Markets and economic growth as a means of wellbeing, not an ends
The world has restlessly run for more economic growth. Besides the growth, we started looking at other dimensions of development like environment, happiness and human development. However, economic growth has been of paramount importance. Initially, economic growth and markets are supposed to be a means for living well. But ensuring the wellbeing of citizens – such as healthy human ‘capital’ – became a means to achieve more economic growth and market efficiency.
The corona crisis, however, has forced the world to put health and safety as the paramount goal. For saving the lives and reducing the risk of infection to populations, many governments have willingly stopped a large part of the economy, and the majority of the citizens supported those measures. Financial measures are now focusing on maintaining the citizens’ basic livelihoods as well as on protecting the vulnerable groups from falling. It prioritises to prevent the collapse of the basic economic cycle that is necessary to sustain a decent life of the population, instead of the maximisation of the growth.
The question is, ‘housing market for what?
In the housing community, there is an emerging concern about the adverse impact of the COVID-19 on housing prices and real estate market, by recalling what happened in the 2008 crisis. The uncertainty exists given the expected economic recession from the lockdowns and closed borders. Such uncertainty is clearly a challenging issue but could also be an opportunity to shape the housing market as we would need. The matter will be whether we want to recover housing market for the market itself and a driver of economic growth (as does the real estate industry), or whether we will focus on shaping the market for social goods.
Making people’s residency stable and resilient
Amid the COVID-19 lockdowns, the residency of some population groups unstable – such as the precarious workers like self-employees, temporary contract employees and informal labourers. The immediate challenge is how we can make sure their residency stable during the extreme measures of lockdowns, and right after the measures are relaxed. And the midterm challenge is to ensure that people’s residency becomes resilience to the second, third and more waves of the infection. Probably, after once the countries manage to control disease to some extent, such shut-down measures will be implemented for a limited time at a local scale where the infection has risen again. There, some groups’ residency can become vulnerable for the time being. Whenever another wave of infection rises, the residency stability of some groups will fluctuate. In the longer term, we may have to seriously think about how we can restructure the housing system to ensure resilience in people’s residency and so does in their livelihoods. The COVID-19 won’t be the last novel virus threatening public health, lives and economy.
Need for shaping the housing market for social goods rather than the market itself
For a long time, housing has been treated as a market commodity. However, during this crisis, the priority of housing measures become to focus on stable residencies – such as the promise of government not to increase the rental fee for social housing, to enhance regulations protecting tenants, or to allow delayed payment for mortgages. The immediate concern was placed at people’s residency, and the perspective ‘housing as a commodity’ has become a secondary subject. Perhaps it is time to shift our focus to ‘housing market for ensuring stable and healthy residency’ from ‘housing market for growth’ – i.e. shaping housing market in the way of allowing people to reside in affordable and adequate housing stably, and thus make their livelihoods resilient against any shocks and risks in the future.