Housing | The Guardian

Latest news and features from theguardian.com, the world's leading liberal voice

16/03/2018 07:00 PM
Homeless crisis: how the state pays the rich to exploit the poor
Landlords carving up a home into micro-flats can net £50,000 a year. And it’s taxpayers who foot the bill

Every day 64-year-old former boxer, Ian Ford*, who suffers from crippling arthritis, climbs three flights of stairs to his tiny cell-like flat over a betting shop in south London. “I have to feel my way because loads of times there’s no lighting,” he says. “I’ve fallen a couple of times. If there was a fire I’d never get out.”

Ford’s flat – which at 19 sq metres falls below the government’s minimum space standard of 37 sq metres for one-bedroom flats – is covered in blooms of dark mould. “It’s disgusting. I keep wiping it down but two days later it’s back,” he says.

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16/03/2018 05:00 PM
Secretive religious charity run by top US housing officials raises questions

GJH Global Ministries, which made its website private after inquiries by the Guardian, does not appear to have a clear purpose

One of the top officials in Donald Trump’s housing department runs an opaque religious charity with a colleague who resigned from the administration when the Guardian found he was accused of fraud and exaggerated his biography.

Related: US housing department adviser quits amid questions of fraud and inflated biography

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16/03/2018 04:00 AM
Towers with Grenfell-style cladding ‘at risk of arson and terrorism’

Exclusive: fears for vulnerable buildings lead councils to keep locations secret, Guardian finds

Public officials fear terrorists and arsonists could target high-rise homes that are still covered in combustible Grenfell-style cladding, amid increasing delays to safety works, a Guardian investigation has found.

The estimated bill to reclad at least 288 towers in England, which failed combustibility tests after 71 people died at Grenfell Tower in west London, is now on course to reach £1bn. There are waits of up to seven months to test alternative systems to ensure they are safe, and legal disputes are holding up works elsewhere.

Related: ‘We're sitting on a timebomb': tower block residents on life after Grenfell

Related: Tower residents told to pay £500,000 to replace Grenfell-style cladding

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16/03/2018 04:00 AM
‘We're sitting on a timebomb': tower block residents on life after Grenfell

In hundreds of buildings that still have Grenfell-style cladding, people are haunted by fear

Across Britain, thousands of families went to bed last night knowing that nine months after the Grenfell Tower disaster, the walls around their homes are still fitted with panels similar to those that fuelled the fire last June.

The tension it causes is palpable. Wardens armed with emergency klaxons patrol corridors, fire engines are permanently stationed outside some properties and emergency alarms have been installed. At the last count, not a single panel had been removed on 66 social housing blocks in England with cladding that failed government combustibility tests. Only seven of the 158 affected have completed the works.

Related: Towers with Grenfell-style cladding ‘at risk of arson and terrorism’

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15/03/2018 10:00 PM
'America's new Vietnam': why a homelessness crisis seems unsolvable

Despite approving billions in funds to fight the problem, Los Angeles has seen its homeless population continue to grow. Is there anything politicians can do?

In Los Angeles, the more the politicians push to solve the city’s festering homelessness crisis, the worse it seems to get.

The city leadership has taken one bold step after another: restructuring the budget to free more than $100m a year in homelessness funding, sponsoring one voter-approved initiative to raise more than $1bn for housing and backing another regional proposal to raise the sales tax and generate an estimated $3.5bn for support services over the next decade. And yet the tent cities continue to proliferate, in rich neighborhoods and poor, by the beach, the airport, the Hollywood Walk of Fame and within view of City Hall itself.

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14/03/2018 09:52 PM
Grenfell Tower door resisted fire 'half as long' as it was meant to

Police say door that was supposed to hold back fire for 30 minutes lasted 15 minutes in test

Detectives investigating the Grenfell Tower blaze have revealed the front door to one of the flats failed fire tests.

The door was on a lower floor where the fire had not gutted the building where 71 people lost their lives in the 14 June disaster. Following recent tests it emerged that it could only withstand fire for 15 minutes when it was meant to withstand it for 30 minutes.

