There is no housing shortage

There is no housing shortage

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.

Posted By

Joseph Kay
Dec 5 2012 09:51

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  • 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.

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Comments

JimJams
Dec 6 2012 13:41

Great article. One issue tho is council house waiting lists. I *think* there are about 2 million in England alone. A lot of them will be people wanting to move from the private sector for reasons of cost but a good chunk will be people needing a house for other reasons i.e. moving away from home, overcrowding etc. The empty homes would cater to a lot of these people but maybe not all. So maybe most people could be housed but surely we'd want them to be comfortable with their basic living conditions? So still a housing shortage but nowhere near the scale previously thought. (unless my figures are off)

Pennoid
Dec 6 2012 19:49

Hey, is there any good anarchist/marxist intro texts to Gentrification, Urban Development, Homelessness and Capitalism? I'm reading Prole.info's The Housing Monster now, which is pretty good. While I'm concerned with homelessness, I'm actually right now more practically interested in working class neighborhoods, black neighborhoods, tenancies, and development. Also, I'm from the States, so I might have a bit of a different perspective.

I'm involved with a Solnet style tenant fight that we're hoping can be geared more toward a tenants union.

martinh
Dec 6 2012 20:45

The thing with council waiting lists is that councils now restrict them to those people they have a realistic chance of housing, i.e. those in severe need. So, where the real demand for secure affordable homes might be 30,000, only about 5,000 will be classed as severe need. Everyone else will be given a list of letting agents and told to go away.
This blog is good because it points out that there is a surplus in a city which has high housing demand. Normally, it is pointed out that there are millions of empty homes, but mostly in places where people don't want to live (though the government's plan appears to be to force claimants to move there, then cut their money further because they can't find a job in a place without work).

Steven.
Dec 6 2012 22:50
JimJams wrote:
Great article. One issue tho is council house waiting lists. I *think* there are about 2 million in England alone. A lot of them will be people wanting to move from the private sector for reasons of cost but a good chunk will be people needing a house for other reasons i.e. moving away from home, overcrowding etc. The empty homes would cater to a lot of these people but maybe not all. So maybe most people could be housed but surely we'd want them to be comfortable with their basic living conditions? So still a housing shortage but nowhere near the scale previously thought. (unless my figures are off)

actually, it is around 2 million families, so 4.5 million people. However, these people are not homeless, most of them are living in other houses/flats, however they would like council properties. And of course if they got them then their properties would become vacant. So as the blog states, it is the homelessness figures which are important: and they are consistently far lower than the number of empty properties

Steven.
Dec 6 2012 22:58
Pennoid wrote:
Hey, is there any good anarchist/marxist intro texts to Gentrification, Urban Development, Homelessness and Capitalism? I'm reading Prole.info's The Housing Monster now, which is pretty good. While I'm concerned with homelessness, I'm actually right now more practically interested in working class neighborhoods, black neighborhoods, tenancies, and development. Also, I'm from the States, so I might have a bit of a different perspective.

I'm involved with a Solnet style tenant fight that we're hoping can be geared more toward a tenants union.

I must admit that I haven't read it, but I've heard lots of good things about this article:
http://libcom.org/library/spatial-deconcentration-d-c

also, there is a bunch of stuff in the libcom housing and gentrification tags: http://libcom.org/tags/gentrification (or housing as appropriate)

wojtek
Dec 6 2012 23:18

Pennoid, would this be of interest?

The Tenant Movement in New York City, 1904-1984

Pennoid
Dec 7 2012 07:48

Woah, awesome stuff folks! Definitely gonna read this throughout winter break and try and pull what I can from it. Thanks a lot. I'm also trying to read some stuff by a local Anthropology professor and Tom Wetzel. That midnight notes stuff looks great so far, especially because the local professor is writing about something similar, the HOPE VI program in the U.S.

Thanks!

Red Marriott
Dec 7 2012 14:14

Pennoid; This late 80s article, on the US in 1970s-80s, develops analysis of the art-gentrification relation; http://libcom.org/library/occupation-art-gentrification
This on recent UK housing policies; http://libcom.org/news/demolition-social-housing-29062011
Also some stuff here; http://southwarknotes.wordpress.com/art-and-regeneration/writing-on-art-...

