Housing Policy Matters: A Global Analysis

By Shlomo Angel | Go to book overview

21
The Value of Housing

The estimated median monetary value of a country's urban housing stock in 1990 was of the order of 1.4 times its gross national product (GNP). The estimated total value of the urban housing stock in the world was of the order of $50 trillion, roughly 2.25 times the gross product of the world at that time, 1 and this great wealth was largely in the hands of home-owning families. The irreversible evolution of universal urban home ownership has resulted in the transfer of both wealth and power from the ruling classes to the masses. Contrary to the now- discredited Marxist view that the ownership of the means of production should be vested in the state, houses -- the means of production of housing services -- are now universally vested in the hands of the people in a form a of highly decentralized capitalism that could not be imagined before. And there is no doubt that this has limited, rather than strengthened, the hand of the state vis-à-vis the individual in the conduct of urban policy (for better or for worse).

The transformation of housing into a form of wealth (and sometimes the only form of wealth) that households can accumulate over time, has indeed been the greatest motivating force in improving the housing stock worldwide. Basic shelter, it can be sensibly argued, must be built regardless of its economic value. Shelter has a use value that precedes any commodity value it may accumulate later. But as soon as houses start to have a commodity value, the motivations for investing in them and for maintaining them in good order multiply. And it is precisely these motivations -- because they can be exercised freely by each household -- that lead, in and of themselves, to great improvements in the housing stock.

There is, in fact, an inherent discipline that the market imposes on households in their pursuit of an increased monetary value of their homes. Homes have monetary value as long as they are in demand in the market. And they are in demand only if they have the qualities that people in that particular market want of their houses. To conform to market demand, families need to build and maintain their homes at standards that the market as a whole (or a significant market segment) values, rather than according to their personal whims. Their houses, personalized as they may be, must in fact retain a certain depersonalized

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