The Campaign For Real Poverty
January 3, 2014 7:51 PM   Subscribe

Where Will We Live? is a long essay by James Meek on the housing crisis in the UK.

A housing shortage that has been building up for the past thirty years is reaching the point of crisis. The party in power, whose late 20th-century figurehead, Margaret Thatcher, did so much to create the problem, is responding by separating off the economically least powerful and squeezing them into the smallest, meanest, most insecure possible living space. In effect, if not in explicit intention, it is a let-the-poor-be-poor crusade, a Campaign for Real Poverty. The government has stopped short of explicitly declaring war on the poor. But how different would the situation be if it had?
posted by motty (61 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
The differences between the UK and the US in terms of housing and planning are fascinating. The big picture is similar -- decades of "screw the poor," basically -- but the details are completely different. I don't know if a real equivalent of housing associations even exist here, and if they do exist they aren't a serious player in the national housing market.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:33 PM on January 3


New York has its project housing. Is this similar?
posted by monospace at 8:39 PM on January 3


The Coldest Winter for 100 Years
posted by KokuRyu at 10:59 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Wow, that was a great read. It's interesting to contrast what is happening in London with the situation here in San Francisco; two very different scenarios with similar end results.
posted by cali at 11:07 PM on January 3


Did I miss the bit where he wrote about population? I agree the UK has (to me) a nutty housing market with insane prices for tiny cottages even in the back end of Wales and North Yorkshire but population in the UK has not increased significantly I thought. It seems like it has been about 60 million the past forty or fifty years. So housing starts aren't that relevant. I thought a significant amount of older houses and even estates had also been converted into multifamily dwellings now that good help is so expensive (and their airs about going to the US to be British cooks). Plus, most UK twenty year olds I know live with extended family, same as it seems has become the norm again in Canada (living independently as an early adult was a recent phenomena anyway).

The number of younger UK residents that think the council house sell-off was a good idea because it meant their granny could buy a house forty years ago baffles me though. I guess they assume they will inherit them?
posted by saucysault at 11:07 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


It is more where the population is than the total. Many things are concentrated on London and the south east. London has 22% of the economic output in less than 1% of the land with 13% of the total UK population.

When I was looking for a new job at the end of 2012, everything pretty much worthwhile career wise was in London if I wanted to stay in the UK.
posted by Z303 at 12:18 AM on January 4 [3 favorites]


Buy-to-let property supremo shuts door on housing benefit tenants
posted by Z303 at 1:14 AM on January 4


The ONS suggests UK population was 63.7 million in 2012, up 0.7% for the year. It was 59.1m in 2001 and 57.4m in 1991, so there has been a substantial increase. Number of households went up by 11% from 1996 to 2012, well ahead of increase in population. The impact on housing has been exacerbated as there has been a shift to more single person households as well as generally smaller households overall.
posted by biffa at 2:27 AM on January 4


From the article above:
"Single mothers on benefits have been displaced to the bottom of the pile; sympathy for this group is disappearing. There aren't enough places for people to live."

Government benefits aren't enough, as children and their moms are allowed to go homeless / hungry / without. They fall behind, and can't afford to pay rent... so "sympathy for this group" (i.e. children and single mothers) is disappearing?!

Screwed over and abandoned as a way of life. This says less about the ethics of single mothers, than it does about society.
posted by markkraft at 2:29 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]


‘This is my home, this isn’t just a council place where I live.'

This attitude frustrates the hell out of me. I'm in my mid-twenties, and so is my partner. We currently live in the tiniest one-bedroom shoebox you can possibly imagine. It's far too fucking small for two people. It'd be an incredibly cramped space for one person to live in. Oh, and the brickwork of all the exterior walls is at least 30% black mould by mass - in winter, the damp literally makes the paint bubble off the walls, and keeping the growing black patches at bay with regular attacks is very much a losing battle. But the rental market is completely fucked in the UK, and it's all we can afford, despite both of us working (and while I'm just in retail, my partner has a well-paying position in academia). If we were unemployed and on housing benefit, it wouldn't even cover this flat - we'd be homeless. The notion of buying a property is so laughably outside of the realms of possibility for us it's not even worth talking about. Oh yeah, and we're in a small midlands town, not the south, not a city, certainly not London.

Home? Home is wherever your current address is. The notion that people should be allowed to keep living in properties that are beyond their requirements because it's their "home"? Well no shit - it's where you live. Move somewhere else, that'll be home, and then maybe people like not even my partner and I, but people like some of our friends who've just had kids can move into a two-bedroom council house, rather than living in hovels slightly bigger than ours, or staying with their parents. To each according to need.

Not to dismiss the gravity of the situation in which Quinn finds herself - if there is no meaningful availability of suitable housing, that is a major fucking issue, and one that needs addressing. Until it is addressed, naturally she shouldn't be evicted or priced out of having anywhere to live. But the attitude that someone has a right to continue to live somewhere because they've lived there for a period of time, and that there ought to be a system for subsidising their rents beyond what is available to people looking for a place to live? Fucking disgusting.


