Author Archives: Becka

Estate Regeneration and Good Practice

Last week, the GLA’s window for responses to their ‘Estate Regeneration Good Practice Guide’ – which can be found here – closed. The final document will set out principles that local authorities, housing associations, city hall and developers should look to when considering estate ‘regeneration’ projects – and the ways in which residents can hold them accountable.

Residents, community and campaign groups within the Radical Housing Network, and from the wider housing movement, sent in their responses. This blog summarises some key issues that came out in the responses from groups within and outside of our network. If you sent a response to the GLA which you’d like featured here, get in touch info@radicalhousingnetwork.org.

2x1_housing_regeneration_oceanestate

The (Draft) Guide

The guide sets out three key areas: the purpose of estate regeneration, recommendations about how to consult with residents and the overall ‘deal’ that tenants and leaseholders can expect in regeneration projects.

Responses: Some Key Issues

Demolition Last Resort 

Though the guide does outline demolition as one of a range of options for regeneration – it doesn’t do enough to push back against the current practice of ‘demolish first, ask questions later’ that developers are carrying out all over London.

Submissions, like that from Demolition Watch, stressed that other options for regenerating estates – like upgrading and improving homes, funding the community and repairing local infrastructure should always come first. Demolition should always be a last resort. And when demolition does happen – no social housing should be lost. The guide does make some commitment towards this – but says only projects funded by the GLA will be beholden to the rule of ‘no loss to social housing’ – this needs to be broader and the terms set out clearly for residents to know what kind of power this commitment really has.

The London Tenants Federation pointed out the demonisation of estate residents as scroungers, embodied in policies like ‘Mixed and Balanced Communities’ (London Plan) – where areas with a high number of social housing residents have to be ‘diluted’ with wealthy neighbours – went unchallenged. Policies like these embolden developers to demolish people’s homes without accountability.

Resident Ballots

Several submissions addressed the vague commitments to residents’ democracy, and the importance of resident support for regeneration projects. Though the guide dismissed ballots as an ineffective way of gauging resident support, several submissions pushed back and demanded resident ballots on all regeneration projects. This practice would make concrete commitments to ‘democracy’,  ‘support’ and ‘consultations’ that have systematically failed estate residents thus far.

Demolition Watch even set up a popular petition to the Mayor demanding resident ballots. They still need a few more signatures – and you can sign here.

Clarity – What’s the Use and Application

Sidestepping concrete commitments like these, and trading in vague language, the guide left little clarity about how the final document will actually be used – and what kind of power it really gives residents at all. How will developers be sanctioned if they don’t comply, for example? Several submissions, including that from Fuel Poverty Action,  covered different areas of this topic – something Sian Berry’s submission to the guide also looks at.

Transparency was also raised – with groups arguing that data around the plans and implementation of regeneration projects must be made public.

Impact 

Submissions criticised the guide’s lack of commitment to monitoring and addressing the impact that regeneration has on communities –  Barnet Housing Action, for example, argued that councils should keep a duty of care to residents after they leave a borough if they have been driven out by regeneration.

Environmental and social impact – from the exploitation and environmentally damaging practices of energy companies to the destruction of the social and cultural fabric of an area, were also highlighted, and calls for the GLA to address these issues, with creative solutions for how they could do, were also raised.

Including All Residents

The guides’s focus on particular types of tenure – leaving out freeholders, for example – was challenged, particularly by Barnet Housing Action – who highlighted that this left people with particular types of tenure vulnerable, and encouraged splits in the community – something the guide said it wanted to avoid.

Displacement

Demolition Watch, among others, pointed for the need to monitor the well being of people displaced by regeneration – so that data on the impact of regeneration of people’s lives can be made clear, and councils and developers held to account when people under their care are suffering.

A right to return to their areas, and cash compensation for those whose lives are disrupted, or who are permanently displaced – were also pushed for.

The expertise and campaigning work of grassroots groups affected by regeneration projects came out to shape the guide. Groups provided case studies, critical analysis and pushed for creative and simple policy the GLA could commit to if it really wants to support communities, regenerate rather than destroy areas, and commit to social housing , not social cleansing.

Watch this space to see what happens when the final guide comes out, later this year.

