The British housing crisis, in five charts

Neeeeever gonna happen, mate. Image: Getty.

In this week’s New Statesman, you’ll find a feature on the Greenfell Tower scandal and the housing crisis, written by me. Obviously you all subscribe already, but in the unlikely event you don’t, here’s the link. (Please mention my name when you subscribe. There’s no discount, you understand, it just makes them marginally less likely to sack me.)

Anyway. To accompany that feature, with the help of those nice people at Shelter, we gathered a bunch of stats and made them look pretty. Here’s the housing crisis in five charts.

1. What we build

If you’ve followed this debate at all, you’ll probably be familiar with this one, but it never stops being shocking. It shows that, since the early 1980s, the number of homes we’re building has gone off a cliff.

Total new homes per year build by different types of organisation. Source: English Housing Survey/Shelter.

The big cause is the decline is that grey line: council house building, once the dominant part of the market, has collapsed to all but nothing. Housing associations – charities, rather than arms of the state – have never succeeded in taking up the slack.

The assumption of so much government housing policy over the last four decades has been that the market will provide. This chart shows very clearly that it won’t. The private sector has never got much above 210,000 new homes a year: most experts think we need to be building at least 250,000 to meet demand.

What’s more, every time private building hits that peak, it crashes again. Why? Because when property prices fall, private housebuilders stop building.

2. The return of Rachmanism

All this has fuelled our increasing unaffordable house prices. So has the buy-to-let market, a way for older homeowners to make up for the decline of pensions; in the last decade, have record low interest rates, have been a factor, too.

And so, the proportion of the population living in their own home has gone into decline. It peaked around the middle of the last decade, at just over 70 per cent. Soon it’ll be back under 60, for the first time since the mid 1980s.

Who lives where? How the tenure mix has changed. Source: English Housing Survey/Shelter.

The proportion in council homes has fallen too, thanks largely to Right to Buy.  As a result, the proportion renting their own home has more than doubled in the last two decades, from under 10 per cent to over 20.

3. The young aren’t buying

This chart shows the recent decline in home ownership in more detail. In 2005, more than 25 per cent of the youngest adult cohort – those aged 16-24 – owned their own homes. It’s now under 10.

The percentage of each age group which owns their own home. Source: English Housing Survey/Shelter.

The other age groups are in decline, too: fewer people are getting onto the ladder at any age. Within a few years, a significant number of early middle aged people will be renting.

4. Renting hurts

Which is terrible for them, because the private rental sector is the most expensive option.

This chart shows the average percentage of household income that goes on housing costs in each of the four main tenures.

Housing costs as a %age of household income. Source: English Housing Survey/Shelter.

Those in council or housing association properties both pay roughly 28 per cent. That may seem high, considering such housing is meant to be subsidised – but that probably reflects low incomes as much as high housing costs. This, remember, is the poorer end of society.

Owner occupiers, though, spend an average of under 18 per cent on their mortgage. That average may be misleading – recent buyers will pay a lot more; those who’ve paid off their mortgage will be zilch. But at least they’re building up an asset.

The same cannot be said of private renters, who are paying 35 per cent of their income for housing. Again, lower wages may be a factor here – renters are likely to be younger. But Shelter argues that housing which costs more than 30 per cent of your income should count as unaffordable. This is a problem faced overwhelmingly by young renters.

And they don’t even get the asset at the end of it. Rubbish.

But if the housing crisis hurts renters, it increasingly looks like...

5. It’ll hurt the Tories, too

Among homeowners, according to YouGov, the Conservative party had a clear majority at the 2017 election, 53 per cent to Labour’s 31.

Among renters, the proportions are almost exactly reversed.

Voting intention by housing type at the 2017 election. Source: YouGov.

Under the circumstances, you’d imagine the Tories would be trying to solve this mess, wouldn’t you?

And yet.

Special bonus figures

There are 2,000 golf courses in England. Of those, 142 are in Surrey alone. They take up 150,000 hectares, over 1.1 per cent of all land in England. 

We could fix this mess. But we have chosen not to. 

Thanks to the team at Shelter for their help compiling these figures. The charity’s head of policy Steve Akehurst wrote us this blog, asking: Did renters cost Theresa May her majority?

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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All images courtesy of Leon Parks and the New Statesman production team.


America's cities can't police their way out of this crisis

Police deployed tear gas during anti-racism demonstrations in Los Angeles over the weekend. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As protesters took to the streets across the United States over the weekend to express their anger at police killings of unarmed black Americans, it was hard to miss the hypocrisy coming from local authorities – including the otherwise progressive, left-leaning officials who are in power in most major American cities. 

Many US mayors and their police chiefs had issued public statements over the past week that seemed – only briefly, as it turned out – to signal a meaningful shift in the extent to which the Black Lives Matters movement is being taken seriously by those who are in a position to enact reforms. 

