Tuesday 5 July 2011

Where the NIMBYs are

NatCen have a new report out summarising the results of a survey (commissioned by the previous government) into attitudes towards housing in England. There's lots of interesting stuff in there about tenure aspirations and so on, but I wanted to focus on the section about attitudes towards new housing supply.

Survey respondents were asked whether they would support or oppose more homes being built in their local area. The headline result is that only 29% of respondents support more homes being built in their local area, while 46% were opposed and 23% were neither supportive or opposed. But I'm more interested in the underlying factors, so the charts below break down the results by a variety of categories, with those who neither supported nor opposed new housing excluded for the sake of clarity.

It's pretty striking that opposition to new housing supply is highest in Outer London and lowest in Inner London. Inner London is the only part of the country to have a substantial plurality in favour of new supply.

In general, it is in larger urban areas where support for new housing is highest and in suburbs, small towns or the country where opposition is strongest. But are attitudes just a function of geography or does that mask some other more important factors?

We can't really isolate causation from this data but the breakdown by household income is rather suggestive. It shows that the poorest households are the most supportive of new housing supply and those in the upper half of the income distribution the most opposed.

Finally, there are stark differences according to the current housing tenure of the respondent. People in social housing are on average in favour of new housing supply, people who rent privately are basically split, and a large plurality of owner occupiers are opposed.

The fact that Inner London has a higher proportion of low income and/or renting households probably goes a long way to explaining why it has the highest support for new supply in the country. The tenure comparison also supports the case for an economic rationale behind attitudes to new supply. Owner occupiers would tend to have the least need for new supply and the most to lose if new supply brings down house prices, while social housing tenants have little incentive to worry about lower local prices and are more likely to know someone who needs a home or be in need of one themselves. And perhaps private renters are somewhere in the middle.

As a final point, I'd just like to emphasise that we tend to think of attitudes to new housing supply as a personal matter, but it has potentially huge implications for the lives of other people. If we succesfully oppose new housing supply in our local area we make it more difficult for people to find a decent, affordable place to live. We may not ever meet those people or even be aware of their existence, but they exist alright. This is in large part a moral issue, and I think we should be willing to discuss our attitudes to it in terms of their moral consequences.

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