Please forgive the waffling post, my thoughts aren't very clear yet. The UK 'housing shortage' has been something I've pondered a lot and I think I'm coming round to the idea that the very high level numbers can indiciate one thing, but the reality on the ground is different.
I've proposed before that the fact that we have decreasing household sizes during a period of population growth must mean that we're adding, as a proportion, more housing than people because a smaller household cannot form until there is a physical house to do it in. If house building, as a proportion, really lagged population growth we would by definition see rising household sizes.
I still stand by this hypothesis for the high level numbers, but I think the crux of the issue may be that the housing added recently is not equal to the average housing stock of old in size, location or quality.
I'm finding it difficult to articulate exactly what I mean, so maybe an example is best:
3000 sqft Geogian townhouse that used to house a single family of 5 is sold and a developer splits it into 4 flats. 3 houses are added in this process, the 4 flats can now easily house 7 or 8 people, we have a falling average household size, but no-one is happy, because who wants to bring up a family in a 750 sqft flat.
Now this is an extreme example, there has been plenty of completely new building going on as well, but I wouldn't want to live in many year 2000 onward housing developments if I had a choice, the kind of things that put me off are; lack of off-road parking, 'executive townhouses' that are all corridors and stairs, mixed tenancy social housing provision, being a long way from established town centres, etc... Not to mention that an awful lot of the houses added have been 'executive flats' where your kitchen is in your lounge so you can't cook fish or put the washing machine on in the evening.
Maybe what we have is not a housing shortage as defined by the number of front doors, but by sqft or front doors in desirable locations.
I've also been thinking a lot about what makes a desirable location and I think for me it's fundamentally about the other people that live in your neighbourhood, whether they care for their own property, respect yours and behave appropriately.
You can do all the architectural regeneration you like and build hundreds of community facilities, but if your neighbours still like to argue in the street at 2am or let their dogs crap on your lawn it's not desirable.
In the UK, I think it might only be London where regeneration of an existing residential neighbourhood can really happen, I know of nowhere else that every year has an influx of people who are there for no other reason than to work hard and make something of themselves. Without that, all you're left to do is hope that somehow people will clean up their act, but does anyone in the UK really think that the chav class is receding, not growing?
Are the majority of empty houses in the UK in crap areas like this that have no hope of regneration because there are always going to be a proportion of idiot families that ruin it for everyone else?
BTW - I didn't specifically look for this image when writing this post, I came across it yesterday while browsing local auction listings and checking out the areas using google streetview. There are places like this right across the UK in the ex-industrial towns and cities.