield areas rather than in a decent environment. What it most clearly shows, is why the Government's “Help To Buy” Scheme was such a miserable failure, encouraging just 150, rather than the 150,00 people, to buy over priced houses in the last year, and why its follow up programmes are likely to equally fail.

On BBC Midlands News, the other day, a spokesperson for the Council said they thought that some people might have been put off applying, because they believed they may not have qualified. That seems unlikely, because early reports were that there had been considerable interest from people about the houses. The real reason is that the houses are not that cheap, in reality for what they are. The £1, price tag is obviously misleading, because the reason the Council is offering a £30,000 loan to modernise them, is precisely because they need at least that amount of money spending on them. To be honest, I have seen much better terraced houses in Stoke, already modernised, and in better areas, sold at auction for less than the £30,000 that would be the real cost, and they don't involve you in the trouble, of having to actually do the modernising.

The houses are in an inner city area close to a large industrial operation, and in an area where the crime rate is high. That, of course is part of the problem with current housing policy, and the fact that it fails to address one of the key aspects any such policy needs to deal with. That is to provide housing in a way that is sustainable. I haven't forgotten that this is a subject I am still dealing with, just I haven't had tome to complete that bit yet. But, this demonstrates the bifurcation that exists when it comes to housing, as with many other aspects of the economy. The idea that you can deal with the UK's housing problems by simply increasing the building on brownfield sites is nonsense.

Existing urban development is already unnecessarily cramped, and high density. It leads to all of the social, and health problems that have been associated with such housing provision going back to the time of Engels “History of the Working Class”. Is it any wonder that, although the smog that used to hang over industrial towns, when I was a kid has gone, respiratory problems are on the increase, as the size of cities has continued to rise, largely devoid of the green lung of the surrounding countryside that used to provide some relief in the past, but which now only exists as a Green Belt, many miles away from the city centres. Is it any wonder, that with a lack of defensible space, and with rising deprivation, and atomisation, cities become divided into territories for rival gangs, and a host of criminal and anti-social activities?

Meanwhile, as happened in Engels' day, the more affluent middle class, escape to the countryside, and having done so strain every nerve to prevent any kind of rational development of it that could provide the masses with somewhere decent to live, and at the same time providing the real basis for increasing housing provision at a more reasonable cost, as opposed to the Government scams that only appear to make provision more affordable by luring people to ever increasing amounts of debt.

But, this bifurcation manifests itself in another way too. Boris Johnson is calling for something like financial independence for London, following the report of the London Finance Commission. It is only the logical conclusion of something I wrote about many months ago. Across Europe, the debt crisis has led to the rise not just of right-wing, populism based on nationalism, but also on increasing support for separatism. It has happened in Spain, where Catalunya has demanded the right to separate from Spain. It has happened in Belgium, and of course it has happened in Scotland. The real basis of all of these is economic, the feeling that money is being drained out of the region to support less affluent regions. The rise of the SNP from nowhere mirrored the development of North Sea Oil. But, for the same reason, it becomes obvious why London, whose population is now around 16% of the total UK population, and where an even greater percentage of the country's wealth, jobs and economy is concentrated, would want to follow such a course of action.

In reality, London is a different country to the rest of Britain. The Tories are nothing more than a sect in Scotland. They have little more support in much of the rest of the North of England, and in the Midlands and North-West they are little better placed. It is only in London, the South-East, and its hinterland, where the Tories obtain the majority that allows them to rule the whole of Britain. Even then they were unable to obtain a majority at the last election. In London, that economic concentration, along with the role of foreign billionaire's in buying up property, has created a situation where houses on a like for like basis sell for around four times, what they would cost in Stoke. At the same time, that has meant that thousands of ordinary people have no prospect of ever being able to put down a decent deposit on a house, let alone be able to buy it.

It has meant that thousands of people are then pushed into expensive, but poor quality rented accommodation, including those who have been forced into living in sheds at the bottom of other people's gardens!

The Tories followed the natural tendency from this. On coming into office they slashed public spending most in all those areas that most depended upon it, because economic development is sucked into and around London. It is not at all surprising that Boris Johnson wants to keep London's money in London, just as he wants to protect London's bankers against their foreign counterparts, even if that damages the rest of the UK economy. Its no wonder that the Tories basically dismantled Regional Policy by scrapping the Regional Development Agencies that were in themselves an inadequate means of encouraging investment and economic development outside Gotham. The Tories have acted in this sense as they have acted in their policy measures in general to shore up their core support, and in this case they have done that geographically as well as economically and socially.

But, such a policy sows the seeds of its own destruction. The property bubble in London is highly unstable. When those foreign billionaires decide to sell up, and move to some other city, or when the bankruptcy of the banks is once again exposed, bringing with it job losses, and the disappearance of bonuses, the multi-million pound properties will be hit hard. The prices of similar properties in Paris have just experienced a huge drop, as the millionaires and billionaires moved out after Hollande's victory. The attacks on Housing benefit, will themselves hit rents in London harder than anywhere else, because rents there are so much higher. As that causes labour to be ethnically cleansed from London's inner reaches, it is likely to raise the value of labour-power, putting pressure on for wages to rise, and hitting profits. Moreover, as interest rates rise, as the demand for capital rises relative to its supply, that will hit those with astronomical mortgages in London more than elsewhere, meaning the London property bubble, having been inflated more than elsewhere, will burst that much more violently.

London has been protected against the falls in property prices that have been occurring throughout the rest of the country because of the strength of its economy. One of the other reasons that those £1 houses didn't sell in Stoke, is because of the opposite reality. Whatever, the ONS statistics about unemployment, the reality on the ground outside London is palpable. No, jobs, no hope, things getting worse not better, and even where people do have jobs, their real wages are falling hard. A house for £1 is okay, if you are prepared to live in a derelict house for the foreseeable future, but in that case there are more than enough empty houses available to squat, that would cost you nothing, and many of them are far more desirable than these houses in Cobridge. But, if you are on Minimum Wage, a temporary contract, zero hours or one of the many “self-employed” people scraping by on whatever scraps of work you can pick up every so often, you are unlikely to want to take on £30,000 of debt to bring the house up to a liveable condition.

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