For a Socialist Model of Housing Provision
1. All new housing must be social housing
Every time a new residential development applies for planning permission in London there’s a debate about whether 15 per cent, or 30 per cent, or 45 per cent is an acceptable or sufficient share of so-called ‘affordable housing’ — without asking what exactly composes that share. And the debate always falls back on the claim that, as a city, a state, a nation with the fifth-largest Gross Domestic Product in the world, we can’t afford to build homes for social rent. Economically, this is meaningless. In the UK after the Second World War, when our national debt was 245 per cent of GDP, we initiated a programme of council housing that built 4.355 million council homes in England and Wales between 1945 and 1980. That’s an average of 121,000 new homes per year, all of them for council rent. These homes weren’t ‘subsidised’ by the state, as we are told nowadays: the state invested in them. So how did the UK of 1945-79 afford to do what we supposedly can’t afford today, when our GDP, adjusted for inflation, is more than 4.6 times what it was in 1955 when records began?
- First, local authorities with in-house architectural departments employed building contractors directly, and in doing so cut out the hugely exaggerated profits property developers take from housing today.
- Second, the return the state received on its investment was not measured as a quick profit shared with private companies but long-term, with the revenue from what’s left of our council housing continuing to make a profit for local authorities today.
- Third, the calculation of that return was not purely financial but economic, in the proper sense of the term: meaning it included the social return that took millions of UK citizens out of the housing poverty, unsanitary living conditions, exploitation by slum landlords, housing precarity and widespread homelessness and rough sleeping that has returned today.
All these measures, together with ASH’s housing policies outlined below, and the government investment required to fund them must be reimplemented today, so that public funding is invested in meeting housing need, not subsidising developer and investor profits from market-sale properties and unaffordable housing.
2. All land must be socialised
By socialised we don’t mean just nationalised, which means owned and run by the state, but run for the benefit and needs of society. There are plenty of examples across the world of state ownership of land and infrastructure that are anything but run for the benefit of its citizens — China’s state capitalism being the prime example today. Ownership by the nation is not enough. Socialisation prescribes how the land is used — beginning, in the UK, where two-thirds of the land is owned by just 0.36 per cent of the population, with its radical redistribution.
3. Housing must be invested in by the government sufficient to meet housing need
As it should in all essential infrastructure — such as public transport, water and energy supply, waste disposal, health, education and emergency services — thereby removing new housing provision from the market altogether. This is the basis to the claim — which the UK has yet to include in its legislation — that housing is a human right.
4. Government funding must be reserved exclusively for social housing, and not available for the market-sale housing through which those funds are extracted as profit
By investing in this public infrastructure, UK housing will become a means for the much-needed redistribution of the nation’s wealth, rather than its accumulation in fewer and fewer hands. Under the present system of market provision and government subsidies for private home ownership such as Help to Buy and Right to Buy, so much of our personal wealth is spent on paying our housing costs, every penny of which is making the rich richer, and the rest of us poorer.
5. New housing provision must never be for profit
Developer and investor profit must always be subordinated to the total social, environmental and economic costs of a scheme, rather than — as is standard practice today — the opposite, in which the social, environmental and economic costs of the scheme are subordinated to the profit margins of developer and investors.
6. All new residential developments must prioritise the use-value of its products as homes
In the UK today, housing is developed primarily for its exchange-value as commodities on the property market. We can’t afford, economically, socially or environmentally, to continue to build residential properties that stand empty, in which we cannot afford to live, or which living in forces us into housing poverty and precarity.
7. All new residential developments must be built on a socialist model
A socialist model is one that disrupts the hegemony of capitalism as our economic, political and social orthodoxy. The political sphere is part of the social, environmental and economic totality; and to change our economy we have to change our politics from this capitalist orthodoxy. From the perspective of housing provision, it is not enough to come up with a model that benefits a particular community, whether that’s a housing co-operative, a community land trust, a squat, a shared ownership scheme, private rentals or market-sale properties. Housing provision must be based on a socialist economic model that is available and applicable to all.
ASH Housing Policies: 10-Point Plan
1. Maintenance, refurbishment, re-use, improvement of and addition to existing housing and communal amenities must be the default option for all estate regeneration and new housing schemes. The socially destructive, environmentally unsustainable and economically privatising orthodoxy of demolition and redevelopment must become a thing of the past.
2. When proposing a housing development scheme that requires the demolition of existing housing, the planning authority or landlord and their private investment partners must set aside sufficient funds for a refurbishment and infill option to be developed up to feasibility-study stage. This option must be designed, assessed and costed by a team of architects, engineers and quantity surveyors independent from the team given the project brief for the demolition and redevelopment option.
3. This independent team must be given funds, from the planning authority, landlord and investment partners implementing the scheme and/or the municipal or district authorities, to produce an impact assessment of the social, financial and environmental costs of demolition and redevelopment for existing residents, the local community and the planning authority. The findings of this assessment must be overseen and verified by an independent supervisor, and made available to the public before any ballot is held on regeneration.
4. Enforceable target requirements must be set in local, municipal and regional policy defining what a housing regeneration scheme is required to meet before receiving either public funding or local authority planning permission. These targets must not be described with vague phrases about ‘like-for-like’ replacement of demolished homes, residents’ financially contingent ‘right to return’ to them, or undefined proportions of promised ‘affordable housing’, but written in non-negotiable, clearly defined numbers, proportions, tenure types and rent levels that are not subject to future revision by financial viability assessments.
5. If an estate community votes against a proposed demolition and redevelopment scheme, the planning authority or landlord must carry out the refurbishment and continue (or, where it has been neglected, restart) the maintenance of the existing homes at the very least. Where it is necessary to the funding for this refurbishment, and with the agreement of residents, the landlord should implement the infill housing produced by the independent team employed to develop this option. In this way, residents cannot be presented with a choice between the demolition of their estate and its managed decline, as they are under current policy.
6. The municipal authority must allocate sufficient funds for housing refurbishment and infill. If residents vote for this option these funds must be made available to them, either working in tandem with the planning authority or through the various forms of resident or co-operatively managed and collectively-owned models currently being explored by resident groups.
7. If a housing development is deemed financially unviable because of insufficient profit margins for the developer and private investment partners, the scheme must be rejected by the planning authority as unviable. Whether this is due to insufficient public funding, an increase in development costs or a downturn in the property market, these reduced profits must not be paid for at the social, financial and environmental cost to the existing community, future residents or the general public.
8. All existing housing, as well as communal and public amenities, must be re-provided on site at the same rental levels, service charges, house prices, security of tenure and ownership status. Any move costs and increase in housing costs incurred during a ‘decant’ process must be borne by the developer. All redevelopment projects must be phased to ensure residents must only move once. Interim housing, when all other alternatives have been exhausted, must keep the existing community together.
9. New housing provision must meet local housing need, with the maximum amount, and at least the majority of new-build dwellings, for social rent and secure tenancies. New housing must not have a negative social, financial or environmental impact on existing residents or the local community. Any uplift in land value consequent upon the granting of planning permission or new development must be reinvested in the local community and its infrastructure, not extracted as profit for the landlord, property developer or their private investment partners.
10. All new housing development must include a degree of excess, whether that’s in its design, construction, materials, amenities or space. In the same way that we have come to recognise that the austerity measures imposed on the poorest members of our society are a political choice and not an economic necessity, so too we must reject the ingrained idea that public housing, whether council or social, must always be built to the minimum standards and for the lowest possible cost.
There’s nothing too good for the working class!
Architects for Social Housing