The Guardian today reports a rise in homelessness. This is a predictable (and predicted) consequence of benefits cuts, but it has nothing to do with a shortage of homes.
The 'housing shortage' has become something of a received wisdom amongst the political mainstream. From the right, we get the endless moans from property developers about 'bureaucratic planning red tape'. From the left, the nostalgic call for a new wave of council housing. But according to statistics compiled by Empty Homes, there are 710,000 empty homes in England in 2012, of which 259,000 are long-term empty (over 6 months).
If Wales and Scotland were included, the empty homes figure would likely top one million! In my town, Brighton and Hove, there's 4,000 empty homes, of which 867 are long-term empty. That compares to 135 homeless households in the city in 2008, according to Guardian data. And yet there's a serious proposal to house the city's homeless in shipping containers (which seems to be a bit of a trend).
The city's Green deputy council leader praised the "exciting and innovative proposal", whilst adding "we do, of course, need to make sure that the accommodation on offer is of a decent standard and provides safe and warm living conditions." Sure, modified shipping containers are a cheap, quick and high-density storage method for surplus human beings. But as the Empty Homes data show, it's an 'innovative' solution to an imaginary problem - a shortage of houses.
Rather than a shortage of houses, the problem is an excess of housing capital. That is to say, as long as houses exist as capital - as a moment in a process of advancing money in order to earn more money via rent or development - then there will be both empty homes and homelessness. Poverty amidst plenty, an artificial scarcity of housing, is a signature of capitalist normality. Of course, this is precisely the context in which the government has criminalised squatting, in case you were in any doubt that the right to own empty homes trumps the supposedly universal, fundamental right to housing.1
The upshot of all this is that the obvious, common-sense solution of putting together people without homes and homes without people is absolutely off the table, while we have left-wing council leaders praising the utterly batshit proposal to store surplus people in shipping crates. As reality morphs into satire, never has communism been more common sense. Fuck the property rights of buy-to-let parasites, and we could end homelessness overnight. Alas, this is 'not realistic', so prepare for more innovative solutions like Amsterdam's 'scum camps'. And don't be surprised to see housing struggles becoming more prominent as austerity continues on to 2018 and beyond.