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MIPIM - all that's wrong in public housing policy

In the shadow of Mipim UK, tenants are fighting the bulldozers. Can’t we accept that public–private partnerships just don’t work?

 

Branch member Glyn Robins has this article in todays Guardian

 

The “pizza club” used to meet every Friday in a pub in south London. Its members were executives from housing associations and property developers operating in Tower Hamlets, where the council was pursuing an aggressive stock transfer programme. The club discussed how to slice up and consume the borough.

 

This anecdote illustrates, in microcosm, the forces and ideology represented by Mipim UK, the property developers’ fair that is taking place in London from 15 to 17 October. It also reflects the cultural changes in the housing world. The participation at Mipim UK of numerous local authorities and housing associations, alongside the estate agent Savills (who, with communities secretary Eric Pickles, have described council estates as “brownfield” sites) and global property development companies embodies the model of partnership that has become an orthodoxy in the sector.

 

But in the wake of the economic crash triggered by unbridled property speculation and as the housing crisis continues to grow, it’s time to question whether Mipim UK is part of the solution – or the root of the problem.

 

The property industry bulldozes its way through the planning system and democratic controls to get what it wants; targets for “affordable” housing (already contentious) are avoided as private developers seek to maximise profits; and the protection of the public interest is severely compromised by the entrepreneurial shift within local councils. Added to this, the determination to do deals leads to the dilution of housing policies, creating socially segregated cities where many can no longer afford to live.

 

Public authorities get a discount to attend Mipim UK (£295 instead of £495), and no wonder. There are thousands of acres of surplus public land in the UK and developers want to get their hands on it. The history of recent urban policy has been of public land virtually given away, often with remediation and infrastructure costs thrown in at public expense. The examples of the Olympic Park, on the Greenwich peninsula, and Heygate estate in Southwark, both in south London, and numerous other regeneration projects have featured huge wealth transfers to private hands, with minimal returns to local communities.

 

Council housing has been the intended victim of these initiatives. In the shadow of Olympia, in inner west London, where Mipim UK takes place, council tenants are fighting the demolition of the 760-home Gibbs Green estate. Meanwhile, the developers responsible will be at Mipim promoting their “urban reimagination” of the area. Such fanciful rhetoric has been used around the country to justify the elimination of council housing and its replacement with private property for the speculative market, alongside a modicum of poorly-defined social housing.

 

Housing associations have played an essential role in advancing the cause of corporate housing policy. They have derived massive financial benefit from becoming the exclusive providers of social housing. This is evidenced by a cultural shift away from their philanthropic origins towards a commercial, secretive outlook that acquiesces in building fewer homes that meet the needs of the five million people on housing waiting lists, while paying inflated salaries to senior staff.

 

For decades, we’ve been told that partnerships between the public, private and third sectors will provide the homes we need. They haven’t. As well as the millions on waiting lists, homelessness is rising and “generation rent” has been pushed into expensive, insecure and often substandard private renting because there’s no alternative. The cynical contempt that Mipim has for those in housing need is demonstrated by an earlier title (now changed) of one of its workshops: Investing in Affordable Housing – Is It Worth It?

 

Nothing more eloquently expresses why we should say no to Mipim and yes to a publicly accountable housing policy that puts people before profits.

 

Follow the link to The Guardian website and online discussion: http://bit.ly/1vZYeOF

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