Nick Clegg today is proudly announcing a coalition housing policy which is perhaps the maddest thing the government has come up with yet (though that is a tough competition). Apparently the answer to housing problems is to find ways to enable people to take on yet more debt, being helped by government to find deposits which they will however ultimately have to repay in addition to the ordinary mortgage.
In effect the government thinks that the only problem with the housing market, is that it is not as it was in early 2008. The government supports ludicrous inflated house prices, giving the economy an entirely fictional huge monetary value asset base, sustained by mortgages of 100% or more on the inflated value, amounting to many multiples of the debtor’s income.
The answer to housing availability is not for the government to find ways to enable young people to take on unrealistic amounts of debt so they can afford fake prices. The answer in the owned sector is for house prices to crash down to realistic levels which people can actually afford.
These government proposals are the precise opposite of what is needed.
The primary answer in the rented sector is for local councils to build public housing and rent it to people at genuinely affordable prices. There are a huge number of brownfield sites which can be utilised and a huge number of empty buildings ripe for conversion – including many of those empty shops. 50% of the “printed” money created by the Bank of England in the last round of Quantitative Easing exercise, and given to the banks, would have built 400,000 family homes if given to local authorities for that purpose. Think of the employment that would have created.
The UK is every bit as indebted as Greece, both as a per capita absolute and as a percentage of GDP. The difference is that Britain has more private and Greece more individual debt. But it is equally impossible to pay it back in the long term. That incredible mountain of personal debt is what has sustained Britain’s ludicrous house prices. Just as the bamks have had to take a 50% haircut on Greek debt, so also they are going, in the end, to have to take a massive haircut on their UK mortgage portfolios.
The extraordinary thing is, that those mortgages – based on totally unreasonable house valuations – constitute not liabilities but “assets” on a bank’s balance sheet, and the banksters have been able to “leverage” those assets to make speculative financial transactions – or bets – to the valuse of 12 times the “asset”.
These are some my policy prescriptions:
Give local authorities money to build 400,000 new council houses for truly social rent levels, using cash from quantitative easing
nationalise all housing association property and give to local councils as council housing
wipe off 50% of all outstanding mortgages
watch house prices crash, and cheer!
That may sound extreme to some of you. But I promise you it is infinitely more sensible than the incredible folly the government has just produced.