This is The Housing Question, a newsletter about housing, but not just housing… politics, social policy, economics, history and anything else that helps makes sense of how we got here.
Why is it called The Housing Question?
I’m increasingly resistant to using the term ‘housing crisis’. Ten or 15 years ago it had something to say about the problems in our housing system. Now there are many different crises – and addressing the dominant one (the affordability and accessibility of home ownership) can mean distracting attention from all the others (homelessness, lack of social housing, insecurity etc). In the face of what look more like long-term structural problems, ‘housing crisis’ seems redundant or, worse, counter-productive. As one interviewee put it to me during the research for my thesis, the very fact that we’ve done naff-all about it for years means there isn’t a housing crisis. Of the alternatives, ‘housing emergency’ (as used by Shelter and others) is a step up on crisis and conveys a sense of urgency but it also implies something short term.
That made me think back to The Housing Question, a pamphlet by Engels that was published 150 years ago this year. I’m borrowing the title rather than the argument. (As I understand it, Engels was essentially arguing that the housing question pushed by Proudhon and his followers was a second order issue and subordinate to the social question proposed by Marx and his.) I have no desire to rehash the ideological disputes of 19th century socialism but the debate does raise some interesting points with more contemporary relevance that I’ll come back to another time.
This title also suits my natural tendency to be better at posing questions than coming up with solutions – so housing question it is.
Who are you and why should I read this?
I’ve spent the last 30 years writing about housing as a journalist which has hopefully given me some insights worth sharing. Since long before it was fashionable I’ve sought to cover housing in its broader sense rather than just look at individual tenures and issues in isolation. More recently, I’ve completed a doctorate in housing since the financial crisis at the University of Bristol that has given me a wider appreciation of those issues and I’ll be sharing some of what I’ve learned along the way.
Why Substack and why should I subscribe?
I’ve written a regular blog for Inside Housing since 2007 but that has now morphed into a regular online column. I’ve also written my own blog at julesbirch.com since 2012 but that is now more of a back-up of work published elsewhere. I still tweet @jules_birch but (to me anyway) Twitter seems to be in slow decline. I thought the newsletter format would allow me to cover different subjects in the same issue rather than stick to just the one angle. Subscribing means you won’t miss an issue.
Is it free?
For now, yes – but writing is how I make my living. I may look at paid subscription options further down the line but at least some of the content will always be free.