The politics of housing

By Tom

21 November 2012

Over the course of the next couple of weeks, NLP will be running a series of articles on the politics of housing.

Housing and property impacts on us all.  It is a key point of interaction with the political and economic system and a site in which social inequalities and injustices are starkly revealed and broader political struggles are played out.

From the rural enclosures and urbanisation that accompanied the birth of capitalism, to the development of mass working class housing in the post-war era, and the subsequent privatisation of public housing that was so central to neoliberalism, housing has played a major role in the history of political struggle.  And it was in the ‘subprime’ housing market that the economic crisis in which we now find ourselves was first revealed.

Even before the onset of the financial crisis, housing in the UK had become unaffordable for many—and conditions since then have only worsened.  Though ‘the market’ has failed to provide affordable, decent homes, not only do politicians show little interest in addressing this problem, we now face an attack on public housing by a right-wing government determined to expand and accelerate the commodification of housing.  This is therefore a timely issue for discussion, debate and most importantly political action.

Contributors to the series, both activists and academics, will discuss the history, economics and politics of housing, detailing some of the current activism in the UK around the right to housing and exploring the possibilities for larger and more effective political mobilisation. We kick off today with a piece by Sarah Glynn in which she reveals the wasteful neoliberal logic at the heart of Scotland’s apparently more progressive housing policies.


Update: in the second piece in the series, Kean Birch describes how increased home ownership has contributed to rising inequality.

Second Update: You can now view all the articles in this series here.

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3 Comments on "The politics of housing"

By Leslie Hammond, on 25 November 2012 - 16:22 |

If home “Ownership” is increasing according to Kean Birch then I must be missing something. Does he mean homes owned by someone other than the occupant ie. rented, precarious, unaffordable homes, because housing in the u.k. is getting to be mostly like this.
I think that people buying houses to rent out are a large but not fundamental part of the present difficulties. 



By Kean, on 03 December 2012 - 17:36 |

Home ownership refers to owner-occupier rates. In these terms, about 70% of households in places like the UK, US and Canada are owner-occupiers, or were until the global financial crisis. This can be very different in some locations, especially large and expensive cities like London where owner-occupation is about 50% (if my memory recalls, which it doesn’t always).

By Leslie Hammond, on 03 December 2012 - 22:24 |


I live in a populous, formerly industrial area, north/west England. My mortgage is payed off, much to my benefit, however ALL of the young people I know live in rented houses. The ones in social housing have some security of tenure, the ones who pay private rent are on short contracts mostly paying through (merciless) letting agencies, they have no security whatsoever. Some of these young people would have been on the street if I had not taken them in as lodgers at one time or another.

I do not feel complicit in the housing bubble/ financial collapse just for having borrowed money and bought a house, I just feel lucky having had the opportunity to do so.

Surely a big part of the problem in the U.S.A. and elsewhere was that workers took out a mortgage and then lost there jobs, victims of either the recession or of the export of manufacturing to cheap labour zones.

I am left to suppose that those who held capital could find no profitable or safe way to invest in productive enterprises and therefore just lent it out recklessly, they must have known which way the economy was heading long before most of Americas home buyers did.

Best Wishes

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