List of all submissions here:

London Tenants Federation: https://thtf.files.wordpress.com/2017/03/draft-response-london-mayor-regeneration-good-practice.pdf

Axe the Housing Act Letter to Mayor:http://www.axethehousingact.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/AtHA_letter_LondonMayor_Jan2017_A4_2pp_web.pdf

Demolition Watch: http://media.wix.com/ugd/395633_86a8c7e0ed214958b1bef55aeb9ed1be.pdf

Fuel Poverty Action:

http://radicalhousingnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Fuel-Poverty-Action-response-to-GLA-Estate-Regeneration-consultation.pdf

Barnet Housing Action:

http://radicalhousingnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Barnet-Haction-1.pdf

Sian Berry: https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/final_estate_guidance_response_sianberry_mar2016_0.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

Briefing on the Housing White Paper

This is a re-post from our friends at Axe the Housing Act. For the original see here: http://www.axethehousingact.org.uk/news/briefing-on-the-housing-white-paper-2017/

Introduction

The government’s Housing White Paper released on 7 February, is called ‘Fixing our broken housing market’. We welcome the admission that the housing situation needs ‘radical’ action. But what the White Paper really says is ‘We know what we’re doing doesn’t work, but we’re going to carry on doing it’.

The Prime Minister’s preface says ‘our broken housing market is one of the greatest barriers to progress in Britain today…particularly for ordinary working class people’. But this government is attempting to push up rents, end secure tenancies and force councils and housing associations to sell-off social rented homes. The proposals in the White Paper would accelerate the privatisation of housing and the domination of property developers and speculators.

The government’s housing policy is in chaos. Under pressure from the campaign against the 2016 Housing and Planning Act, ministers are trying to introduce another wave of housing legislation and backtrack on significant aspects of the 2016 Act less than a year after it was passed (though mostly still not implemented). That Act remains a threat and the White Paper only adds to the layers of confusion and uncertainty.

These contradictions undermine the government’s suggestion that councils will be allowed to build homes again. We want to see this happen: it requires serious, long-term investment and all the threats in the Housing and Planning Act to be repealed. The main reason we have a housing crisis is that we’ve stopped building council homes and instead looked to private developers to build so-called affordable homes. This approach has failed miserably, but the White Paper continues to see the private sector as the solution.

There is one thing in the White Paper we fully support. It explicitly states that the housing crisis is NOT the result of immigration or because the country is ‘full’. We hope this will stop politicians using racist scapegoating to justify the lack of genuinely affordable and secure homes.

Below are some more detailed points from the White Paper.

Responses by 2 May 2017: email to planningpolicyconsultation@communities.gsi.gov.uk

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housing

Housing Associations 

The government says ‘Housing associations have been doing well’ and confirms a £7.1 billion budget for HAs to build ‘affordable’ homes, on top of the £23 billion they’ve received since the early 2000s. But HAs have not been building the homes we need. Throughout the 1970s, local authorities consistently built over 100,000 council homes a year. In 2015/16 HAs built 40,000 homes, but only 14% (5,464 homes) were for social rent. The remainder were ‘affordable homes’ at up to 80% of the market level (18,592) and shared ownership (8,767). HAs built more homes for private sale (5,205) than they did for social rent!

They’ve moved away from their founding ethos as ‘social’ landlords and increasingly resemble private developers in their culture and practice. The White Paper will continue that trend. It confirms that HAs will now be regarded as part of the private sector and will allow them to charge higher rents to existing tenants from 2020. This comes on top of the changes in the Housing and Planning Act which make it easier for HAs to switch between social and private housing sectors, weakens the level of regulation and ends the requirement for them to have local councillors on their Boards.

 

Local Councils, public land and regeneration 

The White Paper says it wants to ‘encourage local authorities to build again’, but gives no commitment to the money needed for them to do that. It does say that £45 million will be available through a ‘Land Release Fund’ to build 160,000 homes on public land by 2020, but alongside the clauses in the Housing and Planning Act about the use of ‘brownfield’ sites, this could mean allowing private developers to use faster planning permission to build on public land homes that are unaffordable to most people. The White Paper also gives only vague commitments to protect the interests of residents living on estates ear-marked for large scale regeneration projects, where experience shows they are at risk of losing their homes.

 

Private Renters 

The government says it wants to make renting fairer for tenants, but the White Paper gives no indication of how. It talks about ‘encouragement’ for longer tenancies, but there’s nothing specific to guarantee renters security or rent controls. The government is stalling on its commitment to end lettings fees, talking about ‘consultation’ instead of immediate abolition.

 

Private Investors and Developers 

While it’s vague on commitments to protect tenants’ rights and build the homes we need, the White Paper says it wants to create ‘a long-term framework for investment’ for property speculators, particularly in the private rented sector. This opens the door to the kind of large scale institutional investors who dominate the housing market in the USA and elsewhere. The government says it wants to ‘diversify’ housing provision, but in fact it’s allowing big developers to control housing policy.

