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Housing Injustice


Housing Injustice

Britain’s social housing is in crisis.

Over one million people are on waiting lists. Homelessness is rising sharply. At the same time, the stock of social housing is shrinking.

Rachel Pain is a Professor of Human Geography. According to Professor Pain, recent government housing policies have accelerated this paradoxical situation.

Social Justice: Housing injustice and the disposal of social housing. A row of terraced houses in Horden, County Durham.

Professor Pain says:

"Whether we consider the state of housing geographically, socially or economically, it reflects core patterns of social injustice and inequality in the UK. It is also one of the major ways in which those patterns are reproduced."

Selling off social housing in County Durham

A research project in County Durham has uncovered the disposal of social housing on the open market. It is on a scale more often associated with the so-called ‘London Clearances’ in a number of London Boroughs. 

In one village, a major Housing Association auctioned 159 terraced houses. They sold for an average of £16,811 over a few weeks in 2015-16. The majority of buyers were speculative investors based in other parts of the UK, especially the South East (shown in Table 1 of the project report).

Researchers worked with local residents and community groups for three years to explore the past, present and future of social housing. Outputs from the project included:

Effects on the local community

A year after the auction, three-quarters of the houses sold at auction lay empty. The impacts of the sales are said to include:

  • a rise in poor quality and unregulated private renting
  • negative equity for local owner-occupiers
  • harmful effects on the community

The disposal of social housing took place after decades of under-investment and promises to improve the properties. There was no consultation with residents. The sell-off was against the stated wishes of the Residents Association, the County Council, and the local MP.

Professor Rachel Pain said:

“The decision was taken for purely financial reasons, rather than the needs or best interests of the community. The Housing Association has now pulled out of the wider area.”

The auctions and their outcome reflect a North-to-South as well as a more familiar poor-to-rich drift in housing capital.