"In the 1990s, Quinn was officially recognised as too sick to work as the result of a bundle of ailments (she lists them: joint pain, migraines, gastritis, bouts of depression, underactive thyroid) and since then has had her rent and council tax, currently £120.39 a week, covered by housing benefit."

There is (I hope!) an error here: council tax should be covered by council tax benefit, not housing benefit. They are not the same benefit - if you're paying your council tax out of your housing benefit, you've got to make that up out of your other income in order to have the full amount to pay rent. If Quinn is not claiming council tax benefit (for which you are automatically eligible if you are claiming housing benefit) she ought to be.

"(The Joseph Rowntree Foundation reckons £200 a week, excluding rent, is needed to maintain a decent life.) "

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation are very very optimistic - £200 is just shy of 40 hours a week at the minimum wage for an 18-20 year old, or just shy of 33 for anyone over 21. Unemployment is rather high, and underemployment is a much much bigger problem than most people realise. I work as many hours as I can get at one of the big four supermarkets, personally, and that amounts to less than 20 a week. As indeed it does for all but every single other person at my place of work - department managers are on full-time contracts, everyone else is on less than 20 hours a week (that's around 300 people), virtually all of them constantly clamouring for more hours that just aren't forthcoming. Oh yeah, and wait - £200 a week excluding rent. Now, my rent is as low as it's possible for it to be (see above re: one-room shoebox shared by two people) and it's £60 a week for me. That'd be 42 hours a week (and change) which is three hours a week more than my employer will let you work (because anything beyond 39 is overtime, paid at time and a half, and hell if they're doing that!) If you're under 21, that'd be over 50 hours a week - not going to happen, working time directives and all that, nevermind how unreasonable it is. And that's for inadequate living conditions. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation sound like some middle-class fuckers with their standards, but good luck to them. It'd be awesome if we could all live their conception of a 'decent life'. I just hope they're sensible enough to realise that minimum wage is already a joke, and something that needs addressing at least as desperately as everything else.

Basically, the situation with regard to housing and incomes in the UK is completely fucked. That ATOS have been put in charge of capability to work assessments is criminal, especially. But people being priced out of their "family homes" because they're now living on their own, not with a partner and 2.5 kids anymore? That's not a fucking tragedy. That's a necessary move to make it possible for young people, young families especially, to have anywhere to live at all.
posted by Dysk at 3:37 AM on January 4 [13 favorites]


Also: "I don’t expect to find myself living in a council house in the traditional sense – that is, a household dwelling owned and run by the state – any time soon. But that’s more to do with the shortage of council houses, and the way they’re run, than with any objection on principle, or a conviction that council houses are doomed to be ugly and uncomfortable."

After mentioning his having owned a flat in Edinburgh, and worked as a diplomat? The reason you're not going to find yourself in a council house any time soon should be because you are well-off enough that you ought to be able to reasonably comfortably find something in the private market - council housing should be for those priced out of the the housing market otherwise. If the only reason he's not applying for a council house is that there's a shortage and he feels like it'd be pointless, he's an egotistical asshole.
posted by Dysk at 3:49 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]


In addition to Biffa's comment on the rise in UK population, the Economist had a nice piece about UK house prices including a table showing the rise in population each decade vs. house building numbers. Also from the piece:
Broadly speaking, in the 1970s, housebuilding outpaced population growth sixfold; over the last decade, only half as many homes were built as people added. With demand outstripping supply by such a large amount, the priority seems clear. Build more houses; build more flats.
posted by adrianhon at 3:51 AM on January 4


There is (I hope!) an error here: council tax should be covered by council tax benefit, not housing benefit. They are not the same benefit - if you're paying your council tax out of your housing benefit, you've got to make that up out of your other income in order to have the full amount to pay rent. If Quinn is not claiming council tax benefit (for which you are automatically eligible if you are claiming housing benefit) she ought to be.

Council tax benefit doesn't actually exist any more. It was replaced with council tax reduction schemes run individually by each council in the last wave of benefit reforms that hit at the start of April last year. As it happens, Tower Hamlets (where Quinn lives) kept the entitlement the same for existing claimants following the change, but that's not true everywhere. In fact, the amount of money that councils receive to fund their local schemes is less than the amount that was available centrally, so many have reduced the level of benefit available generally.

See this for some details of different councils doing different things.
posted by xchmp at 4:22 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]


Conservatives' war against the poor is just so pathological. There's no sense to it. All I can think is the existence of the poor upsets their image of the nation (and, by extension, the conservative view) as a shining beacon to the world. The existence of the poor angers them, and they must lash-out at them. Punish them for not following the script.

Honestly, I'm waiting for conservatives, either in the UK or the US, to start pushing legislation to make being homeless a crime.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:02 AM on January 4 [3 favorites]


Dysk: "But people being priced out of their "family homes" because they're now living on their own, not with a partner and 2.5 kids anymore? That's not a fucking tragedy. That's a necessary move to make it possible for young people, young families especially, to have anywhere to live at all."

