AI can help us find the right policies to fix the housing crisis | Housing

Nick Bano makes a compelling argument that discussions about increasing the housing supply are misguided if their aim is to fix the UK housing crisis (The end of landlords: the surprisingly simple solution to the UK housing crisis, 19 March). His data and succinct description of the historical context are consistent with qualitative and quantitative evidence provided by various UK housing scholars.

As part of my work as a computational economist, I try to understand the connections between housing wealth inequality and the set of incentives that are shaped by institutions such as the market and the government, ie “the rules of the game”. For this purpose, I develop artificial intelligence models consisting of a computational representation of every household and property in the economy (with their most relevant characteristics and behaviours), and the rules of the game that incentivise them to engage in interactions such as purchasing and renting real estate.

These “digital twins” of the UK housing market generate data that are consistent with official statistics, so one can simulate detailed policy interventions that, in the real world, would be impossible to test under constrained time and financial resources.

Bano’s arguments resonate with a study where I find that increasing the housing stock would be a poor choice of intervention if the policy target was reducing housing wealth inequality. However, and contrasting with Bano’s view on a simple solution, my research suggests that housing policy interventions would need to be rather nuanced, well-timed and carefully coordinated, for example, by considering regional differences, target populations, financial incentives, income sources, and how taxes are instrumented. Many of these factors are indeed addressed by commentators, policymakers and academics, but in a scattered manner.

Perhaps it is time to bring these different perspectives together through the analytic prowess of AI methods to scrutinise policy proposals and formulate holistic solutions to one of the most pressing and complex socioeconomic issues in Britain.
Dr Omar A Guerrero
Head of computational social science research, The Alan Turing Institute

The collapse of landlordism is indeed a noble aim whose achievement would remove one of the biggest factors in social deprivation and inequality in the UK. But as a former tenant who has just been evicted under section 21, the so-called no-fault eviction law, I believe we need to recognise the bigger picture, the wider vested interests in maintaining the system of injustice and exploitation that underpins our housing crisis.

My wife and I are pensioners evicted for daring to ask our landlord to fix damp, mould and rain coming into our home.

We had plenty of things to say in court to defend ourselves against eviction, not just the landlord’s criminal negligence in failing to maintain the property in a safe, habitable state, but the debt collection agency thug hired by the landlord’s insurance company to terrorise us in our home to make us leave. We have never been in rent arrears by so much as a penny. We were not allowed to mention a word of this in court and were duly forced into expensive temporary accommodation by the arrival of the bailiffs.

There is a vast empire of dishonest and unscrupulous operators helping to drive up homelessness and trap millions in miserable, unsafe housing. It includes landlords in parliament supporting blatantly unfair laws, big legal and insurance firms, unprincipled lawyers and the courts. The landlords are just the tip of the iceberg.
Name and address supplied

I was delighted to see that someone is finally talking about the elephant in the room in regard to our housing crisis, and that it has a name: landlordism. Far too much political energy has been wasted discussing damaging and dead-end housing policies like building all over the green belt, pushing up prices with “help to buy”, or punishing council housing tenants with spare bedrooms.

My own family lived in several private rented sector properties in an expensive area for 15 years before we were finally offered (also very expensive) social housing. Based on an average rent of around £1,100 per month over that period, we lined the pockets of our landlords to the tune of almost £200,000 – money earned through our own hard work and that of the taxpayers who fund housing benefit.

Surely the answer is to create straighforward disincentives to owning property simply in order to make easy money from other people’s effort. How hard is it to pass a law abolishing six-month contracts and no-fault evictions? How about taxing the passive wealth earned by landlords? Why is it taboo to discuss rent controls? It might be enough to make them sell up and earn an honest living.
Daniel Carter
Cambridge

I am what you might call a good landlord, reasonable and caring and not what I would term greedy. There are many like me. I keep my houses in good order and look after my tenants. There is a fair amount of social housing in an appalling condition, so how can the solution be to take all rented housing into the state and charitable sector?

Would it not be better to root out all examples of unsafe and unhealthy housing in whichever sector, rather than penalise one over the other? Fair rents, yes. But please, not to the detriment of the diligent private landlord.
Martyn Williams
Nantwich, Cheshire

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