The Other Reader is determined to make an Economist of me at the moment and was very annoyed when last night I couldn’t answer the nonsense question, “Why is the housing population ageing?” I have determined therefore to attempt an answer herewith, fol de rol, and so and so, what what?
There are three interpretations of what she could possibly mean with this nonsense:
That the people in houses are ageing.
That the houses themselves are ageing.
That the people who do the housing are ageing.
All other interpretations are subsections of these. My answers are:
1 The people in houses are ageing because
a) they are three-dimensional beings in a multi-dimensional universe and perceive change over time. Because they are self-perpetuating machines of genetic but not unitary self-preservation, they are not perfect, in fact have self-destruction built in so that they can get nearer to self-replicatory perfection in each succeeding generation, being driven on by evolutionary pressures and the necessary scarcity of resources. Hence they have telomeres, coding caps for their DNA that run out as they get older, which means their repair procedures stop working. The people in these houses aren’t being replaced either, because young people can’t afford new houses, so have to live with their parents, or stay in old cheap, nasty blocks of flats, so houses are gradually getting more old people in them vis-a-vis flats. The Wall Street Journal thinks London’s property is still in a boom and is going to burst soon – at which point Britain will be in a true more-recessed-than-hole-to-Australia recession, and probably take down the world’s financial markets and most of the sickeningly rich’s wealth too. Houses will once again be affordable, but there will be no banks to lend us the money – so we’ll probably have to use aggregated micro-finance, or Good Old-fashioned Building Societies (GOBS) as they’re known. To me.
b) The houses are ageing because of a combination of land pressures, lack of structural maintenance due to the costs of enormous mortgages to pay for over-priced housing and crippled incentives for new housing stock. For example, an average 1 bed flat in London costs in the region of £200,000. The incentive to buy a piece of land that could accomodate twenty such flats is therefore huge. However, through planning law, prohibitive housing prices, wealthy landlords sitting on property and land they neither use nor exploit properly, and the inefficient use of existing housing stock, that land is not available where it is demanded. Where it is available, it is not usable, through green belt laws or local protests, or because of a lack of demand in that area. (There were whole estates in Hull, where houses were being sold at £5000 each in the 2000s, while prices were rocketing elsewhere.) Moreover, builders are wary of investing their money (or taking out loans, which they can’t get anyway) in these properties currently as they all recognise that Britain’s housing stock is still over-valued (see that WSJ article above). The government will neither incentivise them nor pull its finger out and build new towns it suspects it won’t need when that blasted bubble bursts and the economy dies on its arse.
c) For reason a) above, and because there’s not enough council housing stock, meaning people have to live in rented accommodation, meaning the poor housing officers are knackered, running around trying to find homes for someone with 20 kids, while estate agents can’t shift their massively over-priced stock and the bubble just keeps reinflating.
Hence the question, though deliberate nonsense, does raise three important points about the “housing population ageing”; the houses are f*cked, their owners are f*cked, and we’re all f*cked.
I would answer thusly: the population is ageing, as in more than 20% (made up figure that sounds about right) of people in the UK are now over 65 cos we’ve recently suffered an abundance of super medicines (/big pharma shill) and a dearth of world war cullings. As the population lives in houses (and other boxy domiciles), a greater percentage of people in houses are now OLD.
(I just read the Ascent of Money. The chapter on housing was my second favourite.)