The reality for many people, though, is that they are not being required to move house. They are being required to move town, due to the total lack of alternative accommodation in many areas. If we ignore the moral aspect for a moment, I am not sure how helpful in a practical sense it is to society as a whole to require people to move away from whatever support network of family and friends that they have built up over the years. It seems to me that this would create additional dependency on social services to replace that support.
A better target for your ire may be the successive governments that have failed to provide either the "affordability" or the "housing". Much as in the public sector/private sector pension debacle, I think the majority of us are ill-served by taking a position that amounts to "If I can't have it, you can't have it." Instead of fighting over the scraps, we should instead by asking why we are not all sitting at the table. Why, in one of the richest countries in the world, is there a massive shortage of affordable housing?
posted by Jakey at 5:21 AM on January 4 [26 favorites]


I think this conversation is unnecessarily political and insufficiently economic. You can not have 60+ million people living on an Island slightly smaller than Michigan, preserve green space, have moderately healthy agricultural and manufacturing industries, preserve coastlines and beautiful open spaces with out having soaring property and housing costs. Of course the quality of housing could be more equitably distributed but the fact there are no major slums, and incredibly diverse racial and ethnic mix, great public preserves and green spaces, a preferred destination for immigrants and a reasonably diverse and stable economy is a testament to reasonably adequate planning. For me the bottom line is--too many people, too little space and considerable discretionary wealth accrued through property appreciation. You can redistribute wealth but the very nature of England will lead to significant property appreciation and a shortage of affordable housing if the over all quality of life for the working/middle/professional class is to be preserved.
posted by rmhsinc at 5:55 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]


We have artificially high prices in Australia caused by a shortage of stock, population growth, and my favourite: "negative gearing" - essentially allowing an investor to claim the interest on a mortgage for an investment property as a tax deduction - meaning that the poor sap Australian tax payer subsidises the landlord's investment. Property in Sydney and Melbourne is now some of the most expensive in the world.

Investors are now just leaving houses vacant as in many cases they are using it as a land bank, rather than turn it over to the rental market - this adds to the shortage so rents are on the rise.

The median house price is somewhere around $350K But that's a joke, that gets you a plaster box in a baking, featureless "estate" miles from anywhere where you would actually want to live, where you would want your kids to grow up, or even where you could catch a train or get a bus to work.

The poor are being squeezed out, and in my state Victoria the government is selling off the inner city public housing to investors and purchasing public stock in regional towns - which no longer have industry or really any reason to exist, so in effect are ghettos for crime, meth, misery and violence.

There have been new developments, the government has sold off 50% of some inner city public housing estates to private investors, in the hope that the residents of public housing will have "role models" living next door.
posted by Mario Speedwagon at 6:07 AM on January 4 [2 favorites]


The proportion of England's landscape which is built on is just 2.27%.
posted by Lanark at 6:10 AM on January 4 [4 favorites]


England is is 9th out of 50+ European countries in population density--those more dense are small island nations such as Monaco, Guernsey, Monaco Jersey etc. It is in fact more densely populated than the Netherlands, Japan and India. Obviously many things effect property value but the bottom lines are supply, demand, potential supply, quality of life, available capital, etc. The economic and population dynamics of England will keep it consistently unaffordable for many people--unless you want to completely rewrite the contributions to the quality of life made possible by aggressive land use planning, open/green spaces, public coastlines, agriculture and a multifaceted economy.
posted by rmhsinc at 6:30 AM on January 4


Jakey, I was taking issue with the parts of the article I disagreed with - that Thatcher fucked us all with the right-to-buy scheme (and specifically forbidding councils from reinvesting the proceeds in more housing) should be entirely uncontroversial. The whole housing benefit system is largely responsible for the problem, really - rather than investing in a stock of public housing to rent out affordably, the government is indirectly subsidising private landlords' mortgages and getting nothing in return. Meanwhile, this makes 'buy-to-let' a much more attractive proposition, pushing up housing prices and rents both.

As much as the total lack of housing on the island is a factor in creating the problem, how the financials behind it are handled are certainly also responsible - the expense to both tenants and the government from a council house is significantly lower than a subsidised private let (ie housing benefit) which would in turn exert downward pressure on property prices (why would you take out a mortgage for a house at £4X/month when you could rent a similar council house for £X/month?) and go a long long way to reducing the scale of this problem.
posted by Dysk at 6:33 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]


(And yeah, we should totally have a greater stock of affordable housing - then there would be a one-bedroom flat in the neighbourhood for Quinn to move into, but that would still be a case of "oh no having to vacate the family home" which is one of the article's central complaints, and something I take issue with - the tragedy is that there is nowhere for her to move to, not that she has to move out.)
posted by Dysk at 6:37 AM on January 4


There's also the suspicion of a form of political social engineering, certainly in London. Old housing stock is redeveloped with very little social housing, those who can't afford it (i.e. not that well off) move out of London, those who buy (well off) move in. Those well off more likely to be both Conservative and conservative.

