The problems with the UK housing market have been well-documented. There is a ‘housing crisis.’ No-one today can afford to buy the sorts of houses their parents did. Household formation is depressed. Every day, the reports get more lurid. The latest example of this is a survey suggesting that all 43 of the affordable houses in London aren’t actually houses, but rather boats. There has been a proliferation of not-houses in recent years, from houseboats to ‘beds-in-sheds.’ The reason is clear – Britain has a sore lack of proper slums. Government regulations designed to clamp down on ‘cowboy landlords’ restrict people’s ability to choose the kind of accommodation in which they want to live.
Local authorities require exhaustive safety inspections and energy efficiency standards – if they allow construction at all. Each individual requirement sounds fairly reasonable, something that almost everyone would want. But housing should cater to a wide array of preferences. Some people might not feel like they need a bedroom space as large as the state expects, while others might not mind sharing a bathroom with another family if it means lower rents.
The consequences of forcing people outside the law are serious, as with immigration. If the only way you can afford housing is to live illegally, you have no recourse to the law if you do have a dispute with your landlord.
These regulations don’t just affect the type of squalid accommodation that they were designed to outlaw. A recent project to build ‘micro-flats’ worth up to £231,000 required the intervention of the London Mayor to exempt it from certain regulations. Developments like these might be the future for young people like me struggling to get onto the housing market, but this kind of ad-hoc policymaking is no way to run a country. Wholesale change is needed.
The market desperately wants to provide houses people can live in at prices they can afford – but in the eyes of local authorities these houses are too small, or too tall, or the ceilings are too low, or the windows not energy efficient enough. Sweeping deregulation is the only way to provide Britain with the slums it is crying out for.
Theo Clifford is winner of the 18-21 category of the ASI’s ‘Young Writer on Liberty’ competition. You can follow him on @Theo_Clifford, and read his blog at economicsondemand.com.