And Danny Dorling gets it good and hard

There is not much of an argument in this book against a greater reliance on additional building and thus cheaper house prices.  Dorling refers to “slum landlords and cowboy builders” and complains that not all housing for low-income groups will be of high enough quality.  But that’s more of a general complaint about the nature of poverty than a problem with the way the housing market works.  He then retreats to the claim that the mobilization of space and empty bedrooms around the country, combined with refurbishing, will solve the problem.  On any given night, he argues, most bedrooms in the country are not being slept in.

But how to redistribute this unjust largesse of sheets and pillows?  It is not as if a bureaucratic authority can scour the country for the empty bedrooms of the elderly and hand over keys to struggling young families.  Dorling repeats the incantation that housing inequality is immoral, but without much of a recipe for turning spare rooms into cheaper housing.  Refurbishment, as the author suggests, is all to the good.  But why isn’t more of that happening already?  Either regulatory forces are holding back redevelopment (a suggestion Dorling is reluctant to entertain), or landlords are waiting because it is not yet clear which kinds of investments will be best on a piece of land.  In that latter case, the law would be unwise to force the matter too quickly and, more generally, legal control could well discourage entrepreneurs from refurbishing at all.

As Tyler Cowen writes in the concluding section of the review: “You can’t write a good book which attempts to repeal the laws of economics, especially when it focuses on an economic topic.”

It’s amazing how often Dorling trips over his own ignorance of economics really.

6 comments on “And Danny Dorling gets it good and hard

  1. “the claim that the mobilization of space and empty bedrooms around the country… will solve the problem”
    So he’s a big supporter of the “bedroom tax!” Well done that man! Not going to win him any friends in the Graun, though.
    But “refurbisment”?
    Ian & myself will both agree there’s been far too much bloody refurbishment. Time to tear down some of that Vicky & Edwardian crap & build proper houses. It’s just faux “property development” on the cheap. Trust me. I made a living out of it.
    “On any given night, he argues, most bedrooms in the country are not being slept in.”
    We do our best. We do our best. But you have to have somewhere to keep a change of clothes.

  2. I assume Dorling had an answer and so worked back to find a question he liked. That is, he wants more government-built and owned housing. Therefore builders must be cowboys. Not mentioning that virtually all the worst housing in Britain was built by the State. He wants more council houses and so therefore private landlords must be slum lords – ignoring the fact that the real slumlords were the creation of the laws he seems to want restricting freedom to bargain. Rachman was a product of post-War socialism, not the market. He wants some sort of bedroom tax.

    Although what he probably needs is a good kicking and some time spent in re-education mucking out cattle sheds so he can get a basic understanding of ordinary people’s lives.

  3. ” Not mentioning that virtually all the worst housing in Britain was built by the State.”
    Sorry, SMfS but that isn’t true. The worst housing is those Vicky & Edwardian des reses command astronomical prices in the estate agents’ windows. Most council housing has been built to at least as good a standard as the equivalent private sector. Much to considerably higher. It’s the poor maintenance lets it down.

  4. > The worst housing is those Vicky & Edwardian des reses command astronomical prices in the estate agents’ windows.

    I assume you are actually taking the mick… I own and live in a 1960s built ex council house. It’s not a patch on the quality of the privately built Edwardian houses down the road, or even the council built 1950s houses on the same estate.

    To be fair, as far as I can make out, privately built houses from the 60s weren’t much better, although they seem comparatively rare, probably because the government at the time was building rather a lot.

  5. “I assume you are actually taking the mick…”

    Far from it. Ask IanB, who’s also worked with them. Most of those cherished Edwardian terraces are jerrybuilt piles of ess-aitch-one-tee held together with repairs. You can take one to pieces, from rotting roof to lack of proper foundations, with your bare hands. You don’t even need a hammer. There’s hardly any cement in the mortar. The only competent building work is the face brickwork on the front elevations. Behind that they’re a mess of substandard materials thrown together by poorly skilled labour.

  6. I used to live in a beautiful (to some tastes) detached Edwardian house that was clearly built as cheaply as possible.

    Where there weren’t chimney stacks, the side walls were a single leaf of maybe four inches, bedded with very sandy, weak lime mortar. Mason bees were drilling through this fast enough to worry about.

    My first substantial job on that house was to refit the bathroom. At one point I absently leaned on the wall, and felt it move. Quite a lot. So I started pulling out bricks, just by grabbing and sliding them out like drawers, and behind the bricks was daylight. I pulled out and relaid a four-foot semicircle before I found an area that wasn’t hopelessly compromised. I think the wall was weak because it didn’t support the roof just there — it was just waving around in the breeze.

    These can be lovely houses to live in, a pleasure to return to each evening, but many are not soundly built. They move around, they let the weather right through the walls, they’re hard to heat. You refurbish one of these places because you love it, not because it makes sense. I wouldn’t like to see them demolished but they aren’t really part of solving a housing problem.

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