Ba-ding! Social engineering.
posted by rolandroland at 6:42 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]


Of course the quality of housing could be more equitably distributed but the fact there are no major slums,

Well there were indeed slums, but the major public housing initiative after the war got rid of them. Until, according to the article, the Thatcher government sold off a lot of public housing.

I don't think Malthusian environmentalism is the culprit for Britain's current crisis. It's pure politics, and there is a political solution.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:11 AM on January 4 [2 favorites]


The economic and population dynamics of England will keep it consistently unaffordable for many people--unless you want to completely rewrite the contributions to the quality of life made possible by aggressive land use planning, open/green spaces, public coastlines, agriculture and a multifaceted economy.

The article's point is that this is a purely political situation, not something driven by a lack of buildable land or economic pressures. From about 1920 until Thatcher, there was a broad political commitment to build and provide housing for people (not just the ultra poor). From Thatcher on, that commitment has been dropped in favor of a free market approach. There are benefits to both, but only the first is going to provide quality housing at reasonable prices to working people like Dysk. Under those conditions, even if you didn't qualify for the council housing itself, you at still benefitted from the housing expansion and openings created by people moving into council housing.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:20 AM on January 4 [2 favorites]


UK population density figures are hugely influenced by London, most London boroughs have a density of 5,000 to 10,000, outside London it's more like 500, in Scotland it's 67. Of course it doesn't help that London is where all the jobs are.

Rent in London is so high that one young professional has worked out it would be cheaper live in Barcelona and fly to work.
posted by Lanark at 7:22 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]


kokuRyu--there was a little selective editing in you comment--I in no way limited the issue to Malthusian environmentalism--With limited space plus population density and factor in quality of life issues: preferences for open/green spaces, agriculture, diverse economy, natural preserves, etc you have pressure on housing stock. And the political solution is ????. And where is that political solution working that has demographic and socio-economic conditions similar to England. Perhaps the Netherlands, Belgium but they are significantly smaller countries with out the socio-demographic characteristics of England.
posted by rmhsinc at 7:37 AM on January 4


lanark--500 per sq. km is not exactly sparsely populated. I would suggest your information strengthens the position that there is substantial pressure on available and future housing stock if the quality of housing, a diverse economy, quality of life and open/green space preferences are preserved.
posted by rmhsinc at 7:41 AM on January 4


Perhaps the Netherlands, Belgium but they are significantly smaller countries with out the demographic mix of England.

They are smaller, more densely populated countries.

And what is "demographic mix" and how does that affect the British situation? It wasn't even mentioned in the article.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:43 AM on January 4


"But people being priced out of their "family homes" because they're now living on their own, not with a partner and 2.5 kids anymore? That's not a fucking tragedy. That's a necessary move to make it possible for young people, young families especially, to have anywhere to live at all."

But one of the main ways that working class and ethnic communities get destroyed is precisely by dispersing people - to remote suburbs, to fragmented state housing. It's actually a political tactic - I don't know about the UK, but in the US highway-building has been used intentionally to break up working class and POC communities.

I think there's a real difference between culturally middle or even lower-middle class people (like your partner with a high-paying career in academia) and working class people - even if they have the same amount of money at a given point. Like, people like me don't move for work - the kinds of work we do (secretary, low-level accounting, maybe high-level retail) don't recruit cross-country. We (and god knows, people who are poorer than me) rely a lot on family and friends' networks, mass transit and local knowledge (like where has the free food at the end of the night, or where the best free clothes boxes are, or which libraries are most kid-friendly or will let you have extra computer time). People who expect to have "professional" careers (even when those are really fragmented, risky and underpaid) have a different set of expectations around transit, social services and family support, plus they tend to have at least a little more money and to be less precarious in terms of access to health- and child-care. If someone is expecting to move around the country at every stage of their career and probably finish up with a decent professional job, they are not in the same situation as someone who is hoping to string together a bunch of low-paying jobs in one city over a lifetime while still managing to have kids at some point.

Mobility isn't super fun for anyone, but it's a hell of a lot more manageable when it's the normal career/life path for people from your background. I know lots of arts types who move all the time, for instance. But I also know a working class people whose lives have just fallen apart because they've been removed from their previous social support/food access/shelter access networks.

Also, I don't know how it is in the UK, but here in the US, people get kicked out of our little remnant of public housing all the time, usually having it be rationalized by the need to "reform" or "rebuild" the housing - but they never rebuild or fix up as many units as they take away. Once public housing is up for grabs, working class people don't get it back.