Jacques Roux
Dec 7 2012 20:05

Wheres the image in this article from?

JimJams
Dec 8 2012 00:52
Steven. wrote:
JimJams wrote:
Great article. One issue tho is council house waiting lists. I *think* there are about 2 million in England alone. A lot of them will be people wanting to move from the private sector for reasons of cost but a good chunk will be people needing a house for other reasons i.e. moving away from home, overcrowding etc. The empty homes would cater to a lot of these people but maybe not all. So maybe most people could be housed but surely we'd want them to be comfortable with their basic living conditions? So still a housing shortage but nowhere near the scale previously thought. (unless my figures are off)

actually, it is around 2 million families, so 4.5 million people. However, these people are not homeless, most of them are living in other houses/flats, however they would like council properties. And of course if they got them then their properties would become vacant. So as the blog states, it is the homelessness figures which are important: and they are consistently far lower than the number of empty properties

Get what you'resaying but thereotherneeds besides homelessnes. I'veread a lotof peopleneed council housing dueto overcrowding (not to mention overcrowding in council houses). Homlessness is obviously themost important issue but don't think this means otherneeds should be ignored. I might be making something out of nothing.Numbers on this, peope wanting council houses dueto need not cost, could be pretty small. Did a quick google but can't find anything. Anyone have a source?

cantdocartwheels
Dec 10 2012 08:18

The housing shortage mantra is defiitely something that arose out of the death of social democracy. For all there obvious flaws social democratic manifestos like labour 83 for example quite explicitly talk about the compulsory purchase of homes that are left empty.
As you say these days even supposedly ''left wing'' politicians try and sell us these artificial shortages as gospel truth..

sihhi
Dec 12 2012 19:34

No disrespect to the author but a bizarre middle-class attitude comes across from "135 homeless households in the city in 2008, according to Guardian data". I don't know Brighton & Hove, but the official figures which the Guardian uses for London and Liverpool in that table are not credible, on the basis of experience. Many families are doubling up.

Close friend and partner are wishing they had enough money trying to obtain a mortgage for a container home. They are nice places. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/9243318/Container-living-a-home-for-...

For the council, their options are limited, on their own terms, they think they're doing their best by housing cheaply, to stomach the impact of the central government cuts to Local Authorities (25-30%).
I'm no Green Party fan have never voted for them and never will, but what is the charge against them - that they are not requisitioning mansions? As an idea totally worthy, but if it actually happened today would be greeted with a massive legal challenge against them and a huge backlash campaign - and the law-breaking councillors would be tried and possibly imprisoned (also likely to happen if they defy budgets and set massive rates like Liverpool 1985). So we're attacking them for not being brave enough to do something facing severe consequences - that seems neither comradely nor meaningful right now.

More importantly, not every 'empty home' is habitable without serious work - that's an issue here, and that's why people say 'we've got to build X new homes'. If you consulted people, you'd be aware that sometimes, in spite of the abuse of this principle in the Pathfinder scandals, you do need to pull down an old house to build new in its place.

Arbeiten
Dec 13 2012 00:23
sihhi wrote:
I'm no Green Party... what is the charge against them -

I think the charge is that they are not communists which, to my mind, is fair and proper grin.

On a more serious note I think the charge is more that they sell themselves as the next big thing when n reality they are the left wing of capital and in practice do the bidding of the ruling class. This also seems fair.

cantdocartwheels
Dec 13 2012 07:57

@sihhi
Sure tbh i'd settle for pretty much anything housing wise at present but theres a difference between what people are willing to settle for and what people actually want.

Whether your on brighton or east ham high street if you went round asking most people whether they'd like to bring up their kids in a shipping container or actually in a curretly empty flat or house i know what most peoples answers would be, whether they were middle class or not.
Just because the former seems to be the financially viable option doesn't make it a desirable one.

sihhi
Dec 14 2012 23:05

There are no traditional empty flats or housing in good condition, waiting to be handed over to whoever is on the list, so a home in a container makes sense. So there is a housing shortage. Houses need to be built.

