A couple of weeks ago I took part in a debate on the housing opportunities for young people hosted by BBC Radio Leicester. The young people there were very aware of the issues of affordability and shortage and, quite naturally, wanted answers from the assembled experts.
Many of the young people prefaced their questions with phrases such as “When I buy…” or “How can I buy…”, and I must admit I didn’t particularly notice this until it was pointed out by one of the panel. From that moment on, however, the discussion was turned into a series of declarations on the virtues of social renting and the evils of owner occupation.
The audience of young people was told in no uncertain terms that they should not expect to buy their own home, but that rather they should live in social housing. They should be demanding that the government builds more rented housing rather than merely thinking about how they can afford to buy.
What struck me was the almost complete disjuncture between the aspirations of young people to own – even in a recession – and the attitude of housing professionals who saw their role as promoting social renting. Indeed, there was a sense of triumphalism from some of the adults in the audience that the housing market was in a state of collapse, and that finally people might stop “deluding” themselves that owning was a better option than social renting.
In normal circumstances one might be tempted just to ignore this view and see it as irrelevant. For the last 30 years academics have been barking on about the evils of owner occupation, and no one had taken any notice. But it struck me that, for the first time in a generation, this critique of owning might actually be listened to.
It is therefore very important for those who believe in the virtues of free markets and property rights to stand up and argue strongly for them and not give free run to those who see state intervention as the answer to our current problems. I found it immensely encouraging that these young people in Leicester assumed that they would buy, but in times like these they need to be told that they are right and not being selfish and unrealistic.