Your comment reminds me so much of how people who don't have insurance or retirement benefits talk about my union job - why should a spoiled person like me complain when the bosses take away our benefits? Why should I have the right to medical care and retirement when they are in a much more precarious position? Aren't I just being whiny when I don't get a raise for three years and my wages shrink because of inflation? After all, lots of people don't have jobs!...And that's just working people (whether we're working class or struggling professional class) getting pitted against each other while the 1% makes out like bandits. All that happens in the end is that everyone is immiserated and weakened.
posted by Frowner at 7:48 AM on January 4 [25 favorites]


KokuRyu--I do not believe they are more densely populated --talking about England and not the UK. Unless I am mistaken both Belgium and the Netherlands have significantly lower GINI coefficients, less diverse economies and much less open space.
posted by rmhsinc at 7:51 AM on January 4


Blaming Pat Quinn for the housing crisis is a bit like accusing Phan Thi Kim Phuc of being an arsonist. It's so absurdly and offensively misplaced.
posted by Thing at 9:34 AM on January 4 [2 favorites]


(like your partner with a high-paying career in academia)

From a working-class background, earning less than the UK average. Your assumptions simply don't hold. I call that relatively well-off precisely because we don't belong to the middle class or have those expectations.

Blaming Pat Quinn for the housing crisis is a bit like accusing Phan Thi Kim Phuc of being an arsonist. It's so absurdly and offensively misplaced.

For the record, I'm not. I'm just saying that people having to move to a more appropriately-sized house is not a tragedy in itself like the article is claiming - that there is nowhere appropriate for them to move to in their area is the problem.
posted by Dysk at 9:56 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]


England is indeed more densely populated then the Netherlands or Belgium, didn't know that.
posted by ts;dr at 10:08 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]


The article specifically mentions that Ms. Quinn wouldn't mind moving, but that there is nowhere for her to go. So it seems to me like you're arguing a moot point.
posted by monospace at 10:20 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]


Fascinating article, and really interesting discussion. The graph of supply and demand is nearly textbook.

I don't know enough about the history to comment on too many of the drivers, but I do wonder if the council-based construction was post-WWII, repairing destroyed stock, and building new stocks for a baby-boom-era population.

There are quite a few macro-economic drivers that are worth attention here. The first is that UK housing reflects pretty much every scarce commodity in the world. Human population is growing exponentially and there are pressures on pretty much every resource imaginable. So the context is one of increasing demand with limited supply – of anything other than human brainpower and labour.

Secondly is the trend toward urbanisation, and a landscape dominated by cities, not countries. Increasingly, cities look more and more similar to each other, and less like the counties they are based in. This is very noticeable in the United Kingdom, where London remains as one of the true global alpha cities. There's tremendous gains to be made by very dense urbanisation – everything from safety to resource use – however there's also a network effect that massively drives up the cost.

Speaking with a woman from Lithuania last week, she said, "you guys are really lucky to live in London. You must be very good at what you do, for only the best live here." Whether that is an accurate perception or not, it's an interesting perspective with some truth behind it. Europe is set up perhaps quite differently from the US, India, and China.

In Europe, each country has an alpha city. London, Paris, Milan, Amsterdam, Oslo, Madrid. In many cases, this is often the seat of government, meaning that those cities set the vision for the country. They attract the best and the brightest from the country, and concentrate them in a single destination, sitting on top of political, economic, and social power.

This seems to have two primary effects. The first is they are vibrant, cosmopolitan places to live, for they collect the best of the best, and provide the best with tremendous volumes of resource. The second is to create a definition of what it means to not be in those cities – the rest of the country. This is evidenced by comments like "London is not part of England" or the seemingly-constant animosity between Parisians – who live in Ile de France! – and everyone else.

Germany has done quite a good job of distributing wealth and opportunity around the country, but faces the consequences of doing that. Whilst everything is compartmentalised, there isn't the same innovation interplay that exists in the other countries.

In larger countries, there are usually numerous centres that provide a bit of competition and allow each centre to diversity. Whilst Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York offer global cosmopolitan experiences, each has a unique flavour and dominant industry. Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong are three very different magnets. Delhi and Mumbai the same.

On a side note, it's also potentially relevant that in the US, there is often a geographic separation between political and economic authority and power. Sacramento as the capital of California and Washington DC as the capital of the country. This is the de-facto reverse of the European structure of concentrating all forms of power.

What this has to do with London property prices is that, in a way, the system is working as it has been designed to. To aggregate the best and the brightest in London. I have never seen a wealth disparity as exists in London – between the capital classes and the labour classes. A friend of mine said "I don't see why you live there, to me London is a city of the oligarchs." And that is certainly true of part of the city.

Further, thanks to English, London draws people from around the world. The biggest difference between London and any other city in the world, is that London's national identity exists alongside it's population identity. The city is very open to people from every corner of the world coming here to create value. New York is a distinctly American city. Paris is very French. Shanghai is consummately Chinese. Yet London is something else entirely. London is like a medium for the English-speaking world. It can absorb immigrants without forcing its identity onto them.