 

The Planning System 

The White Paper suggests the slowness of the planning system is the main reason we have a housing crisis, but its own figures show that even when they have planning permission, private developers often don’t build. There are lots of ways the planning system could be improved, by making it more transparent, democratic and insisting that targets for social rented homes are met.

 

For the White Paper itself, click here. 

For the consultations associated with the White Paper, see Housing Law Consultations. 

For a House of Commons Library briefing in respect of the planning aspects of the proposals in the White Paper, click here

For the response of the Local Government Association, click here

For the response of Shelter, click here

For the response of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, click here

For letters to The Guardian in response to the White Paper, click here

Housing White Paper – A Dissappointment

Three Radical Housing Network members respond to the Housing White Paper:

“The HWP is a huge disappointment, tinkering round the edges while London’s housing system burns. The Government needs to get real, stop listening to the Developer-lobby and put plans in place to fix our broken housing system. Until they recognise that the only way to solve the housing crisis is by massive public investment in public rental housing, affordable to people and families on low incomes, the housing crisis is only going to get worse.

In London more people in poverty live in the private rented sector than any other tenure, enduring the worst renters rights in Europe, and being squeezed by private landlords for most of their income. And the government and taxpayer spends billions subsidising this insanity through housing benefit, driven by a blind commitment to a free market in housing. The case for council housing – economically, socially and politically – is overwhelming, and yet this Housing White Paper continues to fiddle with the dials, expecting a different outcome. It’s beginning to look like the Government doesn’t care.”

“Today’s statements on ‘housing market failure’ not only fail to acknowledging the severity of a housing crisis that traps millions in poverty, but betray the free-market thinking of the Conservative’s solutions which lies at the root of the problem. This is not a case of ‘market failure’ but of four decades of political failure, which has seen Neoliberal governments allow a wealthy few to exploit the housing of many for personal profits. Any serious attempt to address this must – as a bare minimum  – introduce  immediate rent controls and a moratorium on evictions, with a long-term program of community-led, fully-funded social housing construction to return this basic human right to democratic control”

‘It’s good that the government is being forced to bend to campaign pressure and is making more u-turns on last years ridiculous Housing and Planning Act. But we need more than policy sound bites. We need decisive action to repeal the 2016 Act, to control rents and invest in a new generation of first class council housing for rent.’

No Khan Do

A guest blog from our friend Glyn Robbins at Axe the Housing Act.

Sadiq Khan said he would make his 2016 election campaign a ‘referendum on housing’.  When he needed votes, Khan talked about the importance of council housing, the need to curb private landlords and property speculators and pledged to ‘fix the Tory housing crisis’.  Less than a year later, there are already signs that Mayor Khan is retreating from some of his manifesto commitments and adopting policies that are worryingly close to those he claims to challenge.

Criticisms of Khan’s emerging housing policies arose almost as soon as he was elected, in particular his drooping of a pledge to push for a rent freeze.  But this is just one of several examples of Khan seeming to care more about developers than people in housing need.  His original aspiration to make 50% of new homes ‘affordable’ (even allowing for the elasticity of the term) has already been dropped to 35%.  Promises to protect residents and social rented homes on estates faced with ball and chain regeneration projects have been diluted.  Meanwhile, despite the enormous threat it represents, Khan has been virtually silent on the Housing and Planning Act.

A closer look at Khan’s policies give further cause for concern.  He has a budget of £3.15 billion to deliver 90,000 new ‘affordable’ homes by 2021.  But 65% of these will be ’home ownership products’ targeted at people with income well above the London median (£30,000).  His much vaunted London Living Rent will be available to those with income up to £60,000, will be let on short-term tenancies and provide landlords with significant flexibility for increasing rents.  People with income up to £90,000 will be eligible for his London Shared Ownership, a tenure that research (including by the GLA!) has repeatedly found fails to make a significant contribution to reducing housing need.  Nowhere in Khan’s blizzard of new policies is there any commitment to build and invest in council housing, the only source of a genuinely affordable, secure rental home for most Londoners for generations.

Alongside his repeated civic boosterism of London as ‘the greatest city in the world’, it’s clear that Khan is preparing the ground for a continuation of the kind of social (and ethnic) cleansing of working class neighbourhoods that has characterised the last twenty years.

The Axe the Housing Act campaign is calling on Mayor Khan to do better.  We want firm commitments to build the homes we need, which means thousands of new council homes, particularly on public land.  We want him to fulfil his promise to help all private renters, not just a few.  And we want him to get involved in the campaign against the Act which would make the housing crisis worse.

