Friday, 10 October 2008

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Second homes The level of homelessness in the UK is said to be among the highest in Europe, with more than four people per 1,000 estimated to be homeless. Meanwhile, in England, there are close to a quarter of a million second homes. Quite apart from the curious morality of having what you don't need so someone else can go without, I can't see how, on balance, the practice of having more than one home is likely to have other than a negative effect on neighbourhood life in either location. It was described by George Monbiot in the Guardian a while ago as a 'vampire trade'. I would describe it as yet another example of the antisocial behaviour of the advantaged. The National Housing and Planning Advice Unit has published a study of the evidence on the purchase and use of second homes, which suggests that second home owners are high income earners with heads of household between 45 and 64 years of age. The most common household type is a couple with no dependent children. But there are a lot of gaps in the evidence, it seems. For instance: The impact of second homes on house prices and affordability is assumed but not proven. And: There is a lack of good quality evidence on the impact of second homes on local housing markets and local communities. The authors state that there is a case for examining the positive as well as the negative impacts of second homes on local economies, housing markets and communities. Fair enough, let's have some research - oh and could we also please hear a sensible moral defence of this practice, if there is one? The research design will be of great interest in lots of ways. I would very much like to see the measures used to assess impact on local social relations, and how they are weighted against economic impact. Until that can be organised and funded, the commonsense arguments that in most cases it is (a) immoral and (b) socially damaging, ought to hold sway. We shouldn't need an economic recession to force acceptable prosocial behaviour from the wealthy.

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