And the UK at large is unique when it comes to developed nations, based on the fact that it is an island. That means it is more possible to control the flow of migration than perhaps any other developed economy. Which means that London itself is steerable – almost drivable.

What that means is that the government can create the London it wants to create – which is the London that balances a lot of different demands. From the opportunity and wealth generated by being the premiere global alpha city, to the fact that housing prices are exploding and wages are not. How does one create one civil city in a city of 12M people, which serves everyone from Russian oligarchs to African immigrant families to graduates from Manchester?

I'm not making any judgement calls here, rather these are observations which – for me at least – start to make sense of the economic reality on the ground in London. Where the price of a one-bedroom flat is the same as a ranch mansion in Nevada or Texas.

And last but not least, there is something going on that has not yet been figured out – at least by anyone that I know. In a pub chat a few weeks ago, a fellow postulated that there is another way to look at the explosion of housing prices and rising stock markets. Rather than housing pricing rising, let's imagine that they have stayed the same, and it's actually labour that's being devalued. The same with the stock markets, that actually the value of assets is probably increasing at some rate, but simultaneously, with ever more people AND machines, the available volume of labour to create output has surged, so perhaps it's value has dropped.

Overall, it's quite simple to say "supply is this, and demand is this" and make an inference that rich capitalists are bastard swine sticking it to the man in such a way. And that Thatcher did it. Maybe that's true, I don't know.

But I do think it's worth an investigation into what is the context? Why is this happening? For assuredly, it is not just happening in London or San Francisco. It does not just affect hipsters and pensioners. As the pace of technology accelerates, so does it's ability to granulise resource allocation and distribution. This is having a significant impact on London housing prices. It's quite easy to say the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Now we live in a shoebox, when there are really A LOT of factors at play.

And for note, none of this is being said to be inflammatory, rather perhaps a starting point for more online and pub conversations.
posted by nickrussell at 10:39 AM on January 4 [2 favorites]


The article specifically mentions that Ms. Quinn wouldn't mind moving, but that there is nowhere for her to go. So it seems to me like you're arguing a moot point.

I just rescanned the article looking for that assertion. I could not find it, but I did see this:

"‘It’s just very, very hard to deal with,’ Quinn told me when I visited her. ‘This is my home, this isn’t just a council place where I live. They can only do it to me because I have nothing. I’m sure if they had their way they would kill us. I really believe that.’"

...which kinda implies the opposite pretty heavily. If you can point me to the passage that says she wouldn't mind moving, that'd be grand. I see some passages that say that the horror of having to move would be less terrible if there were affordable flats in the area, but nowhere where it says that moving wouldn't be an evil in and of itself, either in the voice of the author or Quinn.
posted by Dysk at 10:50 AM on January 4


England is indeed more densely populated then the Netherlands or Belgium, didn't know that

It makes no sense to compare these things. Even just taking England and Wales together drops the population density down to just under that of the Netherlands. (Incidentally, if you split Belgium into Flanders and Wallonia, then even without Brussels, Flanders has the highest population density in Europe with the exception of the small islands/city states.)
posted by xchmp at 10:50 AM on January 4 [2 favorites]


Dysk, out of interest, why did your friends choose to have children when they can't properly house them? Were they banking on someone getting turfed out of their council home to accommodate them?
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 10:59 AM on January 4


New York is a distinctly American city.

Not so's you'd notice. NYC beats out London for numbers of Languages Spoken, as well as percentage of non-English as first language.

Rather than housing pricing rising, let's imagine that they have stayed the same, and it's actually labour that's being devalued.

Or - the US Federal Reserve (and the Bank of England) keeping interest rates near zero for how many years has it been now? Cheap money creates bubbles, so no wonder we are currently in 21st Century Real Estate Bubble 2.0. Cheap money and the inability to get a safe return on capital and recently rich foreigners from unpredictable countries wanting to put money into something, anything, that might maintain value, like Francis Bacon triptychs.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:02 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]


urbanwhaleshark, various reasons, some of them not necessarily planned, others because they have no prospect of ever being able to "properly house" kids. And they want to have kids. You realise that you're effectively advocating for procreation having an economic barrier to entry?
posted by Dysk at 11:07 AM on January 4


You realise that you're effectively advocating for procreation having an economic barrier to entry?

I advocated nothing of the sort. I was merely questioning your point upthread: "Move somewhere else, that'll be home, and then maybe people like not even my partner and I, but people like some of our friends who've just had kids can move into a two-bedroom council house, rather than living in hovels slightly bigger than ours, or staying with their parents. To each according to need."

I do have an issue with adults having kids to ensure they get bigger housing however, and I hoped that wasn't the point you were making.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 11:22 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]


Overall, it's quite simple to say "supply is this, and demand is this"

If you look at supply of demand for a few different commodities, what you see is that a restricted supply causes price volatility
Which is exactly what the UK housing market has been doing - regular 18 year long cycles of boom and then bust.
posted by Lanark at 11:27 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]


> "‘It’s just very, very hard to deal with,’ Quinn told me when I visited her. ‘This is my home, this isn’t just a council place where I live. They can only do it to me because I have nothing. I’m sure if they had their way they would kill us. I really believe that.’"

