Public Policy and Housing Quality
In the previous chapter we looked at the measures used by governments to increase the numbers of properties built for sale or rent. But governments also have an interest in the quality of newly constructed and existing housing. There are a number of ways in which housing quality may be pursued through public policy, for instance through the establishment and enforcement of minimum legal standards for existing and newly built property, through direct public expenditure on improvements in the quality of the stock, through incentives to owners to maintain and improve their housing, or a combination of all these.
In England and Wales the definition of an unfit property was, until 1990, covered by the Housing Act of 1957. (In 1990 new legislation came into force which produced a higher standard of 'unfitness', but statistics based on this higher standard are not yet available.) As described in Chapter 2, dwellings were deemed unfit under the 1957 Act if they were so defective with respect to one or more of nine conditions that they were not reasonably suited for occupation. The nine conditions were: repair; stability; freedom from damp; natural lighting; ventilation; water supply; drainage and sanitary conveniences; facilities for the preparation of food and the disposal of waste water; and internal arrangement. There was also a statutory level of overcrowding.
Both these standards and the new ones are applied nationally, irrespective of tenure. However, the implementation has varied both by tenure and by region. Enforcement is in the hands of environmental health officers (formerly public health officers), who are usually part of a separate 'Department of Environmental Health' within the local authority. Sometimes this department is combined with the Housing Department. There is wide documentation of variations in the levels of enforcement both with regard