Ed West

How much is immigration to blame for the housing crisis?

How much is immigration to blame for the housing crisis?
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I'm never going to be able to own my home, that's why I'll vote Labour; also the Tories are horrible to immigrants and they don't think animals are alive or something, my friend Molly shared it on Facebook.

That's basically the crux of the argument I'm hearing, obviously a reductio one, and I sense the frustration. I've argued before that house-building is an existential issue for the Tories and that we need to allow people to build the sort of beautiful homes neighbours will not object to. (Even if you don't like it, traditional architecture neutralises NIMBYism).

And yet last year 150,000 homes were built in Britain, which on paper, for the third most densely populated non-microstate in Europe (and England is first), and for a country well below sub-replacement fertility, should be enough. But it's not, it's barely even sufficient to house the extra 246,000 people who officially arrived here from March 2016.

As the crisis has got worse, and homes have become ever more unaffordable, the animus has been directed against the Tories, and old people, and countryside-dwellers; strangely the intersection between people bitter about housing costs and hostile to any immigration restrictions as being a priori racist is pretty large, even though an increase in demand will lead to an increase in price.

The big House of Lords report on immigration a few years back concluded that net migration of 190,000 a year increased housing costs by 13 per cent over 20 years, and it's been almost that long since Tony Blair's government deliberately increased immigration levels way beyond that. Last month a paper reiterated the fact that immigration overall increases housing costs in a city, while reducing it in those areas the immigrants move into – unless those migrants are rich.

House prices only reflect how nice an area is to live in, so poor migrants moving in reduces that overall quality of life; that's why you get secondary migration. This is not the first paper to find that: a study in 2011 found the same thing, which the Financial Times reported as 'Immigration Drives down House Prices, says Study'. I do wonder why so many people are cynical about the media when it comes to the taboo subjects of race, immigration and diversity - it's baffling.

Of course that 13 percent increase in costs could be offset by liberalising planning, an idea I agree with; but it won't be the magic bullet campaigners hope for. When it comes to land you can't grow the pie indefinitely; even if you artfully densify London there is a point at which greater density reduces quality of life and increases stress; there are only a finite number of spaces in sought-after Zone 2 and 3 Victorian property in London, beyond which the strain of commuting gets serious - and commuting really does reduce quality of life. (If this sounds too London-centric, well that's where the jobs are.)

In fact high housing costs are a huge burden for migrants too, leading miserable lives in squalid conditions, and so building more homes would only enable further migration by making it slightly more worthwhile to join London's helotry; therefore raising costs again and creating more demand for ever more house-building.

Of course the housing crisis is not predominantly down to immigration, but thirteen per cent extra to the cost of a home makes a big difference – the difference between living within a reasonable commute to work, or of having an extra child. So it's strange that Labour is now the beneficiary of this disaster, albeit a very different Labour party.

Written byEd West

Ed West writes the Wrong Side of History substack

Topics in this articleSociety