Housing questions

The recently published government report on the future needs of public housing indicates both demand (in 2026) and supply (in the “medium and long-term” – the time precision is somewhat looser here) will stand in the neighbourhood of 40,000 housing units. Implicitly at least, these figures appear to suggest that sometime in the future - ten years, maybe longer - residents’ housing problems will be overcome.
These figures raise some questions. Before jumping into that, however, let us underline the fact that the report makes a significant effort to explain the methodologies used and the foundations of the forecasts. In that, praise it deserves, and we can only wish that more studies follow the example.
Everybody who has ever been involved in analysing trends and making forecasts that will be used as a basis for a public policy will recognise the difficulties of the task, its strengths, and its limitations. Social and political realities seldom comply with models and their predictions.
Therefore, more often than not, the most critical aspect is not the precision of the forecast, the ‘truth’ of what the model anticipates at a particular point in time. It is the quality and reliability of the frame of reference that underpins the projections, and its principal merit lies – or should lie – in its usefulness as a guide for policy monitoring and future adjustments.
The report offers an abundance of useful figures that provide a basis for serious discussion, but both the figures and the conclusions the report reaches also raise several questions.
Remember at the end of 2016 there were about 47,700 public housing units More than half were built before the handover - over a period of 20 years - when the population was noticeably smaller and also, lest we forget, noticeably less affluent. And to be eligible for public housing a candidate must be a resident, cannot already own a property, and must have an income below a certain threshold.
Under such restrictions, and without changes in the current legal thresholds, the study expects up to more than 40,000 families will be looking for public housing in less than ten years from now. How does that fit in with, namely, the aging and slower growth of the resident population, the high existing homeownership rate and the high-income per capita level?
They do not fit smoothly; some assumptions may need a re-assessment.