All That Is Solid: The Great Housing Disaster

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Also on the plus side, various passages are unintentionally funny, especially when Dorling describes what he believes to be the motives of his political opponents. Dorling is the type of leftie who genuinely imagines his opponents to think and act like the villains in a Batman comic.

‘All That Is Solid’, by Danny Dorling | Financial Times

On the neutral side, in large parts, this book reads more like a generic left-wing rant than a book about housing. Those passages neither add nor subtract value. Now, to the bad parts. It would be wrong to claim that the book fails to identify the causes of the undersupply of housing. Worse, this book categorically denies that there is such a thing as a housing undersupply. The central thesis of All that is solid is that there is more than enough housing, and no need to build anything for the moment.

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The problem, Dorling argues, is purely one of distribution: Some people have too little because others have too much. The solution, then, is not to increase housing supply an option Dorling repeatedly dismisses , but to redistribute the housing stock that is already there: kick the rich out of their houses, and put the poor into them.

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Until two thirds into the book, Dorling keeps repeating the assertion that there is an abundance of housing which is just poorly distributed, without backing it up with anything. Except, there is a small problem with using the number of rooms as a proxy for housing supply in the UK. In a major international study of housing markets and housing conditions, Oliver Hartwich and Alan Evans ranked European countries by a variety of housing indicators, and showed a British peculiarity: When countries are ranked by the number of rooms per dwelling, the UK comes out on top of the list, but when they are ranked by average room size , the UK comes out at the very bottom.

The whole idea of using the room count as a proxy for housing supply is a strange one anyway. Housing space, however, is measurable, and very easily so.

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The graph below shows residential floor space per household, in m2, for Western Europe. Unsurprisingly, the UK comes out last by quite a distance. All this housing space that Dorling wants to redistribute is simply not there. There is a distributional problem, but not of the kind that Dorling describes.

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It is the spatial distribution of the housing stock that is awry. Right across the land, there is an almost inverse relationship between house building levels and house price inflation. Cities such as Liverpool and Stoke are dealing with the legacy of the Housing Market Renewal, a Labour initiative that knocked down street upon street of terraced accommodation in poor areas. The book is illustrated throughout with photographs of housing in Sheffield, where Dorling lived and worked before his own southward migration.

Sheffield has the longest waiting list for social housing in the UK, as well having some of the wealthiest neighbourhoods.


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The average inhabited dwelling has never had so many spare rooms, most of which lie empty most nights. Owner-occupied family homes are swollen with extensions, loft conversions, study areas and games rooms, while older couples and widows find themselves living alone in four-bedroom houses. He does not argue that elderly people should be herded out of the home they have lived in for 50 years to make way for young, poor families; he merely notes that the current government is pushing out and punishing those who are worst placed to bear the burden.

It goes without saying that the bedroom tax applies only if you have the temerity to rely on social housing. The social housing stock has been depleted systematically, yet most private housing has never been so replete, if not with space, then at least with habitable rooms.

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Dorling advocates rent control legislation, a tax on land values and a curtailing of the period for which properties are allowed to remain vacant before the local authority pressurises their owners to find tenants. Tracing how we got to our current crisis and how housing has come to reflect class and wealth in Britain, All That Is Solid shows that the solution to our problems - rising homelessness, a generation priced out of home ownership - is not, as is widely assumed, building more homes.

Inequality, he argues, is what we really need to overcome.

Book Review: All that is Solid by Professor Danny Dorling

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