Housing | The Guardian

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

27/04/2017 02:40 AM
Community is an empty word if my parishioners live in the far east | Giles Fraser: Loose canon
Foreign-owned, unoccupied apartments are turning my part of London into a ghost town. And our politicians seem powerless to act

Few words get more bandied about at election time than the word “community”. It used to refer to the social togetherness contained within a particular geographical area. Its key stations were the pub, the church, and the shops. In the general hubbub of such places, a magical chemistry of mutual attachment would soften the hard shells of our defensive individualism and bind otherwise very different people in a sense of common enterprise. And when people get to know each other like this they tend to look out for each other, including the most vulnerable among them. That’s probably why the church likes community: historically, it has easily been the most effective delivery mechanism for organised goodness and social care.

But in many places the very existence of community is under threat. My parish in south London is a case in point. On the Elephant and Castle edge of this parish is one of the largest property developments currently under way in the capital. It’s an attractive place for developers as it is a run-down area, some of it with a zone 1 postcode. Which is why the skyline is full of cranes and the cafes full of men in hi-vis jackets.

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26/04/2017 08:00 PM
In Hollywood, superheroes and villains delight crowds – and sleep on the streets

Many tourists take pictures with the characters lining Hollywood Boulevard, but few know about the dangers and instability the impersonators face

In a parking lot off Hollywood Boulevard, Christopher Dennis recently changed into a Superman outfit, complete with a muscle suit and calf-high red boots. He headed out through the crowds, a habit he was resuming after a forced absence.

“You look like you’ve come out of the movie screen, man!” said a parking attendant.

As an actor I am very well known. For that to be stricken from me, taken from me, put in another category – that’s hell

Related: Outside in America: learn more about our ongoing homelessness project

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26/04/2017 08:00 PM
A Moving Image review – love, art and rocketing house prices

Fiction meshes with footage of street protests and vox-pop interviews in Shola Amoo’s heartfelt docudrama about gentrification in Brixton

Despite some rough edges, there is a warmth and an ease to this shoestring debut from NFTS graduate Shola Amoo – a docudrama about gentrification in Brixton, south London.

Tanya Fear plays Nina, who returns to Brixton after some years away, intent on making a film about people getting priced out of their own neighbourhood. As her project develops, she has complicated feelings for local performance artist Ayo (Aki Omoshaybi) and also for an up-and-coming young actor Mickey (Alex Austin), whose success has allowed him to buy a flat nearby – in just the way her film is condemning.

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26/04/2017 08:00 PM
Hollywood's homeless Superman: 'I was put in my own living hell' – video

Superhero impersonators Tyler Watts and Christopher Dennis struggle with homelessness as they ply their trade along Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, earning money by posing for pictures with tourists. Character work can be tough work, but many say it’s the only thing keeping them going

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26/04/2017 06:35 PM
We need urgent change to British housing regulation | Rushanara Ali

Complaints about the country’s 2,500 housing associations are growing. We need better ways to check they are still fit for purpose

At the beginning of 2016, I received a handful of letters from social housing residents complaining about intermittent hot water and heating, persistently broken lifts, mould growing on their walls, and rat infestations in their homes.

Related: MPs call for sweeping changes to housing association regulation

Related: Housing associations have lost their way | Steve Hilditch

Related: 'No one calls the housing association repairs line. There's no point'

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26/04/2017 05:00 PM
Jeremy Corbyn to renew attack on Tories' housebuilding record

Labour leader will also use visit to Harlow in Essex to pledge 500,000 new homes, half of them for council rent

General election 2017 – live updates

Labour is set to renew its attack on the government’s housebuilding record, with Jeremy Corbyn using a campaign trip to Essex to say Theresa May is presiding over a crisis of “runaway rents and unaffordable housing”.

The party leader is due to visit Harlow, traditionally a bellwether general election seat, to pledge that if he were in government he would have 500,000 new homes built, half of them for council rent.

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26/04/2017 05:59 AM
Reform property laws to reduce inequality | Letters

Ian Jack engagingly highlights the massive inequality being created by the inheritance of property (Property feeds the roots of inequality in Britain, 22 April), but does not say what can be done about it. Inheritance tax would be a good idea if people paid it, but they mostly don’t. There is an abundance of advice online and in the press on how to avoid IHT quite legally. The richest landowners would be foolish not to take advantage of these exceptions. On the other hand, a tax on the value of land cannot be avoided, yet despite centuries of intelligent discussion from all points of the political compass it has not surfaced as a headline policy option for over a century. There are technical puzzles around registration and valuation to be argued over, but the real obstacle is political. People who own the most valuable land would have to pay more than they currently do in council or inheritance taxes. Between 1909 and 1914 the landed gentry, in the form of the House of Lords, effectively sabotaged an attempt to introduce LVT by the then Liberal government’s chancellor, David Lloyd George. In the most polarised election for decades, his words should inspire the Liberal Democrats and Labour now: “a fully-equipped duke costs as much to keep up as two dreadnoughts, but is much less easy to scrap”.
Dr Sebastian Kraemer