A copy of the open letter to Sadiq Khan is here.  Please sign, share and return to info@axethehousingact.org.uk

People need homes – empty spaces need people! Oxford resistance.

 

This morning Oxford residents and local homeless people dropped an enormous banner from the front of the old VW garage on Iffley Road declaring “People need homes, empty spaces need people” as a new petition gains momentum and puts pressure on the owners, Wadham College, to support the plight of homeless people this winter.

The building, which has laid empty for two years, was opened on New Year’s eve providing shelter for rough sleepers in response to the growing homelessness crisis.

A group, which included Oxford University students and alumni entered the building after finding, to their amazement,  the front door had been left open. A member of the group, Sandra Philips said,

“We have made a temporary home for some of the homeless and rough sleepers of Oxford because council cuts have forced the closure of night shelters and homeless people are dying on our streets. This building lies empty whilst hundreds are without a home or even a roof over their head. We all have an obligation to do what we can to help this situation, everyone is affected by the housing crisis in some way.”

The group have sent a formal letter to Wadham College requesting that they allow the building to remain open as a temporary shelter for homeless people for the next three months, until the worst of the winter has passed.

Oxford University and its colleges own dozens of unoccupied buildings across the city, some of which have been empty for almost a decade.

Latest figures show rough sleeping in Oxford has more than trebled in the last five years.[1] The situation for rough sleepers is now at fever pitch as government cuts force the closure of night shelters across the city.  61 beds were lost in 2016 with the closure of Lucy Faithful which had been offering support to rough sleepers in Oxford for 30 years. A further 202 beds will be lost over the next 12 months as deeper cuts will force the closure of Simon House and Julian Housing.[2]

Neo, a local man living on the streets for over 25 years, who has been staying at the new shelter said,

“A group of us have been staying quietly at the Old VW garage since New Years Day. It’s been a roof over our heads and a break from the frost and rain. This space alone could house every homeless person in Oxford. It’s winter and so now is the time people on the streets need a safe, secure and dry space to help the most vulnerable. Having hot water, kitchen and toilets makes a big difference.”

Local resident Al Chisholm said,

“We’re delighted to finally see the building being put to a good use. It’s been a horrible car garage for years and then just lying empty for the last couple of years, which seems crazy when there’s such a critical need right now for shelter and social housing in the city.”

Jason Spratzel, another member of group involved in opening up the garage for shelter said,

 “homeless people are on the frontline of Oxfords housing crisis, but everyone is affected in some way by spiraling rents, runaway house prices, rogue landlords and poor conditions. Although I have a place to rent and a roof over my head I feel the effects, everyone does. So many of us live on the edge – if you lose your job and can’t pay your rent, or have a relationship breakdown, you could so easily end up on the streets.’

The group have set up a petition and are asking the public to sign up and show support for their request to Wadham College to keep the building open for rough sleepers until the winter is over. They have also made a callout for help from volunteers to give up time to run the shelter and to donate tents and blankets.

Wadham has long term plans to demolish the current garage, office buildings and private flats and replace them with 117 students flats, without space for local community or any social housing. The group occupying the space have said that there temporary occupation will not affect Wadham’s redevelopment.

A similar situation occurred in October 2015 when a large building in Manchester, bought by footballers Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville for renovation and the creation of a luxury hotel, was squatted by a group of homeless people before its reopening, saying they just needed somewhere to stay for the winter. The group were given permission by its owners to stay in the building over last winter.[3]

Local residents and businesses have repeatedly approached Wadham and the previous owners of the building to suggest temporary uses for old garage which would create local social enterprise or temporary accommodation for homeless people, yet each proposal has been declined.

The old VW garage became empty in January 2015 and was acquired by Wadham in May 2015. It was previously rented by supermarket Mid-Counties Co-op to Ridgeway VW garage.[4]

The building is currently being transformed from an empty dilapidated shell into a welcoming shelter with kitchen, toilets, hot water, washing facilities and sleeping spaces.

Sign their petition! Here:: www.change.org/p/tell-wadham-college-to-do-the-right-thing-for-homeless-people-this-winter

 

NOTES:

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-oxfordshire-37790288

[2] http://www.cherwell.org/2016/11/25/cuts-to-local-authorities-force-two-oxford-homeless-shelters-to-close/

 

[3]https://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/oct/18/former-manchester-united-star-occupiers-of-hotel-winter-ryan-giggs-gary-neville

[4] https://www.wadham.ox.ac.uk/news/2015/may/wadham-buys-iffley-road-site

[5] http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/14942349.HOUSING_CRISIS__Thousands_of_homes_lying_empty___and_the_number_is_on_the_rise/

Why UK activists should look to grassroots internationalism post-Brexit

Guest post with thoughts from Jacob Wills, co coordinator of European Network for the Right to Housing and the City, a network of which the Radical Housing Network is a member.

