Magazine 50-51: Housing Crisis?

This double issue of the Corporate Watch Magazine is about housing: a story of escalating privatisation and corporate gains at the expense of hard won rights for social housing; a story the intricacies of which are largely unknown. The title has a question mark after 'crisis' because, even though it's a crisis for most people, for housing corporations it's a time for profit-making, as this Magazine issue will hopefully show.

Corporate Watch has been recently expanding its work on privatisation, covering the NHS, education and other 'public' services. This Magazine issue on housing is part of this work, as housing is one of the main areas under attack from the ConDem government, but is also an area that can be confusing to anyone wanting to get to grips with it and take action around. Action is key at a time when the coalition government is trying to implement a new version of Thatcher's 'right to buy' and when its housing strategy, announced on 21st November, Laying the Foundations: A Housing Strategy for England[1], aims to further benefit corporations at the expense of the right to secure housing. This issue aims to clarify some of the murky institutions that are central to the government's agenda, such as ALMOs, housing associations and think-tanks, as well as companies that have been profiting from the privatisation of social housing since the late 1970s. We hope the issue will contribute to successful resistance to the current attacks on housing, but we realise that more research is needed on the corporations and related institutions.

Stuart Hodkinson, a housing lecturer from Leeds University, has worked with us on this Magazine issue and written the introductory article, The Neoliberal Project, Privatisation and the Housing Crisis, on the current housing crisis and its roots in the neoliberal assault on social housing in the 1970s. The article gives a useful background to the current situation and traces the development from social housing to the increasingly corporate-controlled housing sector that we see today. Included within his article are examples of institutions and mechanisms, such as PFI, that give more detail of the complexity of the housing sector today. Beth Lawrence’s article, Housing Associations: Privatisation Via Not-For-Profits, follows on from this by explaining the role that housing associations play in the transfer of council housing into private hands. Stuart also produced the centre-spread, The Return of Class War Conservatism: the Realities of Housing in the ‘Big Society’, which depicts developments in the coalition government's housing policies and their implications. One of the most significant areas mentioned are the reforms to housing benefit, which Stuart and the London Coalition Against Poverty (LCAP) explore in more detail in their article titled Housing Benefit Cuts: Educate, Agitate, Organise!. They argue that the cuts will re-draw the population map of Britain, with some of the worst patterns of social and spatial segregation Britain has ever known.

In the feature article, Housing Profiteers and their Facilitators, members of Corporate Watch explore property developers and groups facilitating the profiteers – law firms, think-tanks, lobbyists and so on. The article also includes some company profiles, including one on Grainger, the UK's largest residential landlord, contributed by Wards Corner Community Coalition. In another article, Homelessness: Who profits from destitution?, Tom Anderson explores who profits from temporary hostel accommodation and homelessness in Brighton and Hove. In Anti-Squat Security Companies: Protection by Occupation?, a squatter from the Advisory Service for Squatters (ASS) reports on companies profiting from empty buildings, whilst simultaneously 'protecting' those buildings from squatters. This amounts to making squatting, which is probably one of the few autonomous solutions to housing (which at the time of writing is still not a criminal offence), even more difficult and will eventually lead to less collective solutions and more individualised, corporate-controlled 'solutions', whilst making nice profits for the companies. In their article The Criminalisation of Squatting, members of Squatters Action for Secure Homes (SQUASH) and ASS outline the current criminalisation of squatting and what this means for the future of housing.

In contrast to most of the other articles in the issue, which talk about the problems, Tom Anderson and Beth Lawrence outline some housing alternatives in Housing Co-ops & Case Study: Phoenix Co-op. They give some case studies of different models of housing cooperatives, with some allowing more easily for autonomy, whilst others can become co-opted into the privatised housing association model. But it's not all doom and gloom! Throughout the issue, we've included examples of resistance to show the wide range of successes that campaign groups involved in housing activism have had over the years at resisting corporate take-overs of housing, the criminalisation of squatting and so on. Look out for boxes on LCAP, ASS, and Defend Council Housing. The Campaign Spotlight of this issue, written by Hannah Schling, focuses on SQUASH, a campaign that has been thriving as the issue was being produced, and emphasises that squatters have played a significant role in the fight for social housing in the past.

Finally, this issue of the Corporate Watch Magazine has been a collaborative work with people from housing action groups, as well as others interested in the topic (see credits). We would like to thank all those who helped and contributed. We haven't been able to cover all aspects of housing but we hope this is a useful overview of some pressing issues of our times.

Price: £1.00