The Right to Buy: Analysis & Evaluation of a Housing Policy

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RECOMMENDED READING The Right to Buy: Analysis & Evaluation of a Housing Policy By Colin Jones and Alan Murie (2000, Blackwell Publishing Ltd., Oxford, UK, 254 pages)

COLIN JONES, PROFESSOR OF ESTATE MANAGEMENT at Edinburgh's Heriot-Watt University, and Alan Murie, professor of urban and regional studies at the University of Birmingham, have provided a detailed and thorough treatise on the history, operation and management of council housing in the UK.

It is obvious from the onset that council housing and its operation, though perhaps similar to what we consider affordable housing today in the United States, bears little resemblance to our historic public housing and, rather, was undertaken initially to address issues related to housing supply and demand, particularly after the devastation of two world wars.

The Right to Buy policy, established in the United Kingdom in 1980, allowed council tenants to purchase the homes they were renting. The policy was a segment of a much larger public policy agenda geared toward deregulation and privatization introduced by the conservative Margaret Thatcher government that came to office in 1979.

Since then, a constant and consistent debate about the appropriate level of state intervention in housing provision has existed in the UK, the authors state. They contend that the growth of public sector housing in the UK has always been contested, and that opponents have long suggested it was ineffective for the state to own, control or manage the housing it originally built. Examples of the sale of state housing exist through the war years and after 1945. By the mid-1960s and into the 1970s, those who proposed selling council housing became increasingly verbal and prominent.

POLICY AFFECTS NEIGHBORHOODS DIFFERENTLY

Enter the Right to Buy policy, which launched a significant sale of council housing to existing tenants. Studies however, found that purchasers most often were dualincome families and those whose heads of household were generally older than 45 or near retirement. These residents, logically, had greater financial wherewithal, and were more capable of purchasing and owning their homes compared with other segments-specifically, younger households, single-parent households and those with much lower incomes.

The book also delves into various social aspects, identifying how the sale of council housing in highly desirable areas had a stabilizing and enhancing effect but, conversely, estates considered less attractive and populated primarily by low-income households experienced higher turnover rates and less stable economic environments.

Much of council housing, however, was built to high standards in a traditional product type that offered single dwelling units rather than flats, and provided individual yards and small gardens. This policy is dissimilar to most public housing historically constructed in the United States, especially during the expansion period of the 1960s.

Dissimilar to the U.S., where public housing provides the bulk of assistance to low-income renters, council housing offers a broader range of housing and is, some would consider, less stigmatized.

SPECIFIC IMPACTS ON THE OWNER-OCCUPIED MARKET

Beginning in the 1980s, the public gradually accepted the idea that council houses were marketable investments. Resale markets have since matured, and resales have been integrated into the local housing market in all areas, accounting for at least 10 percent of the market. …

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