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Separate But Equal, Part 1

Instituting a new series to examine disturbing cases of deliberate self-segregation of “marginalised” communities carried out in the name of social justice

Forget “the only gay in the village” – Manchester City Council is putting forward plans for a majority-LGBT housing community for people aged over 50. In this socially engineered ghetto, eligibility to live would depend not on one’s ability to afford the rent but one’s ability to satisfy the diversity checklist of a local government busybody.

Once again, the best intentions of the social justice community result in the most extreme and counterproductive of solutions.

From the Guardian’s report:

Manchester city council has announced plans to create the UK’s first retirement community aimed at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

According to the local authority, the city is home to the country’s largest number of LGBT people outside of London and is due to see a rapid growth in the number of LGBT residents over 65 in the next two decades. More than 7,000 over-50s living in Manchester identify as LGBT.

A recent report by the Manchester-based LGBT Foundation, commissioned by the council, revealed that older LGBT people experience higher levels of loneliness and isolation.

Many were fearful of discrimination in existing accommodation and there was a desire for affordable LGBT-specific housing where people could be open about their identity in later life.

The extra care scheme – a targeted development for older people – will house a minimum of 51% LGBT residents, but heterosexual people will also be welcome to apply to live in the accommodation.

The housing will have specially trained staff based on site and pets will be welcome. As well as the LGBT Foundation, the project is being supported by Stonewall Housing and the Homes and Communities Agency.

As one sceptical interviewee in the BBC report wisely asks:

The issue we are going to come up against along the way is that we’ve fought for equality. Do we need a separate space?

Quite.

Of course, the gimlet-eyed do-gooder at Manchester City Council responds, patronisingly:

It’s not necessarily about ghettoising particular communities. It’s offering people who want it that opportunity to spend their time with people who they know will understand them.

Ah well, that’s fine then. If people want to withdraw from wider society into strongholds (weakholds?) where fragility is pandered to rather than resilience developed, of course it is the sacred and noble duty of local government to assist them in their folly at every turn. Who are the guardians of the public purse to question the latest social justice orthodoxy?

Some may say that this is a local decision for local communities, and ask what standing a writer from London possibly has to weigh in on a decision made by Manchester City Council? And I would be amendable to that argument if it were actually the people of Manchester on the hook for this experiment in social divisiveness. But of course they are not.

In overcentralised Britain, the dominant single source of local authority funds – 40% in the case of Manchester – are disbursed by central government after having been raised through general national taxation. And besides the obvious social folly inherent in creating fragile, unresilient and homogenous minority communities in the name of social justice, the fact that all British taxpayers are funding this folly makes it directly my concern, and that of everyone else.

If a private developer wants to create an ethnically, gender or sexuality-based homogeneous environment for private tenants or homebuyers then that is a separate discussion fraught with its own parallel legal questions about discrimination and equality. But in the case of a public initiative and social housing, the government has absolutely no business discriminating along these lines, setting quotas or engaging in any other form of naked social engineering.

We should not be unsympathetic to some of the stories of older LGBT people featured in the BBC News report – being ostracised by friends and family of one’s own generation after coming out must be incredibly hard, particularly in older age. But it should be for institutions of civil society to step in to address these real social problems, and we must get out of the habit of immediately pivoting to local and national government for a solution to each and every problem – especially where the mitigation involves the use of general taxpayer funds.

Heavy-handed governmental interventions such as this only serve to crowd out independent solutions from civil society, and reinforce the expectation that government must play an active, watchful part in nearly every area of our lives. And no matter how well-intentioned individual schemes may be, British taxpayers should not be left on the hook for implementing a social justice revolution in Manchester or anywhere else.

 

Separate is NOT equal - Stonewall - segregation - LGBT

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What Conservative Government? – Part 2

Housing Crisis

Rather than do any of the things which might actually ease the housing crisis, David Cameron’s Coke Zero Conservative government wants the state to enter the housebuilding business

When faced with the inescapable truth of the housing crisis – the fact that demand for housing is increasing faster than supply – David Cameron’s Conservative government has typically preferred to faff around with headline-chasing proposals to boost demand for the same inadequate housing stock rather than upset any of their vested interests by unleashing a real, consumer-focused supply side revolution.