• Ian Jack gives us an excellent account of the unfair wealth windfall being accrued by older homeowners and passed on to their children and grandchildren. I’m surprised he doesn’t mention the Tory rules that were just made operational this April 2017, which mean you could pay even less inheritance tax if you’re leaving property to a family member. Hardly any media pointed out the effect this will have on increasing inequality via property, mainly because the vast majority of homeowners are quite happy to go along with it. Jeremy Corbyn says the Labour party would fund a £10-a-week rise to the carer’s allowance by reversing this inheritance tax cut, but how many potential Labour voters who are also homeowners will support this? Where is our sense of social justice?
Mary Ann Hooper
Wirksworth, Derbyshire

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25/04/2017 08:05 PM
It's not perverse of housing associations to build homes | David Orr

We’d all love more public money going into genuinely affordable rented homes, but that’s not going to happen. We have found our own way forward

Steve Hilditch has been an articulate and informed writer on housing issues for a long time. What he says is usually thoughtful and worth listening to – which is why his most recent piece is so disappointing.

We are used to evidence-free accusations from many in the media about housing associations losing their mission and social purpose. It’s quite a surprise when similar evidence-free accusations come from Hilditch. His central suggestion is that some housing associations “have become developers first and foremost”. Indeed, they have, as they have always been. Housing associations’ mission is based on building new homes for people in need. To accuse them of losing their purpose because they are building homes is perverse. This is what they are for.

Related: Housing associations have lost their way | Steve Hilditch

Related: 'No one calls the housing association repairs line. There's no point'

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24/04/2017 06:44 PM
How can councils tackle homelessness? Andrew Walker

With very little extra cash, councils need new ideas to join up local services and tackle the growing challenge of homelessness

The homelessness reduction bill, which looks set to gain royal assent and become law before parliament breaks up for the general election, seeks to tackle the growing problem of homelessness by focusing on prevention in local areas. Not for the first time the burden has been passed to local authorities to take action, with very little funding to accompany it.

Some councils have already developed interesting new ideas to meet this challenge head on. The government and other local authorities should look to these as the building blocks of a more substantive, long-term strategy.

Related: Homelessness reduction bill: a small step in the right direction

Related: Councils get £48m to expand homelessness provision

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24/04/2017 04:30 PM
How the MoD’s plan to privatise military housing ended in disaster

In 1996, the Ministry of Defence decided to sell off its housing stock. The financier Guy Hands bought it up in a deal that would make his investors billions – and have catastrophic consequences for both the military and the taxpayer

In the village of St Eval, a former RAF base in Cornwall, the streets are named after aeroplanes. There is a Lancaster Crescent, a Lincoln Row, a Botha Road. The former officers’ houses are grand and generous, looking out over the village green. Other houses look west, across fields, towards the rough Cornish coastline. Spitfires once whipped down the runway, which now lies abandoned. “It’s a lovely place to live,” one resident, Trevor Windsor, told me last autumn, as he prodded at his pretty front garden. “You just hear the lawnmowers every so often, and the birds singing and the children up at the school. It’s a bucolic idyll, you might say.”

Two decades ago, this idyll was disrupted by the noisy arrival of a lorry. Residents watched on as a team of builders proceeded to knock down the walls of one of the village houses, leaving the roof intact. “They lifted up the house roof,” remembered resident Barbara Hough. “Then bricked up the walls and put the roof back on top. They did that, one house after the next, all the way up Halifax Road.”

Related: Londoners to be sent to Canterbury after council bidding war for housing

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24/04/2017 05:57 AM
Gawpers go home: how luxury flat-owners could shut down the Tate's viewing platform

They were sold on their proximity to Tate Modern. Now the residents of luxury flats are taking the gallery to court, arguing its viewing platform invades their privacy. It’s part of a wider hijacking of cultural hotspots by property developers

Good walls make good neighbours – but not, it seems, when they are made entirely of glass. Five residents of the multi-million-pound Neo Bankside towers, which loom behind Tate Modern like a crystalline bar chart of inflated land values, have filed a legal claim against the museum to have part of its viewing platform shut down. They claim that its 10th-floor public terrace has put their homes into a state of “near constant surveillance”.