The discussions in the UK’s anti-authoritarian left since Brexit have rightly focused on anti-racist and migrant struggles. These are struggles we foresee with our own government, and with extra-parliamentary racist movements. New popular formations will surely emerge over the coming months to reflect this new priority. These will need to bring large numbers of white non-migrants into an experience and practice of organising in solidarity, led by the demands of migrants and organised people of colour. At the same time, we need to strengthen these struggles transnationally in order to counter isolationism. Despite our good intentions, our organisations are as guilty of this UK separatism as anyone else. Too often we fail to reach out to other European countries and their movements. Meanwhile, nationalists are creating a paradoxical sense of an international groundswell.

It’s understandable, given our newly cemented political identity, that most of our discussion has focused on the UK. A notable exception is the recent Black Lives Matter solidarity demos, which fused anger over the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile with that of UK people of colour. At many times like these people of colour express a transnational identity that allows for bonds of solidarity that cross borders and continents.

Sustaining transnational identities is clearly an important task for people in the grip of a dominating isolationism such as ourselves. And though a European identity may well have been one of the world’s most pernicious, with liberal Europhilia to be avoided at all costs, those of us who live in Europe do have certain shared experiences around which we can organise. If there was ever a time for internationalism, this is it. We have all been incalculably affected by the EU – by its neoliberal ideology, and by its policies (which certainly weren’t all bad). Many, such as the EU Urban Agenda recently declared in Amsterdam, are vehicles for North-West Europe’s addiction to financialisation, to be brought to street-corners across the continent. There is an alternative to this state cooperation in the interests of transnational capital – grassroots internationalism.

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This is the impetus behind the formation of the European Action Coalition for the Right to Housing and the City. Uniting with groups in Eastern Europe fighting housing poverty is an under-emphasised form of solidarity and is crucially important. Supporting the struggles of those countries choked by the Troika or simply bound by the enforced austerity of the Maastricht treaty is all the more important as the UK opts out of these institutions that it spawned. This is work for local organisations too – how can we expect to support unorganised Romanian labourers to build their political power without contact with groups of Romanian activists, knowledge about the situation people may have left in their home countries, or diffusion of this knowledge to prejudiced Britons? Looking beyond Europe, many of our new arrivals have been displaced by huge regeneration projects of the sort London is now struggling against, a fact that primes them for engaging in truly intersectional organised communities.

It cuts both ways, too, as this isn’t just a solidarity struggle. We in Britain have an incredible amount to learn from all these groups across Europe, many of whom have spent decades organising in repressive conditions, and often against strong fascist movements. We may feel like we are stepping out into the unknown, but it is rarely true that no one else has fought our fight.

It is for these reasons that the Radical Housing Network sent people to actions at the launch of the EU Urban Agenda in Amsterdam. Though small, these demonstrations take us further than meeting together and into organising together. Urban struggles are by nature often more localised than, say, migrant or environmental struggles, so this process will take a while. But we think that we can lay the groundwork for major actions in the next few years, and are planning a long-term campaign around the financialisation of housing. We are taking action for the Europe we want to see – not the Europe that Britain helped to create, but our European vision which we trust many of its residents will fight for.

The Housing Act Remains a Threat

by Glyn Robbins,  from Unite housing workers, Defend Council Housing and ‘Axe the Housing Act’

The partial U-turn on ‘Pay to Stay’ is very welcome, but it’s not enough.  The Housing and Planning Act remains a threat and must be repealed.  Instead of imposing rent hikes on council tenants themselves, the government is letting local authorities do it instead!  We must be very wary of councils using the legislation to fill funding gaps and push out tenants they think should be paying more for their home.  The same applies to housing associations (HAs), so-called ‘social’ landlords the Act is enabling to behave even more like private developers.

The delay in extending the Right to Buy to HA tenants – and therefore the envisaged sell-off of empty ‘high value’ council homes – is further evidence that the ill-conceived Act is falling apart.

But until the Act is axed, there’s still the danger that thousands of social rented homes will be lost, at a time when we need thousands more.  Although the Tories have done some back-tracking on Starter Homes, they still want them to replace genuinely affordable homes on new developments.  Likewise, the statement announcing the retreat on Pay to Stay indicates that the government will push harder to abolish secure tenancies for future council tenants – a massive threat to the stability of working class communities.  More council estates are still at risk of being broken-up by being re-designated as ‘brownfield’ sites.

