What causes Gentrification?
‘Gentrification’ was a word coined by Ruth Glass, a sociologist, in the 1960s, to describe the process by which middle class people moved in to run down areas and renovated houses. It resulted in piecemeal displacement; the process took on new forms and accelerated during the ‘yuppie’ era in the 1980’s when financial professionals powered a boom in apartments. Many people think the word is outdated, as it doesn’t do justice to the huge scale of change in cities world wide. Instead, the process has been called ‘social cleansing’, ‘domicide’,or as Niles Hailstones from Grenfell puts it, ‘regeneration equals degeneration’. It’s also referred to as ‘managed decline’. Some campaigners call it the ‘Paris Model’ whereby people whose status is in question are outlawed to the suburbs. The modern process as we’re probably all aware is driven by rich investors and developers working hand in hand with local authorities to demolish social and council housing wholesale and build luxury apartments and infrastructure that serves affluent people, often through agreements known as ‘development vehicles’.
How does this happen?
People on lower incomes are being driven out of their historic communities by a deliberate process whereby cities are being restructured to serve the interests of a small elite. The elite make money in (at least) three ways:
– through profits from building the developments
– through profits from increased rents and sales
– through profits in property speculation, whereby apartments are ‘banked’ – and kept empty while property prices rise
– there has been a 513% increase in house prices since the 1970’s. If the price of food had increased this much, a chicken would now cost £100
– the five biggest house builders made 480% profits between 2012 and 2017
– land is unusually expensive in the UK compared to Europe
The people who move in are not the main beneficiaries of the process, they are simply more profitable ‘units’ than the existing population.
Who is affected?
– working class communities of all kinds, both settled and migrant
– the process embodies racialised and colonialised conceptions of space
– space is ‘colonialised’ in that poor areas are portrayed as problematic, and the status of those who live in them is rendered questionable, in need of ‘putting right’
– in the ‘racialised’ space, policing treats all people as suspects instead of addressing their concerns about social issues
– every street becomes a border in that people with questionable status are policed every time they attempt to access public services. Landlords and employers, social workers etc are required to check immigration status. Because of this many Grenfell survivors could not access the woefully inadequate help offered by Royal Kensington BC
– the process is regarded as ‘administrative violence’ – and of course culminates often in actual violence, most obviously at Grenfell
– “most children who live above the fourth floor of tower blocks in England are Black or Asian” – research quoted in ‘After Grenfell – Violence, Resistance, and Response’.
– Tower Hamlets is no longer amongst the poorest boroughs of the country, but only because sufficient poor people have been deported
this process of internal displacement or deportation creates a ‘domino’ effect, for example with people being driven out of TH settling in outer North London, forcing some people from that area to move to Luton, forcing some people in Luton to be relocated to Milton Keynes…
The process is driven from several different directions:
Driving out the existing population by:
– reducing the supply of low cost housing, mainly through the ‘right to buy’, introduced by Margaret Thatcher, which may soon be extended to Housing Association tenants. 2 million homes have been lost to the public rented sector this way.
– ‘Buy to let’ has caused rents to rise hugely.
– making it illegal for councils to use the proceeds of sales of council houses to build more council houses
– capping Housing Allowance (formerly known as Housing Benefit) so that tenants can’t afford the rent (there is of course no control of rent levels, these are left to the ‘market’, which is inflated by the prospect of development, or by neighbouring development)
– enforcing the Bedroom Tax
– undermining local amenities – surgeries, playgrounds, youth centres, libraries, schools, community centres, open spaces…..
– failing to maintain council/social property so that it becomes uninhabitable (‘managed decline’)
– failing to police the area in a way that safeguards the local population rather than treating them all as potential suspects
Creating narratives of ‘regeneration’ by:
– allowing areas to decline then proclaiming the benefits of schemes designed to regenerate them through ‘development vehicles’
– promising to include ‘affordable housing’ in any development (this only has to be at the rate of 80% of the market rent, so isn’t really affordable by anyone living in the area before the regeneration). Moreover, even where a council finds its conscience and insists on this, the developer is allowed to negotiate about the amount, location, and design (a ‘financial viability assessment), such that there is little available, it is stigmatised by the use of ‘poor doors’, and it is not built to the standards of the rest of a development.
