This text was commissioned from ASH by the Guardian’s Housing Network, which subsequently refused to publish it. This is the second time an ASH piece has been commissioned and refused by the Guardian, which since Katharine Viner took over as editor in March 2015 has moved further and further to the political right, and whose articles on housing have increasingly resembled press releases for the councils, mayors, housing associations, property developers, builders, real estate firms and architectural practices feeding at the housing table – so we weren’t surprised. The last two years have shown ASH that there is nothing the mainstream press would publish that we would consider writing, and nothing we would write that they would consider publishing. Here is the text as rejected.
- There is no housing crisis, if by crisis we mean something out of control. The shortage of housing and the corresponding boom in UK house prices and rents has been carefully prepared and legislated for by those who have the most to gain from it. Far from being out of control, the so-called ‘housing crisis’ is well in hand.
- The housing shortage is a crisis not of supply but of affordability, with 56 per cent of UK homes failing to meet this criterion in Shelter’s new Living Home Standard. Rather than satisfying housing demand, building more unaffordable properties for home ownership and capital investment will only push house and rental prices up.
- Far from there being a lack of land to build on, the top nine UK building companies are sitting on land with planning permission to build over half a million homes in England. The less land available for development the higher the price of the properties built on it and the greater the profits of the builders, with the top four companies recording pre-tax profits of over £2.76 billion last year.
- There is no causal relationship between the architecture of post-war estates and anti-social behaviour, drug dealing, crime or rioting, as both central government and local authorities claim as justification for their demolition and redevelopment. Crime rates on council estates are consistently lower than in the surrounding area. Housing poverty, cuts to benefits, lack of maintenance, closure of amenities and stereotypes propagated by our press and media are the cause of social problems on estates – not architecture.
- Affordable housing is unaffordable to the estate residents whose homes for social rent are being demolished to build it. Constituting up to 50 per cent of new developments, affordable housing now encompasses properties for 25 per cent shared ownership, London Living rent at a third of the borough’s average household income, and sale or rent at up to 80 per cent of market rate. Redeveloped with twice the housing density, demolished council estates are being replaced with properties that in Inner London are selling for around £700,000 for a 2-bedroom home.
- Far from being subsidised by the state, the rents on most post-war estates paid off the cost of their construction and debt interest years ago, and are in fact making a profit for councils and housing associations. It is the Right to Buy council homes, the Help to Buy affordable housing, the housing benefit paid to private landlords, the government and GLA grants to build affordable housing, the local authority funding for estate redevelopment, and the transfer of public land into private ownership that is being subsidised by public money – not council estates.
- Far from being high quality, new developments are increasingly of significantly poorer quality than the estates demolished to make way for them. And rather than improving their living standards, studies show that estate redevelopment consistently has a negative effect on the mental, physical and economic well being of residents, with housing costs increased and communities socially cleansed in the name of ‘regeneration’.
- Far from being financially unviable, the refurbishment of estates has repeatedly been demonstrated to cost a fraction of their redevelopment, with none of the damage to the environment caused by their demolition.
- Estates do not have to be demolished to increase their housing capacity. Through our design alternatives for infill and roof extensions, Architects for Social Housing has shown that we can increase their housing capacity by up to 45 per cent without demolishing a single existing home, while generating the funds from the rent or sale of new builds to pay for the neglected refurbishment of the estate.
- Far from being a solution to the housing crisis, estate demolition is producing that crisis.
Architects for Social Housing