An influential think-tank has argued that expensive social housing should be sold off to raise money to build more, less expensive units.

The report, 'Ending Expensive Social Tenancies' by Policy Exchange says that, as social houses that are more expensive than the average in their area, become vacant they should be sold and the money raised used to build houses, which would enable far more families to be housed for the same money.

This, says Policy Exchange, would lead to a fairer welfare system [1], more houses for people, lower council house waiting lists and it would promote growth.

The housing minister, Grant Shapps has welcomed the report and called it 'blindingly obvious'.

At present there is a huge waiting list for social housing; in 2011 it stood at 1.83 million people. So some of those waiting may hit the social housing 'lottery win' and get to live in a mansion, but that leaves many more people without a home.

The lack of housing has also hit the supply/demand equation with the result that rents have risen disproportionately. Once again looking at 2011 they rose 4%.

Selling off the more expensive stock and replacing it with quality, lower cost units would boost the building trade, stabilise the housing market and keep rents under control.

But detractors claim that it is a form of ghettoisation, forcing the poor out of nice areas and into a new form of sink estate. John Prescott also Tweeted claiming it to be a form of gerrymandering.

House building-FreeFoto.com

House building-FreeFoto.com

Policy Exchange says that the voters do not want to see public money tied up in expensive social housing and also claims that with the way that house prices vary across the regions of the country people would still end up living close to their chosen area anyway.

Over a fifth (21.8% or 818,000 properties) of social housing is above the relevant median to be called 'expensive'. These are worth some £159 billion. The projected turnover on vacancy would be about 3.5% of that meaning that 28,500 could be sold off every year raising £4.5 billion after accounting for the average £35,000 in debt for each unit sold.

Although this will not be smiled on by some who fear for the future of the poor surely this policy would stretch what little money we have further and allow more people to benefit without having to borrow more money. After all why should social housing be handed out on a sort of winner takes all basis?

[1] http://www.policyexchange.org.uk/images/publications/ending%20expensive%20social%20tenancies.pdf

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