Many buy-to-letters are drawn from what one could call the affluent working-class, or ordinary people with a bit of capital and enough security to borrow. Whilst the idea of a 'citizen-landlordery' is fine, and much preferable to most of the social housing shambles (instant slums; just as I predicted a couple of years ago, they turned an 18th century pub down the road into a block of slum flats for Nigerian young mothers, with tablecloths nailed up at the windows and bags of used nappies just flung out on the footway), the problem is that these entrepreneurial buy-to-letters are competing directly for the same houses as the people who want to live in them, thus inflating the market. The only gainers are the dreadful crooked banks.
We have a history in this country of working-class landlordism. I think it was Skullion, the Sharpe character, who owned a small terrace of cottages in Oxford, whose rents would provide his pension when he finished portering. And indeed in truth this was not uncommon; this was the class who were the bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers and roofers; well placed to throw-up themselves with their own resources a terrace of six or ten or a dozen 2-bed artisan's cottages, not large but neat, practical and attractive, each with a 10-foot front garden filled with hollyhocks and lupins. Today in Oxford I expect such things would fetch half a mill each, when the original building cost was, what, fifteen pounds?
And surely this is exactly what our own buy-to-letters should be encouraged to do, on brownfield and infill sites here in London, too small to be of interest to the major housebuilders. Shaun Spiers in the Telegraph suggests we should divert housebuilding from large speculative building firms to smaller ones; I don't think this is the answer. Leave the volume firms alone, and allow the buy-to-letters to build for income rather than build for an instant sale profit, to become build-to-letters.
And yes, there's a massive landbank here in London ideal for such investment; the old goods yards, wagon parks and disused land held by Network Rail under the fiction that it's 'operational' land and thus sacrosanct, on the basis of the fiction that our goods transport system may one day return from road to rail. Every suburban London station is gifted with such surplus land - sometimes already used as the station car-park, but often just overgrown with weeds and rubbish behind chain link fences, just waiting for a neat terrace of plain, simple homes designed and built by ordinary people.