Related: Information watchdog denounces council over Grenfell failings

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14/03/2018 04:15 AM
Philip Hammond misses a chance to tackle social injustice | Letters
Ian McIlwee says the chancellor should be investing in building safety, and Paul Nicolson wants the government to act now to tackle poverty

While it’s encouraging to hear the chancellor commit to investment for raising housing supply in his spring statement (Report, 14 March), the question should be asked why an allocation of this budget is not being diverted to fund the vital safety works that are needed on existing buildings. Fire safety concerns have been building up for a number of years, as a result of ineffective maintenance or of fundamental design, specification and installation problems. Grenfell has shone a spotlight on this, yet still financial and political barriers are preventing essential works from taking place and leaving vulnerable people sleeping in buildings that are potentially unsafe. As the collateral costs of Grenfell become more apparent – and with reports that only three council-owned high-rises out of the 160 that failed the government’s fire safety tests have yet been reclad – it is imperative that the Treasury makes an allocation for such potentially life-critical work.

We believe that the solution is a building safety fund, similar to the Pension Protection Fund. The fund would allow housing associations and local authorities to focus on what needs to be done while applying to the scheme to fund the works.

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13/03/2018 10:48 PM
Housing First alone can't solve the UK's homelessness crisis | Nicholas Pleace

The scheme has ended homelessness in Finland and can help in the UK, too – but only as part of an integrated approach

The Housing First programme is only a small step in the fight to end homelessness. It may have helped end homelessness in other countries, but it cannot, on its own, do the same in the UK.

Here, we used to try to end homelessness by helping to prepare vulnerable people for housing. We put treatment for mental and physical health problems in place, supported people to stop drinking or using drugs, and trained them to run their own home, before any housing was offered.

Related: How Finland solved homelessness | Interview: Juha Kaakinen

Related: 'Housing first' could entrench youth homelessness | Paul Noblet

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13/03/2018 02:20 PM
Homelessness in Australia up 14% in five years, ABS says

For every 10,000 people, 50 are homeless, and more than 43,500 homeless people are under 25

Despite steady economic growth in Australia, homelessness increased by 14% between the 2011 and 2016 censuses, with 116,427 people now thought to have no permanent home.

This means that for every 10,000 Australians, 50 are homeless. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), which released the data on Wednesday, estimates that more than 43,500 homeless people are under 25.

Related: Cost of living pushing Australian workers into homelessness

Related: Coalition warned welfare overhaul could worsen homelessness

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13/03/2018 05:49 AM
No love lost between the UK and Russia | Letters
Readers offer their thoughts on the fallout from the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal in Salisbury

Patrick Wintour is undoubtedly correct when he says that “the UK has long been the anti-Russian outrider in Europe” (Russian spy mystery, 13 March), but there is more to it than that. With the exception of the two world wars, relations between the UK and Russia (or the Soviet Union) have been uniformly bad for nigh on 200 years. Moreover, the two countries seem to bring out the worst in each other, so that relations have periodically been set back by dangerous, futile or sometimes downright silly incidents of a sort that seem not to occur in either Britain or Russia’s other bilateral relations: two incidents from the sillier end of the spectrum would be the decision in 1971 to expel over 100 alleged Soviet spies from London and the Russian insistence on dismantling most of the British Council’s activities in that country in 2008.

The UK will inevitably need to respond to the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal, but thereafter someone should seclude themselves in a quiet room to study the history of British-Russian relations, to assess the political, cultural and other factors that have brought about this state of affairs, and to work out (if possible, jointly with the Russian side) measures that might in due course lead to a sustainable improvement in relations. Given the present state of both Britain and Russia it will not be easy, but it is in everybody’s interests.
John Dunn
Bologna, Italy

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13/03/2018 05:26 AM
Tower residents told to pay £500,000 to replace Grenfell-style cladding

Tribunal rules that leaseholders in Croydon block are responsible for making building safe

Leaseholders in an apartment block covered in Grenfell-style cladding have been ordered to pay £500,000 to make their building safe after a tribunal ruled that they, rather than the management company, were obliged to cover the costs.

The ruling, which could be challenged, means leaseholders of the 95-apartment Citiscape complex in Croydon, south London, may face a £2m bill, which some have said would force them into financial ruin.

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12/03/2018 11:52 PM
Spring statement 2018: the chancellor's key points at a glance

Philip Hammond has delivered his first spring statement. Here are the key points, with political analysis
• Spring statement 2018 - live blog

•Forecast of 1.5% growth for 2018, revised up from 1.4%.