But doing nothing at all in the face of a pressing national problem doesn’t look very good, and so the government has simultaneously been grasping around for eye-catching policies which give the illusion of taking serious action, while doing almost nothing to tackle the root causes.

And since this government is clearly content to pick freely from any policies ranging anywhere from the authoritarian left to the bland centre, they have come up with a doozy of a socialist idea: being unwilling to deregulate the market or meaningfully ease burdensome planning restrictions, the state will simply start commissioning new housing itself. What could possibly go wrong?

The breathless government press release informs us:

The Prime Minister will today announce that the government is to step in and directly commission thousands of new affordable homes.

In a radical new policy shift, not used on this scale since Thatcher and Heseltine started the Docklands, the government will directly commission the building of homes on publicly owned land. This will lead to quality homes built at a faster rate with smaller building firms – currently unable to take on big projects – able to get building on government sites where planning permission is already in place. The first wave of up to 13,000 will start on 4 sites outside of London in 2016 – up to 40% of which will be affordable ‘starter’ homes. This approach will also be used in at the Old Oak Common site in north west London.

A plan for every stage of your life, indeed.

This amounts to nothing so much as a nationalised British Housing corporation – on a small scale for now, but who knows where or how far this statist adventure could lead us? Where once we had British Coal, British Steel, British Rail and even British Restaurants, now we are about to have British Housing foisted upon us – and by a supposedly conservative government, no less.

But just as nationalised, centrally planned companies like British Leyland churned out low quality, uncompetitive products that nobody wanted back in the last century, so British Housing will inevitably see the construction of more cookie-cutter, non-high-rise, low density “developments” that barely keep pace with rising demand and do nothing to tackle house prices or put the dream of home ownership within reach of more people.

But who cares? George Osborne will have another excuse to don his high-vis jacket, strap on his hard hat, and prance around a building site with his sleeves rolled up like a man of action and plausible Future Prime Minister. And that’s all that matters. Not solving real problems. Not applying the best of contemporary conservative thinking to transform Britain for the better. Just another good photo opportunity and more of the same endless, vacuous triangulation and electioneering.

Rigorous conservative thought and policymaking is capable of producing compelling answers to nearly all of the problems facing modern Britain – unemployment, housing, welfare, competitiveness and the democratic deficit. But we do not have a prime minister or a government who have any respect for conservative thought, or the principles of small government, free individuals and the free market as a force for good.

We have David Cameron, George Osborne and the bricks-and-mortar equivalent of British Rail sandwiches.

 

British Restaurants - Nationalisation

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A Very Modern Exodus: The New Era Housing Estate Saga

New Era campaign

 

This article was originally published on the In My Shoes blog, and subsequently at Guerilla Policy.

It took Hitler’s Luftwaffe to provoke the last great exodus of people from London. First went the children, evacuated en masse to the care of strangers in the countryside, and then after the war whole families were relocated from the rubble of the Blitz to the post-modern New Towns of Britain’s brave new world.

Fast-forward seventy years, and a new displacement is underway. But in 2014, people are being driven from their homes and communities not by bombs from the air but by the process of gentrification and the callous indifference of London’s housing market.

Today’s high-profile case is that of the New Era housing estate in Hoxton, which houses over 90 families at below-market rate rents. Earlier this year, the estate was bought by American property management company Westbrook Partners, who announced their intention to serve notice to the tenants, refurbish the flats and let them at market prices.

The Guardian contrasts the philanthropic spirit that conceived the New Era estate with the vulture capitalism that now threatens to tear it down:

[The estate was] built by a charitable trust in the 1930s in order to offer working-class residents affordable private rented accommodation. Even when the blocks were sold this spring, residents say they were assured that the old tenets would apply. Within weeks, new owners told them that rents would rise to market values: spiralling from £600 a month for a two-bed flat to something closer to £2,400. That was meant to happen by summer 2016. After [Conservative MP Richard] Benyon’s firm pulled out of the deal last week, residents were told that Westbrook would accelerate the process.

