Downsizing, Ageism and Housing

There has been much discussion following the publication of a report by the Intergenerational Foundation called ‘Hoarding of Housing : The intergenerational crisis in the Housing Market’.

Perhaps a deliberately provocative title was chosen for the report (no, I’m not completely naive in terms of creating press interest!) and there were the requisite reports  and comment pieces written about ‘Baby Boomers’ who are hoarding homes (via the Guardian) which concludes

As the foundation says, they need to be discouraged from hoarding and made to realise that someone further down the generational chain is suffering as a consequence.

Maybe these property owning,  middle class ‘hoarders’ exist in different worlds from the one that I occupy but I didn’t see that as the main issue with housing in this country. It is not necessarily a like for like swapping of those with property to those without. I also worry about the bitterness with which some of the commentary has been based and that there is an attempt, even in the name of the report, to build an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ type situation where in order for older people with the value in their property to be ‘winners’ there has to be a ‘loser’ – the younger adults trying to build families in smaller houses.

The  failing is not on the older people who live in homes that are, after all, their own homes,  but more the way the housing market has behaved over the last couple of decades.

It’s Mother’s Work posts a great blogpost  on the topic explaining and illustrating some of the undertones to this debate including the difference in the way the government considers under occupancy of social housing as opposed to that of private housing and then those second home owners.

That’s an important issue as the government will increasingly use the ‘benefits’ system to force people to give up rooms that are not needed but this report refers as well to home owners.

The housing market is biased and unbalanced but to place the blame at the door of those who are older and try and use sometimes not terribly masked ageism to force guilt is not, I don’t think the answer.

The large houses which it is proposed that older people move out of will likely be unaffordable for most people with young families. It is hardly likely to be an equivalent swap. The problem is that the cost of housing has risen at such an astronomical level that it is out of the reaches of many who did not jump on the proverbial ‘ladder’ at the right time.

Looking at the report itself, beyond the title and the headlines, there are some  interesting proposals like the abolition of universal benefits for those who live in housing which is valued over £500,000 or taxing the value of property but I would see practical difficulties with that.

I work in an area where housing costs are high and have definitely come across older people who would might be property rich but cash poor who would be terribly affected by these sorts of moves. It is possible to be ‘property rich’ through not thoughts of ‘hoarding’ but just by living in a house whose value has increased due to the location and style and to force someone away from their community due to the cost of their property feels uncomfortable to me.

I do think that more should be done to protect tenants. Short term assured tenancies tend to favour the landlord and the goal of ‘home ownership’ only exists because it is the only possibility of a secure tenure apart from increasingly rare social housing tenancies which are increasingly targeted by the government now – making them less secure.

I have a toe on the ‘housing ladder’ in the sense that I live in a ‘shared ownership’ property. Was I particularly bothered about owning a home? No, not really, but I made this move solely because I had been moved and shifted around by landlords and just wanted to live somewhere where I wouldn’t be asked to leave with a couple of months notice.

I certainly didn’t buy to invest or to rent. More social housing would be an obvious solution, as would longer term and more secure lets but the government doesn’t seem to want to consider that as a possibility. Their proposal of the extension of the ‘right to buy’ scheme seems more than wrong-footed by pushing more to property ownership rather than looking at making longer term tenancies more secure.

We have allowed ‘buy to let’ landlords to make millions on the property market and perhaps the government has no wish to tackle this group head-on to affect their profits but I think that’s the way I’d prefer policy making to go after all, if we look at the Southern Cross debacle, it’s worth remembering that it was an empire built on the value of the property rather than the value of the people who lived inside the homes.

Guilting older adults into feeling they are depriving the younger generation – well, it leaves me with a nasty taste of ageism.

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2 thoughts on “Downsizing, Ageism and Housing

  1. Definitely agree that there needs to be more security for tenants, particularly since the old Thatcherite dream of everybody being a homeowner is now a rapidly-fading memory.

    I’m not on the property ladder and don’t expect to be any time soon. Fortunately I have a reasonably decent landlord who seems happy for me to stay as long as I like so long as I keep paying the rent.

  2. Housing is a major issue from all angles, people losing their homes due to the economic situation, people unable to get on the property ladder, people unable to get social housing due to stock shortages and people unable to afford private renting – where next!? an increase in homelessness is what I forsee!? :/
    (tweeted)

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