– an ideological obsession with the so called benefits of the private sector, in which developers are always presented as having the best interests of the community at their heart
Central government has fixed the planning process by:
– emphasising the development role, whilst reducing democratic oversight and regulation under the fig leaf of abolishing ‘red tape’
– in 2004, introducing the idea of ‘spatial frameworks’ which are used to justify the large scale of the schemes, that incorporate ‘planning gain’ in the form of supposed amenities (which may actually be upscale retail developments or cafe bars)
– a legal presumption in favour of the developer, which means they can continually appeal if a council blocks their proposal, while councils and objectors have no such right. It also means that if a councillor stands up to a council officer, by arguing on a planning committee against that official’s advice, they are liable to be ‘surcharged’, i.e. they will be personally liable for the council’s costs if the developer continues to appeal
– excluding the voices of local people through the complexity of the planning process, and by insisting that objectors have to have one person or body speaking for all of them
– Housing and Planning Act 2016 removed tenancies for life, and gives automatic planning permission for ‘brownfield’ sites
What is a ‘Development Vehicle’?
– a large scale plan for a whole area, whereby investors, property developers, and local authorities attempt to rebuild entire districts
examples include the Elephant and Castle development in Southwark, and the International Quarter in the Olympic Site, both being implemented by the Australian transnational Lendlease.
– Commonly, demolished housing is not replaced on a like for like basis, in one case 1200 council houses being replaced by 600 luxury flats
– not only councils but bodies such as Transport for London are involved, as these organisations have huge land assets.
– there is an annual gathering called the ‘London Real Estate Forum’, this year meeting on the 12th and 13th June in Berkley Square, Mayfair. This group, which lots of local authorities attend, broker the relationships by which these vehicles prosper.
– there is a ‘revolving door’ between council officers, housing association CEOs, property companies, investors and so on
Where does the money for investment come from?
– after the 2008 crash, the Coalition Government argued that it was necessary to make it easier for banks to lend money, as one result of the crash was they became far more reluctant to do this.
– before the crash, the government had raised money by selling what are known as ‘Bonds’ (also ‘Gilts’) to anyone with the money to buy them. These are basically an agreement to pay the buyer their money back, with interest, after a certain period of time. They are usually a safe investment when backed by governments.
– to help the banks become ‘liquid’ again (ie able to lend) the government bought back bonds with public money. This is known as Quantitive Easing. By 2016, £435 billion had been put into the banking system in this way.
this money has to go somewhere! Because it’s in corporate hands, the safest investment is property (see above), which has the highest rate of return of any investment at present. So the banks lend to investors who have the clout to borrow large sums for huge returns, which inevitably are large transnationals with property holdings, and ‘private equity’ companies who hold the money of rich individual investors (one example is the Carlyle Group, currently worth $45billion, of which former PM John Major was chair)
– it also attracts large amounts of money laundering, especially by Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs
– is not only possible, but happens globally all the time
a local people’s coalition defeated the so called Haringey Development Vehicle (our friends Lendlease again). The then leader of the council went to work for a property developer!
– in the US, resistance to social cleansing is very advanced, with groups such as the Right To The City forcing City councils to implement ‘anti-displacement policies’ (see links)
– local people can band together and buy land using something called a ‘Community Land Trust’ whereby a local amenity can be protected and democratically controlled
– many architects would prefer to work democratically, in the best traditions of what used to be a radical profession – for example, Architects For Social Housing
Resources and Links
Gentrification and Class Struggles in Barcelona, Spain: Interview with Etcétera Collective
‘Anti-displacement plans’ – could we not get Mayor Khan to enact one?
Failed By The State
Cracks In The System
Books and academic stuff:
Prof Loretta Lees (writes about ‘Planetary Gentrification’ and collaborates with majority world academics)
Anna Minton, journalist who writes about the control of spaces in cities and about housing as investment not a basic right
After Grenfell book – have bought it, happy to lend:
Saskia Sassen, academic, writes about what drives the global move to ‘expulsion’ of poor people – have her book as PDF if anyone wants a look
Tower Hamlets documents:
Interesting newspaper articles:
Is this the UK’s most gentrified street?
and some developer bodies:
(includes Cape Town, doesn’t mention that they’re running out of water)
London Real Estate Forum
Regal – Shoreditch Developers