But the fact that the government’s housing policy ‘flag ship’ is sinking is testament to the accumulated pressure of a united, concerted campaign against it.  Certainly, other issues have been factors, not least Brexit.  But this weak, divided government isn’t ready to take on the opposition to the Act, either inside or outside Parliament.  It’s announced a housing White Paper before Christmas, a sure sign – along with the concessions in yesterday’s Autumn Statement – that it’s feeling the heat on housing.

With the Tories’ housing policy in disarray, it’s vital that campaigners develop a real alternative.  That’s why the Axe the Housing Act alliance has produced its own Autumn Statement.  Even if the entire Act was dropped tomorrow, we’d still have a massive housing crisis, the product of an ideology that sees a home as a commodity.  We need to unite around the core demands of controlled rent and secure homes for all and build a broad, cross-tenure movement to demand a fundamental change in housing policy.

 

Gyms, tiny rooms and massive rent – what we learned about student housing at MIPIM.

by Pearl Ahrens, UCL Cut the Rent

While some of us were outside MIPIM asking delegates to Give Us Back Our Fucking Rent!, others were inside seeing what deals were being done, what people were saying – and what’s going to happen to housing in this country.

Private rental sector and excusing higher rents.

“[We’ll see a] total convergence in real estate generally of housing and the rental sector, of life, work and play not as separate sectors”.

This, according to Matt Yeoman, Director BuckleyGrayYeoman, is the direction of travel for the private rental sector (PRS). He was speaking on a panel about the ‘Future of student housing’.

The upshot of this panel? The future of the PRS is about an increasing similarity with hotels and the hospitality industry. Making renting not about just having a place to live, but about providing a whole inclusive life-experience from the apartment block. This will have a knock-on effect on the private student accommodation sector, and that in turn will impact university-owned halls.

Property providers know the housing crisis is something they have created – Bruce Ritchie, CEO at Residential Land spoke of the “frustration of aspiring young people… most people know where they want to live, it’s just whether they can afford it”. And so, they reap the benefits of their own actions by renting instead of selling, by using the provision of extra services as an excuse to raise rents even further. In the private rental sector, ‘affordable’ doesn’t mean affordable. Affordable Rent means “subject to rent controls that require a rent of no more than 80% of the local market rent (including service charges, where applicable)”[1]

End of halls

Students who don’t get into university-owned halls end up in the private rental sector – a far cry from the ‘halls experience’ where they meet their friends and have the traditional first year of university. Phillip Hillman, chair of JLL UK Alternatives, sees this as a gap in the “immature” private rental market which private student accommodation is filling. For providers, private student accommodation is a great investment – it’s like the fast-growing private rental sector but with a more stable, Brexit-resilient stream of available tenants. Again, the idea is to provide lots of hospitality and built-in services – group study spaces, gyms etc. and cut back on everything else. That students can’t afford these premium apartments is a nuisance providers get around – according to Richard Gabelich, CEO at UK Campus Living Villages (CLV) with this “big focus on affordability, you can get away with smaller bedrooms if you’ve got great study space”. Companies like Richard’s are taking advantage of this opportunity at an extraordinary rate – the proportion of student accommodation administered by private providers went from 18% in 2006 to 41% in 2015/16.[2]. The trend towards providing other services also exists here, as Matt Yeoman said at the panel – “It’s entirely hospitality driven. [If not, it] will fail. [If we keep] upping the bar, [we] will be fine”

This drift towards hospitality ventures means private student accomodation, with these stark takeover rates, are ‘leading’ the way.  “Every PRS scheme we are working on feels like student housing eight to ten years ago”, Yeoman also said.

The problem with all this isn’t simply the provision of social spaces. It’s the social spaces being offered as a ‘luxury option’ and the hike in rents which this necessarily entails. This increase in rent is supposedly legitimised by the expansion of the provision of services, though there’s nothing to stop private student accommodation providers raising the rents to a price above and beyond what it costs to provide those services, and way above and beyond what most students can afford before they are forced to live in dire poverty.

How this relates to universities.

On the part of the universities, it’s difficult to provide enough spaces for all their students in the halls they own, and with gross underfunding from the government, the halls’ rents seem like the perfect source of income, ready and available to tap.The mere existence of private student accommodation allows universities like UCL to excuse their extortionate rents, driving up prices in all accommodation. For example, UCL over-prices all its accommodation to make a surplus which they plough back into the UCL Estates pot. While ‘higher quality means higher price’ attitude of private student accommodation providers is to be expected, one would expect better of universities, considering their duty to students.