...which kinda implies the opposite pretty heavily. If you can point me to the passage that says she wouldn't mind moving, that'd be grand. I see some passages that say that the horror of having to move would be less terrible if there were affordable flats in the area, but nowhere where it says that moving wouldn't be an evil in and of itself, either in the voice of the author or Quinn.


I'm not sure why you're so troubled by Mrs Quinn's lack of enthusiasm for vacating her marital home. It may be economically rational (from a societal point of view) if her home was re-allocated to someone else (someone like you, perhaps), but that doesn't mean she has to express delight about it.

Aside from the fact that many people would, at the age of sixty, prefer to remain in the home they'd shared with their partner for decades, relocating (she is unlikely to find a suitable home in the same borough or even a nearby one) will likely also remove her from her social/family/support/resource network. Visiting her daughter would possibly incur transport costs that she simply cannot afford on a tiny fixed income.

So of course Quinn sees her flat as her home rather than as mere fungible housing stock. She's not even refusing to move, she's just communicating her anxiety about the lack of power she has over her own living situation. I'm not sure why, of all the points of the article, this is the one you find so objectionable.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 11:33 AM on January 4 [4 favorites]


From today's news: Buy-to-let property supremo shuts door on housing benefit tenants. One of Britain's best-known landlords, who owns nearly 1,000 homes, has sent out 200 eviction notices.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 11:35 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]


xchmp--It makes sense to compare England, Netherlands and Belgium because that was what I was comparing and discussing--I was not discussing the UK, Netherlands and Flanders and Wallonia. Besides, it is rather a moot point as the differences are only marginally significant and not particularly relevant to pressure on housing, land use, open/green space, economic diversity and national housing policy. But you are right--Portions of Belgium are more densely populated than England or the UK but all the major urban areas of England are more densely populated than Flanders.
posted by rmhsinc at 11:55 AM on January 4


Londonist had some interesting articles about London's housing problems back in the summer: Is it possible to live in London on a low income without benefits?; Why don't people on low incomes all live in the cheap bits of London?; What are the solutions to London's housing crisis? Then they revisited that first question six months later - Living in London on low income: updated - and found that even over just six months, the situation had got worse, with rents having risen by more than incomes.

The articles linked in the "See also" sidebar are worth a look too, including Londoners tell us their housing horror stories, which indicates just how bad "cheap" London housing can be.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 12:34 PM on January 4 [4 favorites]


A 2009 Interview with Fergus Wilson, the no housing benefit tenants landlord
posted by Z303 at 1:07 PM on January 4 [1 favorite]


Hm. I will come back to this essay when I've got time, but it starts badly by misrepresenting the bedroom tax, which is a penalty on social housing tenants for under-occupying, conflating it with the Local Housing Allowance, which is used to calculate Housing Benefit for private tenants. I work in housing law, and was excited to see something of this potential depth in the LRB, but a few paragraphs in I'm not sure I'll be sharing it with colleagues.
posted by howfar at 1:32 PM on January 4


Hm. I will come back to this essay when I've got time, but it starts badly by misrepresenting the bedroom tax, which is a penalty on social housing tenants for under-occupying, conflating it with the Local Housing Allowance, which is used to calculate Housing Benefit for private tenants. I work in housing law, and was excited to see something of this potential depth in the LRB, but a few paragraphs in I'm not sure I'll be sharing it with colleagues.

I work directly with the homeless and precariously housed, but I'm not by any means an expert in housing law. Could you explain further what mistake the article is making? Many thanks.
posted by walrus at 1:59 PM on January 4


I work directly with the homeless and precariously housed, but I'm not by any means an expert in housing law. Could you explain further what mistake the article is making? Many thanks.

"the government has cut the allowance so it’s no longer enough to cover the rent on a two-bedroom council flat. It’s just enough for a one-bedroom flat"

This suggests that the bedroom tax is a price cap, which is not true. Bedroom tax is a percentage reduction in eligible rent for social-housing tenants who under-occupy.

LHA, which applies to private tenants, is a cap on eligible rent based on household composition.

Eligible rent is, effectively, what your rent is treated as being for the purpose of calculating housing benefit.
posted by howfar at 2:13 PM on January 4 [2 favorites]


I should add that this apparent detail really matters, because it means that there is no way that social landlords can cut rents to a level that HB will cover, in the event of under-occupation. This might be all well and good if there were sufficient social housing stock to allow people to downsize but, thanks to Right to Buy and decades of underinvestment, there isn't.
posted by howfar at 2:22 PM on January 4 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure why, of all the points of the article, this is the one you find so objectionable.

