Jersey’s Microstate Housing Policies

While I was at Plymouth University, 1994-6, I visited the Channel Islands, especially Jersey, together with Ceri Llewellyn-Wilson. The result was an article we jointly published in Housing Studies, the introduction of which is published in this post. Ceri’s contribution was vital, as she was especially interested in Micro-states, but also had a specific interest in the housing problem.

Also published – in the same issue – was the article with co-authored with  Stuart Lowe on “Schools of Comparative Housing Research: from Convergence to Divergence” Housing Studies ,Vol.13 No. 2 (March 1998, pp.161-176).

Jim Kemeny and Ceri Llewellyn-Wilson
“Both rationed and subsidised: Jersey’s command economy in housing”  Housing Studies Vol.13 No.2 pp.259-273 (March 1998)

Jersey’s housing policy is probably unique, and certainly little known. For decades housing policy has functioned as an integral part of the island’s overall political and economic strategy of accommodating very rapid growth of the off-shore banking and financial services industry while trying to avoid exerting excessive pressure on the island’s housing stock or environment. Tight control over access to housing is a principal mechanism for managing the political economy, and the Housing (Jersey) Law, 1949 (as amended), constitutes a key element of public policy.

This system will be described in more detail below. For the moment we may simply note that Jersey’s housing policy involves a degree of government control over – and regulation of – the entire housing market that has few parallels in a democratic society. It can be compared to the extent of government control of housing in many of the command economies of state socialist societies. In some respects it is even more comprehensive. Boléat describes Jersey’s housing policy as “…by international standards, very interventionist” (Boléat, 1990 p.20) and points out that “Jersey has made more use of administrative controls than almost any other non-communist country.” (Boléat, 1990 p.ii)

In this paper we examine Jersey’s housing policy and the ways in which housing policy as a means of controlling residence rights structures the housing market. The Jersey housing system comprises a hierarchy of increasingly secure classes of occupancy which depends upon residential status. This produces the paradox of a tightly controlled “rationing” of access to different types of rental, leasehold and freehold occupation, functioning alongside a highly subsidised programme of encouraging owner occupation for those who are allowed


access to home-ownership. The paradox is made more poignant by the fact that the subsidy system stimulates demand – by, for example, providing fiscal incentives for people to borrow as much capital as possible – and thereby aggravates the housing shortages that the rationing is in theory designed to ameliorate.

The other aspect of Jersey housing policy that is of wider interest is the way the nature of Jersey as a micro state colours both the design and the implementation of housing policy.1 There is a substantial literature on micro states (see, for example, Armstrong and Read, 1994; Baker, 1990; Dommen and Hein, 1985; Hein, 1989; Jalan, B. (ed), 1982, Warrington, 1994). Such states are often characterised by close-knit kinship and extensive networks of informal relationships, and the exercise of discretionary powers and patronage in policy implementation that impact directly on individual applicants and their chances of favourable treatment.

The nature of Jersey as a micro state pervades the housing system as it does all aspects of society. The informal nature of decision-making is reflected in all aspects of Jersey society from social security system which is based on discretionary parish relief to the sweeping powers of the Housing Committee. This needs to be born in mind when considering the Jersey housing system.However, our primary concern is to describe Jersey’s housing system and housing policy and explore some of the principal interactions between them, rather than to investigate the informal workings of the system, which lies beyond the scope of this paper. We begin by presenting a brief description of the island state.

The full article can be read in Housing Studies.

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