Peter Walker, political correspondent: The start of the statement has seen Hammond at his most political – and defiantly upbeat. He accuses Labour of ‘talking Britain down’ and, making fun of his Eeyore image, saying he is ‘positively Tigger-ish’ in his outlook. All very well – but will it resonate with those people still experiencing stagnant wages?

PW: As expected, Hammond has some cautiously positive news on borrowing, calling it ‘a turning point in this nation’s recovery’. Again, he is overtly party political, blaming the deficit on the last Labour government and saying a Corbyn government would increase the debt again. We even get two mentions of Hammond’s favourite current phrase of ‘light at the end of the tunnel’.

PW: Hammond returns to another of his favourite phrases, saying he takes a ‘balanced approach’ on extra spending versus reducing the deficit. This is still sensible Phil, even though he hints at possible extra spending after 2020.

He quotes several large numbers on investment in schools, the NHS and social care. But again, he faces the problem: does this coincide with what voters are actually experiencing?

PW: In announcing new measures to seek to boost productivity, Hammond remains very party political, with attacks on John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor. He calls the Conservatives the voice of business.

This might generally be seen as the case, but it’s worth remembering that most big business groups, such as the CBI, are currently pretty worried about the government’s Brexit plans.

PW: Amid some general talk about infrastructure spending Hammond singles out spending on housing – seen as a major political problem for the government – for detailed attention. This follows Theresa May’s big speech on housing last week.

The one announcement – of a deal for 215,000 new homes by 2030 – is with the West Midlands, which happens to have a Conservative mayor, Andy Street.

Related: Sign up for Guardian Morning Briefing

PW: Hammond ends to a series of cheers from his backbenchers, who sound buoyed by his tone, which while perhaps not as Tigger-ish as promised, was upbeat, if (as expected) low on new announcements.

Speculation about Hammond’s future is something of a constant given his unpopularity with many pro-Brexit Tories, but this was a confident chancellor who feels his approach is being vindicated by some good news – even if it might not feel that way to many around the country.

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12/03/2018 11:50 PM
Red Brexiters wise up – a housing crash won’t bring us socialism | Zoe Williams

Those celebrating a great rebalancing should know that downturns never bring equality

“Alexa, what is red Brexit?” tweeted Aaron Bastani, the founder of the exhilarating Novara Media: the answer was a dramatic fall in London house prices, averages down by over £100,000 in some parts. North-west England, by contrast, is holding up well, with double-digit increases in Blackburn and Warrington, and steady growth in Manchester and Merseyside. This is the great rebalancing we’ve all been waiting for, the beginning of the end of unaffordability in the capital, the redistribution of asset inflation to the places it has traditionally never reached. It’s what the left wanted, and it’s a consequence of Brexit: ergo, red Brexit, or Lexit if you prefer.

This is what you might call the tiger-riding approach to our national crisis in housing: climb atop a powerful shock and hope it continues to go in your direction. But house-price crashes never do proceed steadily towards equality. There have been four in the UK since the 1970s. They always hit the most buoyant areas first, and those places are always the first to recover. They always have a contagious effect on the economy around them.

Related: London property prices fall as much as 15% as Brexit effect deepens

Related: The shambles of Brexit diverts attention from the EU’s democratic deficit | Gary Younge

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12/03/2018 09:36 PM
Archbishop calls for churches to open their doors to rough sleepers

Justin Welby also hits out at council cuts and says university tuition fees should be scrapped

The archbishop of Canterbury has called on churches to open their doors to rough sleepers and criticised funding cuts that have left councils struggling to meet needs.

Justin Welby also called for tuition fees to be scrapped, saying the cost of university education should be covered through taxation.

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12/03/2018 05:48 AM
Not everyone has a nest to ‘scurry back’ to | Letters
Grandparents can help with empty nest syndrome, writes Jonathan Hauxwell, while Jane Lawson, Mike Stein and Carol Taylor point out that not everyone lives this way

Gaby Hinsliff talks wittily and poignantly about the empty nest and the re-filled nest, and the guilt, happiness and angst that accompany the process (Don’t fall for the hype about the empty nest syndrome, 9 March).

