Of Course Brexit Will Not Solve The Housing Crisis

Housing Crisis - Brexit

Build. More. Houses.

Rosamund Urwin has a rather strange and unnecessary piece in the Evening Standard warning us that Brexit will not miraculously solve the housing crisis:

Brexit may well enable a fast-moving few to buy, but I doubt it can offer a solution for the majority of those who want to escape renting. It’s like letting crows snack on a carcass; the rest of the aviary will still need feeding later too.

Although it may make the average home cheaper, Brexit is also expected to deplete the number of homes (including the “affordable” variety) being built. There’s a shortage of land earmarked for residential construction in London, partly because developers keep most of their vast landbanks as empty plots, rather than putting homes on them. Given the uncertainty Brexit has unleashed, developers are more likely now to delay or mothball schemes. That will exacerbate the shortage of housing stock long-term.

To top that off, building will soon incur bigger bills. The cost of imported materials has risen with the sliding pound and labour costs would increase without EU workers.

I don’t know a single person with a functioning brain who thought for a moment that Brexit would solve the housing crisis.

The only thing which will ever solve the housing crisis – bar a lethal smallpox pandemic that wipes out half of the population – is the one thing that successive cowardly, pathetic governments have not done: Build more houses.

But this government is committed to building a million new homes by 2020“, whines David Cameron in protest. Does he want a medal? Net migration is running at upwards of 300,000 per annum. Even the government’s most sunny estimate of future housebuilding means less accommodation per capita in 2020 than there is today. Every month of this dithering, prevaricating (and now leaderless) Coke Zero Conservative government is a month when demand for housing further outstrips supply.

If you were captain of a sinking ship, taking on hundreds of gallons of water a minute, you should not expect to be hailed as a hero for filling your coffee mug with seawater and flinging it overboard instead of plugging the massive hole in the ship’s hull. It is a worthless gesture which makes almost zero difference – much like the government’s furious pretence that building more council houses and cooking up various “help to buy” schemes is a fitting response to a festering national crisis.

It’s all quite deliberate, of course. To actually build the number and type of new homes that Britain needs – in the cities, and upwards not outwards – would cause house prices first to stagnate and then to fall. And since houses in Britain are now revered more as an investment vehicle than somewhere to put the flat screen TV and shelter from the elements, we are now blessed with a generation of politicians more than happy to waffle on about the housing crisis but loathe to do anything to tackle it.

Dishonest, NIMBYish politicians are what stands in the way of resolving the housing crisis and putting the dream of home ownership back within reach of millions of hard-pressed middle class Britons. Brexit makes little difference either way.

Unlike education or healthcare, the solution to the housing crisis is actually as simple as it looks. But we continue to tolerate politicians who almost take pride in conspicuously doing nothing about it.


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Top Image: Telegraph

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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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