If universities were properly funded by the government they wouldn’t have to scrape the pockets of their students to find research funding. However, with talk of lifting the £9000 cap, and with top unis like UCL actively lobbying for less funding from the government, it’s unlikely that they will be adequately funded any time soon. UCL’s former Provost Malcolm Grant was quoted advocating lifting the then £3000 cap all the way back in 2006, so to think that lifting the (now £9000) cap on tuition fees is a sustainable or just solution to funding problems is absurd.

Some of the time, universities and private providers work directly together – in public-private partnerships. The trick of underfunding the public sector until it needs to be ‘saved’ by the private one is at play here, and was acknowledged by the panel. Hillman said that underfunded universities run halls with “half [of student accommodation] well below the standard that universities say is desirable, and the universities have no money, [so] they look to the private sector”. Gabelich, too is fully aware of the difficult situation the government put universities in. He mentioned how the cap on tuition fees is generating funding worries for universities, so private student accomodation provides “an avenue in which they can get capital from the private sector to invest in other areas (like research)… universities are cottoning on more and more to that”.

[1] http://planningguidance.communities.gov.uk/blog/policy/achieving-sustainable-development/annex-2-glossary/

[2] http://www.nusconnect.org.uk/resources/nus-unipol-accommodation-costs-survey-2015

[3] http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/student-judges-student-accomodation-awards_uk_580f0d40e4b0f479c0d79810

For the right to housing and the city!

Check out the latest bulletin from the European Coalition for the Right to Housing and the City, a group that Radical Housing Network are involved in.

RHN delegates are heading to Dublin for the next of the coalition’s meetings this months, so keep your eyes peeled for an update from their meeting on housing organising across Europe!

Student Housing – the facts

Check out our infographic on the reality of student housing. No wonder grads had to ask MIPIM delegates for spare change, or camp out in Unite’s offices.

MIPIM Occupied!

Students demand ‘Give Us Back Our Fucking Rent’ and occupy student housing provider as controversial property fair returns to London

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Students staged two eye-catching protests on 19th October against the growing ‘financialisation’ and unaffordability of student housing, at the MIPIM property fair in London. The actions were called by the Radical Housing Network and RENT STRIKE!, an organisation which has grown out of the successful UCL student rent strike this year.

Students in gowns and mortar boards accosted property investors and developers outside the conference centre, with charity buckets and t-shirts demanding: “Give Us Our Fucking Rent Back“. Students, angry about the effects of big finance on their homes, approached unsuspecting delegates and asked for contributions to a hardship fund.

Elsewhere, near the University of London, students occupied the sales offices of private student housing provider Unite Students, taking control of the building with tents and banners, chanting “If we can’t afford our rent, we’ll use your offices instead.” This action was part of the rapidly escalating rent strike campaign, coordinated by the collective Rent Strike, which at UCL succeeded in securing well over £1 million in rent subsidies for students from the university last academic year. The rampant privatisation of student accommodation is pushing students into poverty: as student debt is sky-rocketing, a crisis of mental health is taking its toll amongst young people.

Unite Students are taking up an increasing share of the student property market (currently 70% of Kings College accommodation is owned by Unite). In 2015, Unite Students made £355 million profit while charging up to £353/week for their halls.

The property fair, notorious for dodgy deals between councils and developers, returned for the third year to London, from 19-21 October. Previous years have seen extensive community opposition, with clashes between protestors and police.

The protests focussed on the ‘financialisation’ of student housing. Student halls, traditionally provided by Universities, have become increasingly privatised. They are now a highly sought after asset for investors, with £5.2 billion invested in the sector in just the first five months of 2015, the majority from North America.
Research by the NUS suggests that the effect of this has been to push prices rapidly upwards, with the average student halls costing 95% of a student loan:

  • Students are left with on average £851 annually for food, living costs and academic expenses
  • The average rent for a studio (bed-sit) in student halls is £1212 per month, significantly above student loan value
  • The average rent for student housing rose 97% between 2002/3 – 2012/13

A spokesperson for the Radical Housing Network said:
“MIPIM represents a housing system that puts an obsession with profit over people’s right to a decent home. The UK is currently in the midst of an acute housing crisis, and yet MIPIM and the system it props up benefits only the global rich, while destroying our communities, and pushing ever more people into housing hardship.

“For as long as our towns and cities are being carved up over champagne and caviar, we will be here, saying no to MIPIM, yes to housing justice!”

A spokesperson for Rent Strike! said:
“The financialisation of student housing is pushing more and more students into poverty and hardship. Student halls are now international assets traded by financiers, and are no longer the affordable places to live we need while we get an education.

