on 2 January 2010
Sarah Glynn has edited (and written more than half of) this excellent collection of essays on Public/Social housing. It looks into the experience of public housing in the period of Neo-Liberalism that began its rise in the early 70's. Since then Governments across the world have retreated from many areas of social provision, housing more than most. The "market" is then let loose and it is the accompanying changes in public policy and the effects of the increasing marketisation of housing that Glynn and her co-writers scrutinise.
Perhaps I should declare an interest, I have been a tenant renting council housing for around 16 years, my rent is generally around 25-30% of my wages at a time when housing costs for people who rent or purchase in the private market can easily exceed 40%. Under the present neo-liberal housing regime it is not easy to get housed in council housing for two reasons, (i) so much of it has been sold and (ii) social engineers in city councils looking to up their council tax take have been destroying public housing at an incredible rate. The result is a joy for those who entered the private market in the last century, or who were given public assets at rates of up to 70% below market value and have no regard for the housing of future generations. For everyone else it has limited their options, forced them into mortgages that they can barely afford or into the hideously expensive private rental market. How anyone can afford Housing, for example in London on a minimum wage, is simply beyond my imagination.
The book itself is divided into three parts. In the first part Glynn gives a short (100 pages) history of Public housing, how the neo-Liberal agenda has affected it and casts a much needed critical eye on the much vaunted "regeneration" schemes (generally the destruction/privatising of housing stock). The second part (180 pages) is made up of eight essays from across the developed world (Scotland, England, France, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia, United States and Canada): these act as a short comparative history of public housing in recent decades and all include examples for further reading. The third and final part of the book (50 pages) speculates on what housing activists and the people who live, or might like to live, in social housing might regard as the best way forward.
Glynn is herself a committed activist who works with groups in the Scottish city of Dundee and the many examples she can give from her own work with tenants enliven the first and third parts of the book, as well as her own contribution in the second part. I would not hesitate to recommend this as an informative, interesting read for anyone who considers that housing is there to meet a basic human need and has serious concerns about how this area of our lives has been increasingly commodified over the last thirty or so years. Excellent.