Climb to the summit of the Tate’s new twisted brick ziggurat and you are rewarded with majestic views of London’s skyline, where St Paul’s dome now competes for attention with the portly stump of the Walkie-Talkie, the swollen shaft of One Blackfriars and a host of other novelty forms in the capital’s own drunken sculpture garden. But most visitors are to be found huddled around the other side of the terrace, gawping at a spectacle of another kind: the pristine still lives of rich people’s homes.

Related: Tate Modern viewing platform prompts writ from luxury flat dwellers

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24/04/2017 03:18 AM
Building affordable housing is all but impossible in California’s Bay Area | Letter
Micah Weinberg of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute says homelessness is not helped by outdated laws and regulations that block new housing

Your story (‘It’s a perfect storm’: homeless spike in rural California linked to Silicon Valley, April 13) on a spike in homelessness in California’s Central Valley highlights an important problem, but some additional context is needed. The skyrocketing housing costs that are pushing workers east and bidding up prices in the Central Valley are not just a Silicon Valley phenomenon. The entire Bay Area region is suffering the same, the result of constrained housing supply from decades of underproduction. Local and state leaders have refused to address the problem at its core: reforming rigid and outdated laws and regulations that make building affordable housing all but impossible and help arm anti-growth zealots with the tools they need to block new housing.

The Bay Area Council does not, as your story wrongly suggests, view the Central Valley as a “bedroom community” for the purpose of enabling these policy failures. Although, without meaningful statewide housing reforms, we must build strong transportation links to respond to the continuing migration of lower- and middle-income workers from Silicon Valley to the Central Valley. A report by our Bay Area Council Economic Institute (The Northern California Megaregion, June 2016) examines this issue, and also makes recommendations for enhancing educational, workforce and economic development capacity in the Central Valley to support the expansion of the tech industry and jobs there.
Micah Weinberg
President, Bay Area Council Economic Institute

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24/04/2017 01:32 AM
Public service workers: tell us what you want from the next government

We want to hear from health staff, care workers, civil servants, local government and charities about the election pledges you want on 8 June

In the run-up to June’s general election, almost every aspect of our public services and social policy feels at breaking point: we’re in the midst of an NHS crisis, a social care crisis, a housing crisis, a local government funding crisis and a civil service staffing crisis, not to mention a collapse in public trust for charities.

The election will be dominated by Brexit, but domestic policies are equally vital – and must not be swept under the rug. It will be up to all those professionals working for and with the public to make that case. So we’d like to know what you want to see from all the parties as top election priorities.

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23/04/2017 11:12 PM
Bring back squatting! The best way to solve our unnecessary housing crisis

I dream of a gigantic, coordinated, nationwide flash squat of multiple empty sites all at once. Perhaps it could come true

I can’t understand this housing crisis. Nobody needs to be homeless. We have 200,000 empty homes in England, with 4,297 in Birmingham alone. And that’s only the houses. There are countless empty cinemas, theatres, hospitals and stations that have been derelict for decades, and probably a few bunkers if you’re worried about nuclear holocaust. What a waste. Within 30 minutes’ walk of my home, there is a huge theatre (empty since 1989), a hospital (empty for decades) and a nursing home (empty since 2003), all sitting rotting while dithering owners make up their minds what to do with them. Imagine what perfect flats, hostels, community centres and shelters they could have made in the meantime.

I dream that squatting will return. Not just the odd squat, but a gigantic, coordinated, nationwide flash squat of multiple empty sites all at once, which might give the squatters more of a chance to settle in while the opposing forces flap around trying to decide which enormous phalanx to evict first.

Related: The Autonomous City by Alexander Vasudevan review – in praise of squatting

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23/04/2017 10:30 PM
Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble: why ultra-low mortgage rates are dangerous | Jonn Elledge

Older generations complain of interest rates that reached 17%. But today’s record lows have contributed to house prices soaring out of reach of the young

If you’ve ever made the mistake of trying to debate generational inequality with a baby boomer – by pointing out, say, that they benefited from cheap housing, generous welfare and free university places, before voting consistently for governments that have denied those things to their children, all the while calling millennials lazy and entitled in an infuriatingly faux-indulgent way, as if their kids’ requests that their salaries bear some sort of relation to their actual living costs makes them the sort of spoiled divas who’d call a gold-plated Uber to take them to the lavatory ...

Anyway. If you’ve ever had this annoying row with an ageing relative, then you’ll know that they have one last trump card, one last line of defence for their privileges. Interest rates, they’ll say. None of this 0.25% Bank of England rate in our day. We had proper interest rates. You don’t know you’re born.

