Housing troubles

This week, several residents took to the streets to protest on housing issues. Leaving aside the specific claims and demands, this is indeed an important matter for those who live and work in this city. The government somehow acknowledged the protest, stating its own understanding of the issue and assuring all that a new type of public housing is under consideration. This is certainly a major issue for residents. Average prices have risen tenfold in the last 10 years or so. These figures must be dealt with, with care, as the typical housing construction has changed noticeably over the last decade. What we can call the luxury segment had been overrepresented in the market; public housing has developed without obvious relation to the actual needs and income levels of residents – and the general construction, the units thought out and built for residents, has been underrepresented. It is not only a matter of average price, it is also a matter of unbalanced fit to local needs. Either way, for acquisition or renting, current prices place housing beyond the means of many, especially those who need it most: those willing to set up new families or live independently. Earlier measures taken, purportedly, to curtail the activities of the ‘usual culprits’, the so-called and faceless speculators, do not seem to have worked. At best, they did little; at worst, they made home acquisition more difficult for those who were supposedly the beneficiaries of those measures. If anything had some impact, it was the drop in gambling revenues, which was certainly not engineered or could be managed locally. Still, it was necessary for a rout in the market to bring things back to what we could call ‘normal’ terms. In rough terms, if prices went up tenfold, even a 20 per cent drop would make them 8 times bigger than in 2004 – and would likely send the local building operators to the government’s door asking for special protection. In the same period, wages, median or average, did not go up nearly as fast. Any ‘correction’ that would put housing within the grasp of common people would have to be much bigger than that. It is not likely to happen. If anything, this ‘break’ offers an opportunity to think anew the housing issues. But timing is important. While recognising the issues, the government does not seem to feel in a hurry to deal with the matter. It has been ‘paying attention’ for a long while. It is not clear it has made a thorough diagnostics of the situation, or is ready to come forward with well-considered alternatives. It appears somewhat aloof when the timing ‘thing’ is involved. Well, good policies are not only those whose conditions are well assessed and solutions well thought through. Good timing is of the essence. History is full of wonderful policies that failed because they missed their window of opportunity. Policies are also defined by omission. The alternative is that what is – whatever that is – becomes the de facto policy.