As MIPIM returns to London, we decided to spoil the show, demanding: give us back our fucking rent!”

These actions were taken in coalition with housing groups across Europe in a month of action throughout October. The European Action Coalition for the Right to Housing and the City is coordinating action in ten cities across the continent.

Notes

  •    MIPIM UK is taking place at Kensington Olympia on 19-21 October
  •    NUS’s report on the unaffordability of student housing is here
  •    Information on the student housing sector can be found in this report by Savills
  •    The Radical Housing Network is a coalition of community groups fighting for housing justice in London
  •    Rent Strike! is a student organisation working to build resistance to unaffordable housing
  •     The  European Action Coalition for the Right to Housing and the City is a coalition of groups in 17 countries across Europe fighting financialisation and evictions.

MIPIM – Give us back our f***ing rent!

by Harriet Vickers, Housing Action Greenwich and Lambeth, Katya Nasim and Becka Hudson, Radical Housing Network @radicalhousing  

We’re in the midst of a global housing crisis – and MIPIM is the command centre. A motley crew of private developers, speculators, politicians and councils gathered today in West London at property show MIPIM, only to be met by graduates holding collection boxes, saying ‘Give Us Our F****ing Rent Back!’, just one of the eye catching protests for housing justice that took place across the city.

MIPIM is an exclusive marketplace where public land and property that should be used to provide truly affordable homes is secretly sold off – or even given away. With a ticket price of £500, and with many deals being done around champagne-laden dinner tables few people know exactly what is said between universities and investors. When these deals do become public the consequences are stark with private halls costing students an average of £1212 a month – more than their student loan.

With a session entitled ‘Student Housing: Coming of Age’, our efforts this year focus on the ‘financialisation’ of student housing.

It is becoming routine that people who want to get an education in the UK must accept living in poverty whilst private companies bloat their rent and rake in millions a year.

Student halls are now prime investment opportunities, with £5.2 billion invested in the sector in just the first five months of 2015. Universities are acquiescing to this – selling so much accommodation that private landlords now make up 41% of all student housing provision and, as negotiated at events like MIPIM, this number is rising.

Whilst investors profit from the land-giveaway, ordinary people are being evicted, priced out of their communities, forced to live in poverty and made to live on the streets. Here’s why we protested MIPIM and what it means for students…

1.If the dodgy deals at MIPIM continue, only the very richest students will be able to get an education:

NUS research shows that the average student halls use up 95% of a student loan, leaving students with small amounts of cash to cover all living expenses, including food, clothes, travel and books. If student housing continues to be sold off at MIPIM, the only people who will be able to survive in higher education will be the richest people who can easily access significant extra financial support.

2. MIPIM is anti-democratic and unaccountable, and it makes student housing just like it: Over half of all universities don’t consult with students when setting rents, and almost half have no policies on supporting low income students with their rent. As they sell off housing to private companies with no accountability to students, these problems only gets worse, narrowing the scope for students to have their say and leaving them shut out of decisions that can drive them into poverty.

3.MIPIM means housing is bought only to be left empty. There are nearly 60,000 empty homes in London while almost 50,000 households are homeless, relying on temporary accommodation such as B&Bs. The number of young people sleeping rough in the capital has doubled in the last five years and the number of rough sleepers as a whole is higher than ever. Squatters and council tenants with a spare bedroom face sanction – while investors are free to leave their properties empty, waiting for the price to rise.

4.Developers say they’re giving students choice, when they are forcing them into poverty: At the moment, students are left with an average of £851 a year to spend on all living expenses after rent. Private accommodation already costs more than university owned alternatives. The more halls sold to private investors at MIPIM, the less money students will have to survive.

5.MIPIM means housing is used for greed, not need. The international property fair began over 25 years ago, and now meets regularly in Cannes, Japan and London. Investors buy up public land of all stripes for developments not intended as homes, but as piggy-banks for multinational investors.

There is an alternative. The anti-MIPIM demo was organised by the Radical Housing Network and UCL Cut The Rent.

The first is a network that brings together over 30 grassroots groups to demand that housing is a right not a privilege, and to fight against social cleansing and for decent homes for all. UCL Cut The Rent are the campaign for lower rent at University College London, whose success with rent strikes this year is galvanising cut the rent campaigns with students across the country.

Today, we forced delegates to face those affected by the housing crisis they are creating.

Today’s demo is part of a housing movement that’s building across Europe, linked to The European Action Coalition for the Right to Housing and the City. Trade unionists, tenants, campaigners and students are coming together, join us to ensure no people are without homes, and no homes are without people.