Related: Higher interest rates. Great idea. Here’s why it won’t happen

Bubbles tend to burst. Prices can’t rise forever: one day, interest rates must surely rise

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23/04/2017 06:43 PM
Housing associations have lost their way | Steve Hilditch

Too many housing associations have focused on being developers. They have lost sight of their mission to provide good homes at genuinely affordable prices

I recently spoke at a large meeting, organised by Westminster North MP Karen Buck, of angry tenants and shared owners from a housing association.

They fumed about poor repair services, high rents, shoddy standards in new homes, and the enormous salary of their association’s chief executive. They were the embodiment of the issues raised by John Harris in his recent Guardian articles.

Related: Housing associations face storm of complaints over new-build homes

Related: MPs call for sweeping changes to housing association regulation

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23/04/2017 06:00 PM
Mayor to subsidise 'naked' homes solution to London housing crisis

Sadiq Khan adds weight to scheme to construct spartan apartments that will sell for up to 40% less than usual new-builds

Who needs internal walls or a fitted kitchen anyway? As house prices soar ever further out of reach, London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, is to subsidise a new generation of ultra-basic “naked” homes that will sell for up to 40% less than standard new builds.

The apartments will have no partition walls, no flooring and wall finishes, only basic plumbing and absolutely no decoration. The only recognisable part of a kitchen will be a sink. The upside of this spartan approach is a price tag of between £150,000 and £340,000, in reach for buyers on average incomes in a city where the average home now costs £580,000.

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23/04/2017 06:56 AM
The Guardian view on generational inequality: a country fit for all ages | Editorial

In 2010 David Willetts illuminated the equality divide between young and old. Since then things have only got worse

Seven years ago, a new set of contour lines emerged in our understanding of inequality in Britain. The publication of The Pinch by David Willetts has shaped the way we map, measure and articulate inequality: not just in terms of the gap between the rich and the poor, but in terms of the divide between the young and the old.

Lord Willetts’ arguments have since become well rehearsed. The baby boomer generation have collectively done much better financially than the generations that came before them. They will have drawn more out of the welfare state than they paid in as a generation; have done exceedingly well out of accelerating house-price growth; and can look forward to a comfortable retirement on generous defined-benefit pensions. But this has come at the expense of the younger generation, which finds itself struggling to even get on the housing ladder, and financially propping up both the welfare state and pensions schemes that the older generation are drawing down on.

Related: The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Stole Their Children's Future by David Willetts | Book review

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22/04/2017 11:53 PM
Home Truths review – a history of the housing crisis in nine plays

Bunker, London
The homeless people’s theatre company Cardboard Citizens takes a long look at housing, from Victorian slum life and 70s squatting to present day inequalities

The national shortage of affordable housing hasn’t led to any shortage of theatre exploring the crisis. There have been some great shows – from Philip Ridley’s satire Radiant Vermin to Sh!t Theatre’s Letters to Windsor House – examining the pressure that high rents put on personal relationships, while Lung’s E15 told the story of the evicted teenage mothers who took on Newham council in east London.

But who better to offer a meditation on our relationship with bricks and mortar than Cardboard Citizens, a pioneering company who for the last 25 years have been making theatre with and for homeless people, in settings from theatres to hostels and prisons? Their ambitious latest project takes the form of three cycles of three plays each, written by Anders Lustgarten, EV Crowe and Lin Coghlan, among others, that combine to provide “an incomplete history of housing” from the late 19th century to the present day.

Related: Homeless actors offer a rawness that outweighs a lack of formal skills

Related: Homeless theatre: how to engage hard-to-reach audiences

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21/04/2017 05:00 PM
Property feeds the roots of inequality in Britain. Inheritance will entrench it | Ian Jack

The homes passed on from this fortunate generation to the next will determine who is rich and who is poor in years to come

What did our grandparents leave us? That will depend on who they were and what they possessed, but in my case, not untypical of my generation, it wasn’t very much.

From my father’s side the treasures included: a stuffed canary; a tiny stuffed crocodile (a gharial, taken from the Ganges); some crested china bought in seaside resorts; and a canteen of excellent cutlery given as a wedding present in 1899 and never taken from its box. On my grandmother’s death, a display cabinet was bought to accommodate this sudden Victorian infusion into our household, which already had a fine little portrait of Rob Roy inherited from my mother’s father, to be followed much later (after a diversion to an aunt and then a cousin) by a wall-clock and a watercolour of a street in Kirkcaldy that looked very pretty from a distance. I’m sure to have forgotten other items – for example, I’m just now remembering the 78rpm discs of Enrico Caruso and Harry Lauder – but basically that was it.

Related: The baby boomers have enjoyed the good times – now a tax hike is due | Phillip Inman

Anyone under the age of 45 is now much less likely to be a homeowner than people of the same age 25 years ago

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