Lund, Brian. Understanding Housing Policy.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Carroll, Barbara Wake
Pub Date: 06/22/2007
Publication: Name: Canadian Journal of Urban Research Publisher: Institute of Urban Studies Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2007 Institute of Urban Studies ISSN: 1188-3774
Issue: Date: Summer, 2007 Source Volume: 16 Source Issue: 1
Topic: NamedWork: Understanding Housing Policy (Book)
Persons: Reviewee: Lund, Brian
Accession Number: 179315111
Full Text: Lund, Brian.

Understanding Housing Policy.

Bristol: Policy Press and Social Policy Association, 2006.

263 pp.

ISBN: 1861346247

As a Canadian, it is nice to read about a country--in this case Great Britain--that actually has a 'housing policy'. The book consists of eleven chapters dealing with a broad range of housing issues and, once one masters the differences in terminology such as 'rates' rather then 'property taxes' and 'council housing' rather the 'public housing'--which ring oddly to the North American reader--it is remarkable how alike the history and problems of housing have been in both Great Britain and North America.

Chapter one is an excellent review of the theoretical and ideological perspectives on housing such as behavioural approaches and public choice. Chapter two is a history of housing policy and the British perspective on it, but it underlines how much our housing policy has been shaped by them. What is particularly noticeable is the extent to which British housing policy has been informed by the circumstances in London, just as Canadian housing policy has been influenced by the Toronto experience. Chapter three deals with the New Labour policy and the impact of rapidly rising housing prices. The discussion of Britain's experiments with tenant management will seem particularly familiar to Canadian readers, although it appears to have been more successful there, than it here. Chapter four is an excellent comparison of housing policy in other countries (but does not include Canada) and is flawed by its heavy reliance on the theoretical framework of Gosta Esping-Andersen, which distinguishes welfare states in terms of their decommodification (the extent to which households can opt out of the market economy) and stratification.

Chapters five through eight are a very good--but hardly inspiring--description of the problems of homelessness, affordability, and housing standards, which are good for students to read but provide little prescriptive insights into the problem. At the same time, the discussion of administrative pathology is delightful: The government defines a ten-year old child as "one-half a person" for procedural purposes (p. 158-160), and the official discussion of who is homeless (p. 132) is reminiscent of 'Yes, Minister' or Monty Python episodes.

It is in chapter nine that the book comes into its own. It deals with the issues of low demand and the kind of architectural determinism that will remind the Canadian reader both of Regent Park in Toronto and the endless sprawling subdivisions throughout Canada. "The solutions for dealing with social exclusion and income integration are interesting and appear to be far superior to the solution which we have followed in Canada--that is, paying the middle class through various forms of rent supplements to live with the poor. The discussion of social exclusion which continues into chapter ten is also excellent, particularly the distinction made between disability and impairment (pp. 209-211) and the discussion of the relationship between ethnicity, race, and housing which produces both institutional and structural racism. In an era in which the conventional wisdom is that of multiculturalism, this is worth reading.

The concluding chapter is a sophisticated analysis of the five stages of housing policy, from the original period of unhygienic housing as a social problem, through to the stages of state intervention through planning, market and income subsidies, to the multi-faceted approach advocated today. Canadian policy planners should read this chapter!

The book is probably intended for undergraduate classes in housing in the United Kingdom with very accessible text-boxes, questions for discussion and websites to consult. In North America this book would also work well as a supplementary text at the senior undergraduate, or even graduate level as it does such an excellent job of outlining the basic issues that face us in that intransigent and interdisciplinary policy area which is housing policy.

Barbara Wake Carroll

Political Science Department

McMaster University
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.