The sheer depravity of the most recent high-profile killing had left little room for equivocation. George Floyd, 46, died last Monday under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, while three additional officers helped to hold Floyd down, doing nothing to aid him as he begged for them to stop and eventually lost consciousness. The officers had been attempting to arrest Floyd on suspicion of having used a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. All four have since been fired, and Chauvin was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

“The lack of compassion, use of excessive force, or going beyond the scope of the law, doesn’t just tarnish our badge—it tears at the very fabric of race relations in this country,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told the Washington Post in response to the Floyd case. Meanwhile Moore’s boss, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, on Friday claimed that he understood why his city, which is no stranger to police brutality, was protesting. “We absolutely need as a nation, certainly as a city, to voice our outrage, it’s our patriotic duty to not only stand up for George Floyd but for everybody who has been killed unnecessarily, who’s been murdered for the structural racism that we have in our country,” Garcetti said. 

Normally, US police chiefs and mayors tend to ask citizens to withhold judgment on these types of cases until full investigations can be completed. But a 10-minute video recording of Floyd’s killing had made what happened plain. Police chiefs across the country – and even the nation’s largest police union, which is notorious for defending officer abuses – similarly condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers, in a rare show of moral clarity that, combined with the arrest of Chauvin, offered at least a glimmer of hope that this time things might be different. 

As the events of the weekend have since shown, that glimmer was all too fleeting. 

In city after city over the past three days, US mayors and their police chiefs made a series of the same decisions – starting with the deployment of large, heavily armed riot units – that ultimately escalated violent confrontations between officers and protesters. Images widely shared on social media Saturday and Sunday nights made it clear that members of law enforcement were often initiating the worst of the violence, and appeared to treat protesters as enemy combatants, rather than citizens they were sworn to protect. 

In New York City, two police SUVs were seen plowing into a crowd of protesters, while elsewhere an officer was recorded pulling down a young protester’s coronavirus mask in order to pepper spray his face

In Louisville, the city where Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman was fatally shot by police on 13 March, state police in riot gear were captured confiscating and destroying protesters’ supplies

In Minneapolis, forces opened fire with nonlethal rounds on residential streets, much to the shock of homeowners standing on their own front porches. 

Images of police pushing or shoving peaceful protesters were almost too numerous to count, including, in Salt Lake City, an elderly man with a cane

In many places, police also targeted journalists who were covering the protests, firing at clearly identifiable media crews with rubber bullets, injuring and even arresting reporters

Some protesters did commit acts of vandalism and looting, and the leaders of cities where that happened generally responded in the same ways. 

First, they blamed “outside agitators” for the worst protester behaviour, a claim that harkens all the way back to the civil rights era and for which the evidence is murky at best

Next, they enacted sudden curfews with little to no warning, which gave law enforcement an excuse to make mass arrests, in some cases violently. 

In a pair of widely criticized moves, Garcetti of Los Angeles closed the city’s Covid-19 testing centers and suspended the entire mass transit system Saturday evening, stranding essential workers on their way home from daytime shifts. Late Sunday night in Chicago, the city’s public school system halted its free meal distribution service for low-income children, citing “the evolving nature of activity across the city”.  

Governors in at least 12 US states, in coordination with city leaders, have since called in National Guard troops to “help”. 

At this point it’s clear that the leaders of America’s cities are in desperate need of a radically different playbook to respond to these protests. A heavily armed, militarised response to long-simmering anger toward the heavily armed, militarised approach to American policing is more than ironic – it’s ineffective. Granting police officers wider latitude to make arrests via curfews also seems destined to increase the chances of precisely the tragic, racially biased outcomes to which the protesters are reacting. 

There are other options. In places such as Flint, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey – both poor cities home to large black populations – local law enforcement officials chose to put down their weapons and march alongside protesters, rather than face off against them. In the case of Camden, that the city was able to avoid violent clashes is in no small part related to the fact that it took the drastic step of disbanding its former police department altogether several years ago, replacing it with an entirely new structure. 

America’s cities are in crisis, in more ways than one. It’s not a coincidence that the country has tipped into chaos following months of emotionally draining stay-at-home orders and job losses that now top 40 million. Low-income Americans of colour have borne a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s ravages, and public health officials are already worried about the potential for protests to become Covid-19 super-spreading events.

All of this has of course been spurred on by the US president, who in addition to calling Sunday for mayors and governors to “get tough” on protesters, has made emboldening white nationalists his signature. Notably, Trump didn’t call on officials to get tough on the heavily armed white protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol building over coronavirus stay-at-home orders just a few weeks ago. 

US mayors and their police chiefs have publicly claimed that they do understand – agree with, even – the anger currently spilling out onto their streets. But as long as they continue to respond to that anger by deploying large numbers of armed and armored law enforcement personnel who do not actually live in the cities they serve, who appear to be more outraged by property damage and verbal insults than by the killings of black Americans at the hands of their peers, and who are enmeshed in a dangerously violent and racist policing culture that perceives itself to be the real victim, it is hard to see how this crisis will improve anytime soon. 

Sommer Mathis is the editor of CityMetric.