"I think the charge is that they are not communists which, to my mind, is fair and proper."
(I agree they are not communists.)
I suggested that it wasn't well spelt out or convincingly enough argued. Their proposals make sense for a council to do though. Nothing wrong with shipping containers basically.

radicalgraffiti
Dec 14 2012 23:49

the council may not own the housing, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. The fact that the council can't provide people with housing without doing ridicules stuff like putting people in shipping containers just shows that these problems cant be solved by election a different party to run the council.

if you think that there is a housing shortage they how do you explain the rise in homelessness since the recession began? http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/recession-leads-to-25-ris...
have masses of houses fallen down? you seem to be wilfully missing the point

Uncreative
Dec 15 2012 00:38
sihhi wrote:
There are no traditional empty flats or housing in good condition, waiting to be handed over to whoever is on the list

Ive seen a bunch of empty places that are in better condition than my current place and have had no-one living in them for years. Maybe thats just my eyes bizarre middle class perspective though. Im seeing an optician about it.

Cooked
Dec 15 2012 14:42
sihhi wrote:
Nothing wrong with shipping containers basically.

Besides being shit houses it's difficult to ensure that shipping containers are free from toxic residue. Unless they are brand new that is.

It's also pretty shit to know that your home will be relocated as soon as someone decides to 'develop' the spot of land you're temporarily on. I'm sure councils and developers love the idea of putting these sites to use while they're making the deals or waiting for the perfect timing to shaft as many people as possible with their crap 'luxury housing' that lacks a proper kitchen, any sort of storage space and is build using 50 types of random plastic materials snapped together.

sihhi
Dec 15 2012 22:18
Quote:
if you think that there is a housing shortage they how do you explain the rise in homelessness since the recession began? http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/recession-leads-to-25-ris...
have masses of houses fallen down? you seem to be wilfully missing the point

The rate of new house-building has dropped severely because of the recession, and overall blocked houses (single elderly people living in multi-room homes) continues.
Housing completions are down in private and HA sector. Mortgages are harder to come by. More generally because of the rise inflation and loss of income from elsewhere, private landlords and sub-landlords (illegally in council homes) are demanding massive rises in rent. People who are lucky enough are using existing bricks and mortar capital, new housing supply is restricted. Also landlords are much more willing to kick out tenants and give houses to their adult children.

Quote:
the council may not own the housing, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. The fact that the council can't provide people with housing without doing ridicules stuff like putting people in shipping containers just shows that these problems cant be solved by election a different party to run the council.

It is possible to create good quality housing from containers, or from mass produced Swedish style flat-pack houses. Containers are, clearly, modified, I didn't suggest they weren't.
A 'socialist' council like Liverpool in 1980s went and built council houses from scratch (some 'slumhouses' it replaced), it didn't requisition houses from middle-class areas, perhaps it should have, but you'd need a popular army of people to do it.
Also it's unfair to compare the 1983 Labour national manifesto with a local council as someone did above.

sihhi
Dec 15 2012 22:17
Uncreative wrote:
sihhi wrote:
There are no traditional empty flats or housing in good condition, waiting to be handed over to whoever is on the list

Ive seen a bunch of empty places that are in better condition than my current place and have had no-one living in them for years. Maybe thats just my eyes bizarre middle class perspective though. Im seeing an optician about it.

Well you're in a neck of the woods that has good condition empties - the standard anarchist option is always there for them. That's not the case everywhere.
It's as arbitrary to say 0 zero houses need to be built, like blog post does, as to say "Let's Build!: Why We Need Five Million New Homes in the Next 10 Years" (James Heartfield) See http://www.thegreatdebate.org.uk/LetsBuild.html

Are people saying I shouldn't use 'middle class perspective'? OK. I take it back and offer apologies. How about I describe the blog post as 'extending generalisations on the basis of limited homeless family figures'

Chilli Sauce
Dec 16 2012 09:11
Pennoid wrote:
Hey, is there any good anarchist/marxist intro texts to Gentrification, Urban Development, Homelessness and Capitalism? I'm reading Prole.info's The Housing Monster now, which is pretty good. While I'm concerned with homelessness, I'm actually right now more practically interested in working class neighborhoods, black neighborhoods, tenancies, and development. Also, I'm from the States, so I might have a bit of a different perspective.

David Harvey, perhaps? I believe he's written on both the States and England.

Also, Wetzl posts on libcom. I won't give away his username, but if you post up a question about one of his texts, you'll probably get a response.