Whatever state of emptiness or refilling you find yourself in, if you are fed up with your syndrome, you should seek delayed gratification. In most cases you will get the chance to educate grandchildren in the finer points of life – hearing them read on their own, take a few first steps, cycle by your side. Their parents will benefit from you teaching their child how to inspect every item of litter closely, look over random garden walls, peer into skips, stick their magnet to people’s cars in the name of science – and then, if you still need to, you can chuck your towels on their parents’ bathroom floor.
Jonathan Hauxwell
Crosshills, North Yorkshire

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12/03/2018 05:44 AM
Persimmon chief's £75m bonus 'almost unfathomable' – Raab

Housing minister says he is ‘not comfortable’ with effects of help to buy on housebuilders’ pay

Housebuilder Persimmon’s award of a £75m bonus to its chief executive, Jeff Fairburn, was “almost unfathomable”, the housing minister, Dominic Raab, has told MPs. Persimmon faced fierce criticism earlier this year after it emerged that a rise in profits, which has been attributed to the taxpayer-backed help-to-buy scheme, would trigger more than £2oom in bonuses for three executives.

The company trimmed the payouts by £51m amid widespread outrage, with Fairburn accepting a cut from £100m to £75m and promising to give a “substantial” portion to an unnamed charity.

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12/03/2018 04:27 AM
Shops, cafes and round-the-clock care: life in a ‘dementia village’

Can the planned development in Kent, modelled on the Dutch example of Hogeweyk, improve its residents’ lives?

It will be a new community within a new neighbourhood. As part of the 4,000-home Mountfield Park development near Canterbury, Kent, there are plans to build a village that will have its own homes, shops and cafes. All of the residents will be people with dementia. It is being modelled on Hogeweyk, a dementia village near Amsterdam, whose inhabitants live in shared houses, have a supermarket, park cafe, cinema, village squares and gardens, as well as round-the-clock care if they need it. “What struck us was how unrecognisable the lives of those with dementia were at Hogeweyk compared with those I’ve met in England,” Simon Wright, the chief executive of developers Corinthian Land, told the Times.

“A lot of nursing homes are based on a medical approach,” says Frank van Dillen, co-founder of Dementia Village Advisors and one of the architects who designed Hogeweyk. “We try to de-institutionalise that approach because people want to live as normally as possible.” So there is care and medication, but also everyday activities: “You want to go to a restaurant, do your own grocery shopping, sit in a bar, walk outside and meet people.”

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11/03/2018 07:32 PM
Our landlord is demolishing 70 homes - but we wont go quietly | Jessica Field

Mass private evictions don’t make news, but families in our close-knit community in Leeds should be entitled to stay

Five months ago, my parents – like the other 69 households on their Leeds estate – received a pamphlet through the letterbox. Some families threw it out; others dumped it on the kitchen table to sort out later. Little did they know it was an invitation from the landlord to discuss plans to demolish our estate.

Related: Housing crisis threatens a million families with eviction by 2020

Related: How eviction leads to homelessness: ‘My youngest child doesn’t know what a home is’

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11/03/2018 06:24 PM
Promises v reality: how the schemes were sold – and what they look like now

Company collapses and stalled progress have dogged certain ‘buyer-led developments’. We compare company projections to the current sites

Water drips from half-finished concrete frames, while construction hoardings lie collapsed around litter-strewn building sites. These are the scenes in cities across the north of England, where a Guardian Cities investigation has uncovered more than a dozen property developments that have either stalled indefinitely or collapsed outright, leading investors to ask where their money has gone.

Related: Revealed: the collapsed UK property schemes luring small investors

It is an increasingly popular model of financing property developments by using deposits from many individual buyers. Apartments are sold off-plan to buyers, often overseas, who pay substantial deposits of up to 80% upfront. Their money is used to fund the entire project, from marketing fees to construction costs.

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10/03/2018 07:35 AM
‘Astonished’ MPs told £817m has gone unspent in housing budget
Ministers face demand for urgent answers over return of cash to Treasury

MPs are demanding an urgent explanation from ministers after being told that £817m allocated for desperately needed affordable housing and other projects in cash-strapped local authorities has been returned to the Treasury unspent.

The surrender of the unused cash has astonished members of the cross-party housing, communities and local government select committee at a time when Theresa May has insisted housebuilding is a top priority and when many local authorities are becoming mired in ever deeper financial crises.

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