Wednesday, 24 October 2012

London Housing Policy Working Paper from People before profit Housing team

INTRODUCTION - Housing is central to health and social life.

The most obvious role of housing is to give shelter from the elements to keep its inhabitants warm (or cool) and dry. Housing also needs to be hygienic to be conducive to good health. This means access to clean water, sewage disposal and areas for safe food preparation. These are requirements are physical and can be specified in building codes.
However, housing has a social aspect. This means that housing cannot be provided in isolation. It needs to seen in the context of the whole built environment so as to provide access to jobs, education, health services, shops, entertainment, etc.
In order to support mental and social well-being, housing and the surrounding built environment needs to please its inhabitants. This means buildings need to be attractive and well cared for. Along with the aesthetic qualities of buildings the historic aspect of buildings need to be taken into consideration.
Housing should be in keeping also with the natural environment – built in sustainable ways and providing people with access to fresh air and exercise.
While many people in Britain have housing that satisfies the physical requirements, they find that these come at a high cost. Further, while some lack housing security, others are secure only while they remain in homes that are unsuitable. The following is an analysis of the problem and some solutions.


1.       Britain is in the grip of a housing crisis.
·      Officially 1.8 households are on Council waiting lists for social rented accommodation (double the number of 1997). Officially nearly 100,000 people are homeless or sleeping rough, but charities believe the real figure is 3 or 4 times higher. 3m people officially live in overcrowded accommodation including 1m children[i].
2.       Britain’s housing policy is generally portrayed as one of a housing shortage ignoring the glaringly unequal distribution of the current housing stock and the scandal of empty homes.
·      There are 703,000 second homes[ii];
·      The best housed tenth of the population has almost four times as many rooms per person as the worst housed and nearly a quarter of a million households have 8 or more rooms per person (compared with a mean housing space of 2.22 rooms per person and a median of 1.88 room per person)[iii]. Overall research shows that housing inequality is back to where it was at the time of Downton Abbey,having improved somewhat between 1921 and 1981 (the era of council housebuilding and the embracing of the welfare state) These housing inequalities reflect almost exactly income inequalities.
·      There are 720,000 empty homes in England of which 279,000 have been empty for more than 6 months[iv]
3.       Unequal distribution is a regional problem due to Britain’s economic growth being concentrated in financial services, based largely in London and the South East.
·      There is almost double the rate of empty homes in England’s former industrial areas as there is in London.
·      Inner London has the highest proportions of households on Council waiting lists – at 14.3% nearly double the national average – with Newham at 34.9%, Tower Hamlets at 23.6% and Lewisham at 13.5% and Greenwich at 7%[v].
·      House prices in London are nearly three times the mean price in in North East, North West and Yorkshire; rents are 50% higher in London than in the same areas[vi].
·      75% of the 60,000 households officially in temporary accommodation are in London.
4.       Housing problems bring health and other social problems – there is a strong link between income inequality and other housing problems such as mould, damp and being cold in winter.
5.       Poor housing falls disproportionately on the young and on ethnic minorities. 28% of households accepted by local authorities as homeless and in priority need were from ethnic groups[vii]. 52% of all private renters are aged under 35, an unprecedentedly high percentage of people aged 20-34 are living with their parents with adverse effects on relationships and self-esteem[viii].
6.       Urban ‘regeneration’ housing schemes have been provided without accompanying infrastructure and cheaply built with minimal regard to space and employment. They have been geared to providing profits for construction companies and property developers.


1.       Privatisation and deregulation of the housing market
·      Between 1980 and 2009 4.39m council and social housing homes were sold off or demolished (2.75m – right to buy sales; 1.4m stock transfers; 0.24m demolished)[ix]. Rent controls, introduced in 1915, were effectively abolished in the Housing Act of 1988. Currently low income families, especially lone parents and extended families in the private rented sector spend 40-50% of their income on rent.
·      Property developers, construction companies and law firms have benefitted from the process. Persimmon’s profits 2010-11 were £154m, Taylor Wimpey and Bellway £67m each.
·      Buy-to-Let investments which can yield up to 10% return for Multiple Occupancy Homes[x] have raised the general prices of houses.
·      PFI/PPP projects have been beset by legal wrangles and delays due to uncertainties in the property market – that is it is a slow way of dealing with housing shortages
·      It costs £1,300 more per home to make improvements after transfer to Housing Associations and ALMOs than it would if councils were given the money to do the work themselves[xi].

2.     Uneven economic development
De-industrialisation and a free rein to markets and financial services have lead to the skewed development normally more observable in a colonial country. The old industrial heartlands still have swathes of industrial wasteland and community breakdown; even in London overexpansion of service sectors has created unoccupied office space, with a long-run average vacancy rate of 8%.

SOLUTIONS - immediate

End privatisation – increase Council ownership and maintenance / assist community ownership
1.    Compulsory purchase and refurbishment of all empty homes.
2.    Use of Council direct works teams to carry out refurbishment repairs and maintenance to purchased properties.
3.    End PFIs and PPPs for housing developments. All new build schemes or schemes to convert empty offices and shopping malls should only receive planning permission if 100% of the homes created are social rented.
4.    Reintroduce rent controls – rents, whether in the private or social sector should be no more on average than 25% of income.
5.    Encourage squatting and provide a legal framework for long-term housing co-operatives. Homes are to live in – they are not an investment.
6.    Change to rating system for second homes in such a way as to deter the purchase of more second homes and to release homes to the local population.
7.    Deter buy-to-let purchases through changes to the rating system and mortgage interest rates.


1.    Lewisham and Greenwich People Before Profit has a long-standing commitment to re-establishing manufacturing industry, specifically in the ‘green’ sector. To combat the true extent of unemployment, underemployment and worklessness, we have the aim of creating 5 million jobs through balanced economic development across the UK. This would invigorate local communities, put unused commercial property to productive use and alleviate much of the housing pressures in London and the South East. Because of this we do not support the recent initiative by Eric Pickles to encourage the conversion of empty industrial and warehouse space to residential uses. This scheme is merely a way for owners of such properties to avoid business rates, and in the long-term restricts industrial development. We do, however, believe that London’s massive provision of office and retail space is a poor use of available land and contributes to the continued imbalance in the national economy.

[i] Corporate Watch (2011) Housing Crisis citing research by Shelter
[iv] The problem of empty homes is worst in the North East (4.16%) of homes and best in London (2.21%) reflecting the general regional imbalance in England. 75% of the 60,000 households  in temporary accommodation are in London. There are 26,000 long-term empty homes in Scotland.
[vii] Homelessness – the Poverty site:
[viii] Howker, E. and Malik, S. (2010) Jilted Generation ch 1.
[ix] Hodgkinson, S. (2011) “The neoliberal project, privatisation and the housing crisis” Corporate Watch 50/51
[xi] National Audit Office cited by Lawrence, B. (2011) “Housing Associations” Corporate Watch 50/51, p.8
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