Because here in the UK, you're constantly seeing ferocious clamouring over the terrible situation of people having to leave their homes to move to other houses (even in situations where that doesn't necessitate moving to another town or area). It's prevalent enough to be A Thing. There's plenty wrong with the current housing policy (and the way benefits are handled generally) but the problem is much more pernicious and serious than "oh no someone will have to live in a house they didn't grow up in!" - it puts emphasis in the wrong place, serves to make it easier to ignore the very real problems that exist, and makes a case for a policy which (once again!) leaves young people and young families without access to suitable housing.
posted by Dysk at 2:47 PM on January 4


I do have an issue with adults having kids to ensure they get bigger housing however, and I hoped that wasn't the point you were making.
posted by urbanwhaleshark


Did you borrow this straw man from the Daily Mail for today only, or will we be having more of these delightful stereotypes?
posted by jaduncan at 3:40 PM on January 4 [4 favorites]


Yeah, that was a shitty way to respond. I apologise.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 5:18 PM on January 4


From TFA:
"It wouldn’t be so tough on Quinn if her municipal landlord, the borough of Tower Hamlets in East London, or one of the local housing associations – not-for-profit groups offering low-rent homes – or their counterparts in neighbouring boroughs, or the private sector, had affordable one-bedroom flats to spare. They don’t. "
Dysk, I agree that as written, this is not a literal quote from Ms. Quinn, but it sure reads to me that she wouldn't mind moving if she only had a place to go.
posted by monospace at 5:45 PM on January 4


There's obviously huge demand for housing and I have no idea why they don't just, you know, build more houses. That being said, the author is either an idiot or is trying to get us to hate Ms Quinn in some sort of passive-aggressive way by telling us that:
1) She doesn't want to move (although she arguably can't get a single-person flat anywhere nearby);
2) She doesn't want a relative to move in;
3) She would get a discount of £100,000 on her flat if she bought it, but she can't get a mortgage.

You know, I feel sorry for her; and I think that Britain could afford a lot more compassion than it does, but a lot of people have worse problems than sharing their flat with a relative; and at some point in her life she will either have to move, or be found dead in her flat when they notice a nasty smell coming from upstairs. And I bet there's somebody who would lend her £200,000 on a £300,000 mortgage, even with payment deferred for two years (until she gets her pension).
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:02 PM on January 4


The further I get in, the less I like this piece. It's just very inadequately researched, and glosses over important facts and distinctions.

For example: "Given that her flat would be worth at least £300,000, Quinn could, in theory, buy it, sell it on and pocket the difference." Well, no, she couldn't, not in the first five years of ownership. She'd have to pay back the whole discount if she sold in the first year, £80k in the second, £60k in the third and so on. Right to Buy was a terrible idea and, in execution, has been a fucking nightmare, but let's not pretend it is even more stupid than it actually is. It should be noted that the 5-year taper was introduced by the last Labour government in 2005. Prior to that the taper was 3 years on similar terms.

The problem with making this kind of error is that, if an article is repeatedly wrong on things I do know about (see also the HB/Council Tax Benefit conflation), I become distrustful of every assertion it makes about things I'm less well informed on. There might be good points here, but how can I have faith in their factual basis?

Details really matter in this kind of argument. These kinds of human systems are incredibly complex, and while bold solutions are often needed, as they plainly are in the housing crisis, we must remain aware of the nuances of the situation. This essay feels, to me, like polemic spread thin, rather than a real attempt to address the complexities of the issue. That said, I will finish it, but I'm at work at the moment, mainly on account of the fucking housing crisis.
posted by howfar at 3:01 AM on January 5 [4 favorites]


And I bet there's somebody who would lend her £200,000 on a £300,000 mortgage, even with payment deferred for two years (until she gets her pension).

What? Who?
posted by Summer at 4:16 AM on January 5


(surely somebody would lend her £200,000)

What? Who?

Indeed. At present Ms Quinn has almost no income, and that won't improve much when she reaches pensionable age: basic state pension + top-up credit = £145.40 a week, £7,560.80 annually. At the moment, if you're a really creditworthy buyer with a large deposit, you can find banks willing to lend you up to about 5x your pre-tax income. No lender, reputable or otherwise, is likely to offer £200,000 to someone whose income is under £10,000.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 7:08 AM on January 5 [2 favorites]


The impression given by the article was that she could buy a £300,000 apartment for £200,000. I didn't realise that the apartment was effectively entailed for five years, as howfar pointed out. Under those circumstances, yes, it would be much harder to find a lender.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:47 PM on January 5


Arfur!

Scargill used Thatcherite policy in bid to buy London flat
[...] The 76-year-old told the BBC that had he succeeded in buying the flat he would subsequently have transferred its ownership to the union.
He said this would have saved the union a substantial amount of money and provided it with an asset.

However, his application was refused because the flat in the Barbican Estate's Shakespeare Tower was not Mr Scargill's primary residence.

He did not mention in his application that the flat was paid for by the NUM and it was established in the Barbican court case that, from 1991 until 2008, the NUM's national executive committee did not know it was paying for the flat.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:47 AM on January 15


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