Steven.
Dec 16 2012 00:12
sihhi wrote:
For the council, their options are limited, on their own terms, they think they're doing their best by housing cheaply, to stomach the impact of the central government cuts to Local Authorities (25-30%).
I'm no Green Party fan have never voted for them and never will, but what is the charge against them - that they are not requisitioning mansions? As an idea totally worthy, but if it actually happened today would be greeted with a massive legal challenge against them and a huge backlash campaign - and the law-breaking councillors would be tried and possibly imprisoned (also likely to happen if they defy budgets and set massive rates like Liverpool 1985). So we're attacking them for not being brave enough to do something facing severe consequences - that seems neither comradely nor meaningful right now.

just a bit of clarification here, the law on councillors and budget setting has changed. So there is no risk of councillors who set non-balanced budgets being jailed. However, what "left-wing" councillors have said when they have set budgets with huge cuts is that they wanted to decide on the cuts, because if they didn't then council management would do it.

Loamrack
Dec 28 2012 13:31

The situation is even worse in Spain, where it is estimated that the number of empty houses is over one million. Evictions continue daily. Banks have thousands empty houses, a property that they do not know how to manage, while the number of homeless increases, as well as people with no means to survive and jobless. Enough! Now is the time to act.

Cooked
Dec 28 2012 15:27
Loamrack wrote:
The situation is even worse in Spain, where it is estimated that the number of empty houses is over one million. Evictions continue daily.

The Spanish situation is indeed very extreme and ripe for action. It's a case where anyone can see the contradictions capitalism brings.

Pointing out how capitalism forces people to live in the streets when houses are empty makes sense but the housing shortage in London and the south east is about rents and prices, quality of housing, overcrowding, lack of mobility etc. not so much about homelessness. If every homeless person in Brighton got to live in one of the empty houses there would still be a housing shortage for working class people.

David W Kasper
Jan 12 2013 19:11

Maybe worth mentioning certain councils getting huge 'redevelopment' funds from the EU. It encourages them to tear down whole streets and replacing them with cheaply made - and private - housing. They get more money for 'new builds' instead of renovation, and their own 'investment opportunities' are always factored in. With national investment in social housing being cut so drastically, they 'rebrand' cities according to the (neoliberal) stipulations of the EU and large-scale property developers. Entire communities are cleared to make way for this racket.

isawamouse
Apr 12 2013 07:34

Interestingly though (and this is the case in Scotland but I'd imagine legislation in England and Wales might be similar), overcrowding is technically considered being homeless (at least in as much as a family can make a homeless application to the local authority and have it accepted and a homeless decision on the grounds of overcrowing. This also applies to things like current housing being below tolerable standard, outwith affordability (particularly if substantial arrears have accrued), and a number of other situations. Obviously this article is talking about practical homelessness, i.e. not having anywhere to live, but I think this is an important aside).

A couple of people have also recently told me that the idea of priority need has been ditched at least in terms of housing legislation. I've not had time to verify this and my own experience suggests otherwise, I am planning to look into it though.

Not sure I get you on people needing social housing based on need rather than cost. If someone needs housing, they need housing, social or not. I'd have thought cost would be the only factor where someone has particular need of social housing. But maybe I'm missing something?

Lastly I think it's also important to mention (and again this is in Scotland but I'd be surprised if the situation in E&W is different), that although local authorities/housing associations, on a practical level, do actually refuse applications, they are going against their legal obligations in doing this. They have a legal duty to accept applications. (Obviously they might take an application and tell the applicant that the realistic chances of housing in the near or even distant future are slim, at which point they may not bother applying, but this choice should be made by the applicant rather than the council/HA concerned). I've observed that Housing Officers often appear to do what the person who trained them told them to do, and in some cases appear to have no idea that they are working in a strictly legally defined area where they have certain obligations and tenants/applicants have very specific rights. Not always the case of course.

Interesting blog post though, I've had an interest in this issue for many years since reading an article somewhere pointing out the number of empty houses up and down the country. The more worrying thing to me is that, discussing this with people with a mainstream worldview, you often encounter the "that's a shame, but it's just the way it is" justification. Many don't seem to see the absurdity of this situation.

wojtek
Apr 26 2013 18:52

.