How will we live after Corona?

Originally published as a column for Inside Housing on May 4.

How will Coronavirus change how we live and work – and how will that change housing?

In one sense these are impossible questions to answer since so much depends on how quickly we find a vaccine or an effective treatment for Covid-19 and how deep the recession will become.

Find either quickly and politics and the economy could soon return to something close to what we knew before February. After all, it seemed obvious that nobody would want to live or work in tall buildings after September 2001 and that house prices would fall after 2008.

If the search takes longer, if there is a second or third wave, if another Coronavirus hits us, the effects could be far more profound as social distancing and self-isolation change how we think about how we should live.

But in between those two scenarios many of the effects of the crisis will linger and a series of more marginal changes may add up to something bigger.

After months in which our homes have become the centre of our lives, not just places to eat and sleep but places to work and stay safe, the effects on housing could be just as profound.

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Squaring the circle of regeneration

Originally posted on my blog for Inside Housing on October 22.

When England’s most high-profile local authority calls the behaviour of the country’s largest housing association ‘morally wrong’ you sit up and take notice.

Clashes between the local priorities of a council and the organisational ones of an association are nothing new of course but this week’s statement by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) seems different.

Clarion is in its sights over rejected proposals for the regeneration of the Sutton Estate in Chelsea.

Council leader Kim Taylor-Smith told a council meeting last week:

‘HAs in the borough are, in some cases turning away from their core purpose and in some cases becoming all but private developers.

‘You will all know I am talking about Clarion Housing, the owners of my local and cherished Sutton Estate which they wish to knock down the estate with a loss of affordable homes We stand shoulder to shoulder with local residents in opposing this

‘I think we all in the chamber are untied. This is wrong.’

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To ballot or not to ballot

Originally posted at Inside Housing on February 7.

Tenants get a vote if their landlord wants to transfer the ownership of their homes, so why not when their homes are going to be knocked down around them?

I’ve long believed that tenant ballots should be compulsory under major regeneration proposals even though the idea is not as simple as some people make out and is not going to fix current problems on its own.

Why? London mayor Sadiq Khan says he will require ballots on proposals where demolition is involved and which have Greater London Authority funding.

He has changed his mind since draft guidance last year argued that surveys and meetings should be held as proposals evolve ‘so that a “real time” assessment of the acceptability of what is being proposed is enabled’.

The draft said ballots and votes ‘can risk turning a complex set of issues that affects different people at different ways over many years into a simple “yes/no” decision at a single point in time’.

After a unanimous vote in favour of ballots by the London Assembly, the final version says that: ‘I want the good practice and principles in this guide to be applied on all estate regeneration schemes across London. Where demolition is involved, I intend to use my planning powers, and a new requirement for resident ballots where my funding is involved, to help ensure this is the case.’

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Film review: Dispossession

Originally posted as a column for Inside Housing on August 10.

Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle is an important film that arrives at an even more important moment for social housing.

Even before the Grenfell Tower fire it would have posed vital questions about the speed at which we are running down the stock of social rented homes. In the wake of that awful night in June they have become existential ones about the way we house our poorest communities.

The documentary by Paul Sng tells the story of what’s happened to social housing since the introduction of the Right to Buy turned expansion into decline in the late 20th century and especially since regeneration of existing estates became a contentious issue in the early 21st century.

I finally caught up with it this week but there are plenty more screenings in cinemas and other venues around Britain over the next few months.

Narrated by Maxine Peake, it’s a story that will not be new to people who know housing but may well be to a more general audience

It’s about how we got from the Bevan and Macmillan building booms via the Thatcher property owning democracy and Tony Blair’s ‘no forgotten people’ speech on the Aylesbury estate to the demolition and diaspora of the Heygate.

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Estate regeneration: trust and money

Originally published on January 11 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

It will take huge amounts of commitment, trust and money to deliver David Cameron’s vision of estate regeneration.

There is commitment but sadly only to the most simplistic of world views: lots of poor people live on council estates; therefore council estates must cause poverty. Never mind that much better funded area-based initiatives under Tony Blair largely failed. Never mind that poverty and even worse deprivation were concentrated in many of the same areas before the estates were built (just check the Booth poverty maps of London). The ‘so-called sink estates’ will be radically transformed or knocked down.

Trust is in such short supply after a series of controversial regenerations of estates in London (and we are mainly talking about London) that promises need to come from the very top to restore good faith. That applies both to the prime minister and to the Conservative candidate for London mayor Zac Goldsmith.

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Village vision

Inner city council estates were once the solution to the housing crisis, then the problem. Now they could be the solution again. But for who?

There is arguably no more controversial issue in housing than the regeneration of existing social housing estates, especially in London. Schemes in boroughs right across the capital have hit the headlines, mostly for the wrong reasons.

In a report this week, the Labour peer Lord Adonis and the think tank IPPR presents a vision for what they call ‘city villages’. The scope is broad, with town centres, private renting and the great private estates of central London discussed alongside some opposing views about new towns. However, the focus is overwhelmingly on the densification of existing council estates with mixed tenure development. If anyone attending the launch needed any reminding that this is controversial territory, tenants from the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates in Hammersmith & Fulham were protesting outside.

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Flagship sunk

While UKIP has taken all the election headlines, in housing terms it’s hard to look beyond the Conservative defeat in the party’s flagship council of Hammersmith & Fulham.

The West London borough dubbed ‘David Cameron’s favourite council’ and has pursued a radical strategy of cutting the council tax and cutting spending since it won power in 2006.

But it is of course also the birthplace of what I’ve come to think of as the third Conservative housing revolution. If the first was the right to buy and the second private finance for housing associations and deregulation of private renting, the third is about changing the nature of social housing completely.

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