Notes on London’s housing crisis

By Allison Smith
8 December 2015

Homelessness in London up by 10 percent

A report on homelessness in England released by the Department for Communities and Local Government reveals that between April 1 and June 30, 2014, compared to the same period in 2015, homelessness increased up by 5 percent across England, while in London homelessness went up by 10 percent. Over the same period, London’s homeless accounted for nearly one third of all homeless households in England, with nearly 100,000 children classified as “statutorily homeless”.

The number of residents living in temporary housing as of June 30, 2015 was up 12 percent in London and 13 percent across England, compared to the same time in 2014. Nearly three-quarters of those living in temporary housing were in London.

Crisis homeless charity CEO Jon Sparkes said, “This is totally unacceptable and reflects the desperate state of our private rented sector, along with cuts to housing benefit and a woeful lack of affordable housing. Thousands of people across the country are struggling to keep a roof over their heads in a housing market that is no longer fit for purpose, while cuts to housing benefit and homelessness services have left the safety net in tatters.”

Camden Council sells homeless hostel to luxury home developer

Last month, Labour Party-run Camden Council in north London announced it had sold the England’s Lane hostel in Belsize Park to a private developer for £42 million. The 165 flats on the estate are currently being used as emergency temporary housing for homeless residents. The council’s lease on the property ends in 2024, and it is expected that council residents will be decanted to make way for a conversion to luxury homes.

The council said it sold the flats because the borough has less of a need for council estates than neighbouring boroughs and claimed they could not predict what housing needs will be in 2024. Hans-Peter Hesse, country manager for Akelius UK, said, “England’s Lane is the largest single property we have purchased in London. We plan to continue cherrypicking suitable properties in 2016.”

Emergency housing crisis in Tower Hamlets

Budget cuts and a lack of affordable housing in Tower Hamlets has led to a doubling of the number of homeless families being housed in bed and breakfast accommodations across the east London borough. The Shelter charity policy officer Kevin Garvey commented, “It’s clear that deeper cuts to local councils and welfare will only add more fuel to the fire of this growing crisis.” Tower Hamlets has the worst child poverty rates in London and is the second most deprived borough in London.

“Victorian times” slums discovered in east London raids

Labour Party-dominated Newham borough council in east London has been conducting raids on hundreds of private landlords’ premises. On November 18 the council’s private housing enforcement team raided a number of premises, discovering severe overcrowding, bedbugs and people living in rooms without windows.

Since 2013, the council has prosecuted more than 500 landlords and cautioned more than 300 for gross violations of the local authority’s rental accommodation licensing scheme. It has banned 26 landlords from operating in the borough.

Russell Moffatt, Newham Council’s operations manager of private housing enforcement, remarked, “We are regularly finding 20-plus individuals in grimy, pest-infested slums meant for five or so people. We’re talking individuals, but often families with babies, newborns. It’s like Victorian times.” While they ban a few landlords, the raids have revealed that under Labour’s rule the emergence of Victorian-type slums, with all the associated vices, is endemic.

London shantytowns broken up

In early October, an encampment of immigrant workers returned for the third time under a highway bridge in Edmonton, north London. The camp first appeared in August. As soon as it was cleared by the authorities, a new encampment appeared.

All over London such shantytowns are springing up. The only reason they do not become enormous, revealing the true scale of the problem, is police and local authority dispersal techniques. Also this month, a shantytown was discovered in Lee Park Way canal in the north London Borough of Enfield. The migrants had constructed dwellings from scraps of wood, metal and fallen trees.

The authorities are treating the immigrants as criminals. The police who have visited the encampment issued anti-social orders in preparation for dispersing it.

A Transport for London spokesman said, “We are taking the relevant legal action to remove them from the site, and are working with the local authority as well as the emergency services to agree measures to prevent their return to the site.”

One migrant interviewed by the Evening Standard explained, “We came here for jobs but we don’t often find work. I came here four months ago to send money home to my family in Romania. We aren’t a problem. These guys are not dangerous. We need to sleep somewhere. It’s difficult living here, there is no electricity and nowhere to wash but the canal. People come here just for five hours’ sleep before going off to find work again.”

Evictions a major cause of homelessness

A December 2014 report on statutory homelessness by the Department for Communities and Local Government suggests that evictions are the cause of homelessness in as many as four in ten instances in London—much higher than the rest of Britain. The phenomenon of revenge evictions, a practice where landlords kick out tenants that report inadequate living conditions, is increasing. Fourteen percent of families renting in London were hit with revenge evictions in 2013/2014. A law outlawing the practice is seen by private landlords as a minor inconvenience as they have numerous other mechanisms to evict tenants who complain.

Rough sleeping on the increase in London

According to the CHAIN database, managed by London charity St. Mungo’s Broadway, 2,343 people were reported sleeping rough on any one night between January and March of this year. Westminster Borough is reported to have the highest number of rough sleepers, 636, up 17 percent from the same period in 2014. Camden had the second highest number at 169, up 26 percent from the same period in 2014.

The Homeless Link charity reports that rough sleeping in London increased by 79 percent between 2010 and 2014. Again Westminster reported the highest rate of 89 percent for that period. According to the Streets of London charity, “hidden homelessness” is rampant in the capital and affects 400,000 people in the UK at any given time. The vast majority of homeless people exist out of sight in hostels, temporary accommodation such as B&B’s, “sofa surfing” between friends and families’ houses, squatting, and living in conditions of severe overcrowding.

Adam Smith Institute blogger says “slums” can resolve housing crisis

Adam Smith Institute online blog author Theo Clifford, a student at Oxford University’s Merton College, has suggested in a post that there is “a sore lack of slums” in Britain.

Clifford wrote, “The market desperately wants to provide houses people can live in at prices they can afford—but in the eyes of local authorities these houses are too small, or too tall, or the ceilings are too low, or the windows not energy efficient enough. Sweeping deregulation is the only way to provide Britain with the slums it is crying out for.”

Sam Bowman, deputy director of the right-wing institute, said, “The word slum is quite emotive. But it is what people would call these dwellings if they were allowed. Theo is asking people to think past what the word slum means to us and ask if our minimum building standards are too restrictive.”

London’s richest complain about size of London properties

London is home to the most billionaires of any major city in the world. While the vast majority of Londoners struggle to afford staggering rents and home prices, the capital’s wealthy elite are complaining that the city’s homes are too small.

According to Beauchamp Estates’ 2015 Ultra Prime Barometer study about billionaires and their property habits, London’s ultra-wealthy residents are purchasing multiple adjacent properties to create palaces worthy of their financial status.

Gary Hersham of Beauchamp said, “London commentators often forget that in Russia, the Ukraine and Middle East the homes of the super-rich are massive compared to traditional London homes. Palatial properties in places like Ukraine, Qatar and Saudi Arabia can be up to 150,000 sq/ft in size, so an 8,000 sq/ft London townhouse is like a broom cupboard when compared to super-rich palaces elsewhere on the globe.”

Witanhurst Georgian Revival mansion in Highgate Northwest London—rumoured to be owned by a Russian billionaire—is currently undergoing massive renovations that will make it the second largest residence in London, after Buckingham Palace. It will be worth an estimated £300 million upon completion.

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