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The New Era Housing Estate Saga, And The Price Of Gentrification

 

Back in August I was on London Live TV alongside politics.co.uk editor Ian Dunt, debating the contentious issue of gentrification, and whether it is something to be welcomed or a shameful exercise in social cleansing. Never one to duck a challenge, I argued in cautious defence of the principle of gentrification and the seemingly interminable dereliction-hipsterisation-bankertown cycle, and said that the benefits of gentrification would outweigh the costs – if only Britain would start building new housing supply at the rate and volume we need.

Three months later and I stand by my argument. But as successive governments have failed to stand by their pledges to tackle the housing crisis, gentrification rightly remains a hot-button issue; we should all be concerned that increasing numbers of people are not just being priced out of their neighbourhoods into slightly cheaper adjacent areas, but are having to contemplate moving half way across the country, far from families and support networks, in order to be able to afford to keep a roof over their heads.

This blog has always been an enthusiastic proponent of free markets and maximal personal freedom, and will continue to fight that corner. But when housing supply is artificially restricted through NIMBYism, political cowardice and simple bureaucratic ineptitude, interventions in the market become not only plausible but even desirable. Since the government is in effect already picking winners – choosing to bless existing homeowners with rapidly increasing house prices at the expense of those trying to get on the property ladder or live anywhere in the south east of England – any possible reticence about siding firmly with the underprivileged, the vulnerable and the low paid goes out the window.

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TV Debate – Is Gentrification Good For London, Or Social Cleansing In Disguise?

gentrification

 

Today, I will be back on the Headline London panel on London Live TV, debating whether gentrification is a good thing for London or an insidious form of social cleansing.

My overall take is that gentrification and the urban renewal it brings are a positive phenomenon, leading to the revitalisation of communities, the opening of new businesses and amenities, and increased economic growth for the neighbourhoods concerned. We do, though, have to consciously work to mitigate the negative side effects.

At present, we have a cycle that goes something like this:

1. Area is identified as relatively poor and un-redeveloped

2. Neighbourhood becomes attractive to creative types and young families

3. Hipsterisation and gentification begin

4. Improvements lead to rent and house price increases

5. Wealthier people arrive, displacing hipsters and original residents

6. Neighbourhood’s prosperity causes the cycle to begin again in adjoining areas

We need to do more to arrest the cycle at the point after young creative types and families move into an area and begin the process of gentrification, but before the inevitable rent/price hikes force all of the existing residents out. And you can’t do this without looking at the broader question of nationwide housing supply, where none of the main political parties have anything meaningful to say. For the Tories, it is not in their interests to allow a big increase in the housing stock, because the stagnation/fall in house prices would hurt their core voters. And Labour barely believe in home ownership at all, and only seem interested in building new social housing in furtherance of their goal to make us all clients of the state.

Achieving a balance means compromise and accepting that the pricing out of some long-term residents is the inevitable cost of urban redevelopment, but tempering this harsh truth with innovative solutions of keeping neighbourhoods viable for lower-income people. This means we have to be less squeamish about things like “poor doors” in new buildings, where some facilities are reserved for full price paying homebuyers.

Finally, we need to understand that short of buying your own property, no one has the inherent “right” to live in a certain area, especially if taxpayers end up subsidising them to do so. We already have a progressive tax system in London where wealthier citizens contribute more. Yes, it is in everyone’s interest that neighbourhoods are mixed, but Londoners can only be expected to pay so much to ensure that this happens.

I will be on London Live TV’s Headline London show today, from 1230-1330 UK Time, participating in a panel discussion in which we will debate this topic.

You can watch on Sky 117, Virgin 159 or Freeview 8 from 1230 onwards.

You can also watch online here.