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Cambridge House hosts urgent conference on housing crisis

Can we afford to lose council housing? Cambridge House convenes conference to tackle the housing crisis 29/04/2016

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Residents of estates like Central Hill, Lambeth, are at risk of being displaced by demolition plans and gentrification. Photo: Simon Elmer/Architects for Social Housing.

An urgent conference hosted this week by Cambridge House at our historic home in Walworth threw into stark relief the growing dangers to council housing and council tenants in London. Hosted in partnership with the University of Leicester, the conference sought to answer a critical question for many Southwark residents: ‘Can we afford to lose council housing?’

All of the conference talks and discussion sessions will be broadcast shortly on the Cambridge House podcast, The CH@T, available on i-Tunes and from our website.

Bringing together council tenants, politicians and housing and legal experts, the conference assessed the impact of the rapid gentrification currently experienced by boroughs with large stocks of council housing like Southwark; gentrification that is resulting often in low-income people being forced to leave their homes.

In a blow to Government plans to tackle the crisis, expert legal analysis of the proposed Housing and Planning Bill by Jamie Burton of Doughty Chambers suggested that the Bill would accelerate the displacement of local communities and the loss of social housing. Rather than resolving the current housing crisis, proposals such as the right-to-buy housing association homes, the selling off of ‘void’ council properties, removal of local authority planning restrictions and prioritisation of starter homes will likely see further increases in landlord repossessions and more families forced out from their homes and communities.

Alice Belotti, an expert in estate regeneration at the London School of Economic’s Centre for the Analysis of Social Exclusion, compared the current practice of large-scale demolition of social housing to a “third wave of slum clearance” in the UK, emphasising the significant negative impact that the demolition of estates can have on local communities.

This approach to regeneration was rejected by delegates from Architects for Social Housing, who outlined a number of alternatives to estate demolition (such as infill, build-over and refurbishment) that would increase housing capacity and renovate existing housing stock while not forcing the communities they house to relocate.

Delegates were similarly unconvinced by David Cameron’s flagship ‘sink estate strategy’. While facing questions about the Labour council’s own role in estate demolition in Southwark (such as the highly controversial demolition of the Heygate Estate near Elephant & Castle), Southwark Council Cabinet Member for Housing Cllr. Richard Livingston noted that the £140m tabled for the Prime Minister’s project amounts to little over £2,000 per council home nationally, a figure unlikely to improve the quality of neglected housing stock. It was also noted that the “sink estates” proposal left significant scope for the involvement of private developers in regenerating social housing stock, with little assurance that the redeveloped stock would remain affordable housing.

This assessment of the proposed Bill and estates strategy sparked concern due to Cambridge House and the University of Leicester’s recent research findings that indicated that, given reductions to welfare, social housing in Southwark currently plays an indispensable role in protecting people on low incomes and who are vulnerable due to ill-health, age, or disability. Furthermore, evidence from the Centre for London confirmed the link between the current housing crisis and escalating inequality in London, highlighting the significant redistribution of wealth from renters into the pockets of property-owning Londoners in recent years.

The delegates agreed that urgent action and significant cooperation was needed between local councils, residents, experts, and community organisations like Cambridge House was needed to both tackle the crisis, resist potentially damaging developments, and protect those on low incomes and/or vulnerable.

Reading and Links

Alice Belotti, LSE Housing and Communities (2016) CASEreport 99 Estate regeneration and community impacts: challenges and lessons for social landlords, developers and local councils

Loretta Lees and Mara Ferreri (2016) Resisting gentrification on its final frontiers: lessons from the Heygate Estate in London (1974-2013), for Special Issue of Cities on resisting the demolition of public housing edited by Edward Goetz.

Loretta Lees (2014) The urban injustices of New Labour’s ‘new urban renewal’: the case of the Aylesbury Estate in London, Antipode, 46:4:921-947.

The London Tenants Federation, Lees,L, Just Space and SNAG (2014) Staying Put: An Anti-Gentrification Handbook for Council Estates in London

Architects for Social Housing (2016) Manifesto.

Hannah White and Loretta Lees in partnership with Lambeth County Court Duty Scheme (2016) Why we can’t afford to lose local authority housing in London, submitted as evidence to proposed Housing Bill.

Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, LSE

Centre for London

Architects for Social Housing

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