Affordable housing is defined in the UDP as ‘housing for sale at a price that can be

afforded by local first-time buyers on low and middle incomes and workers in

essential local services, as well as housing provided for rent and housing for special

needs’ (UDP:24) affordable housing yet was not a priority in terms of planned new

build or in situations where large developments were being converted into new flats.

Average first time buyer prices in 1995 were the seventh highest in London while

rents between 10 and 17% higher than the neighbouring boroughs of Lambeth,

Merton, Croydon and Kingston depending on dwelling type – the greatest difference

being for a one bedroomed property (based on the lower 50 percentile, used as an

indication of affordable rents).

Wandsworth viewed affordable housing provision as essentially desirable but such an

outcome was to be achieved through promotion rather than through more prescriptive

measures. In terms of new build such a policy could clearly be viewed as being

weakened by the strong market pressures on an area like Wandsworth to provide

anything but affordable housing. It is unfortunate that, as with HMO policy, such a

laissez faire approach had been adopted in a situation where it has been identified that

need is often expressed in terms of demand for affordable housing, part of which

shows up in the need for HMOs and part for first time buyer units, especially in an

area like London.

 

Homelessness

Of 1,663 households presenting themselves as homeless in 1995/6, 61% gave a reason

of intra-household dispute as the reason for their situation. The percentage had

decreased from 70% in 1990. The number of households housed for that year was

  1. It is not possible to say to what extent the sale of council housing has impaired

 

 

 

the authority’s ability to cope with such need. Even more difficult is speculation

concerning the degree to which homelessness was an outcome of gentrification

activity in the borough as it appeared to be a relatively clear cause in areas like

Camden and Kensington (see section two below).

While homelessness was strongly associated as an exit route for displacees at the

Tenant’s Rights organisations no such link was made at Wandsworth. There was no

monitoring of such a process and it had not been seen as an identifiable process. There

is always the possibility that such a process was showing up as homelessness but did

not involve enough households to be an identifiable trend. Equally, issues of

harassment or eviction may be due to perceived gentrification gains yet would only be

identified as harassment rather than displacement which implies a wider

understanding of housing histories.

Directly connected to the housing department was the Housing Aid Centre. In many

ways this took on many of the roles of the private tenants rights projects found in

other boroughs (see later) and was of direct interest because of their relationship with

landlords via tenancy relations officers (TROs) and their detection of harassment

cases.

Group meetings with officers working in this area highlighted harassment as a

phenomenon stemming from the lower and worst end of the market or related to the

search for vacant possession of property by lenders after mortgage default (now an

apparently widespread phenomenon). Cases of harassment were also seen as being a

product, in many cases, of landlord ignorance of the technicalities rather than as a

desire to directly harass tenants. Such ignorance has been alluded to by authors

working in this area of the law (Burrows and Hunter, 1991, and Jew, 1994).

Commenting on the general issue of gentrification in the borough one officer

suggested that it had not been a gerrymandering issue, rather one of a desire to alter

the composition of the whole borough, an opinion previously echoed by other officers.

 

 

 

TROs were unable to provide concrete evidence that gentrification per se was the

causal factor which led to their being consulted.

 

The rent officer

The rent officer was interviewed to get a better understanding of gentrification in

Wandsworth and to find out if he was aware of the ‘pricing out’ of residents in the

borough over the past two decades (his local knowledge stretched this far). The rent

officer acts as an impartial arbitrator in the establishment of fair rents (a market rent

without scarcity), the fixing of subsidy for the borough on housing benefit claimants

in the private sector and now advises the borough on changes in rent after a landlord

has received a renovation grant (discussed earlier).

When asked if people had been priced out of the borough or their homes the officer

replied that there were a number of factors to consider. First was that a natural rate of

migration existed which might confuse consideration of the issue. Second, many

buyers had become renters from 1989 onwards. This was because the quality of the

rental market was perceived to have gone up. The officer believed that this process

had priced people out of the market and/or excluded them since rent was linked to the

mortgage rates and thereby the inflated prices of the late eighties.

Rents had been stable over more recent years but in the past it was believed that a

number of people had been squeezed out of the market by company lettings. A point

frequently alluded to by the tenants rights workers. When asked if people had been

pushed out the officer observed that “Your conclusion will probably be yes, in all

areas, not just renting”. This widespread acceptance of a process of price-induced

displacement contradicts the apparent scarcity of data found elsewhere in the borough.

Such prohibitively and displacing high prices can be attributed to two factors; first, the

boom of the late eighties which appears to have lead to a certain amount of

displacement and, second, the persistent interest in Wandsworth shown by young

 

 

 

professionals (although this slightly slackened as high prices have become established

in some areas) which has kept prices high.

The officer drew a comparison between processes of community change in

Wandsworth and similar processes in the small towns of northern France which have

been impacted upon by second holiday home buyers. It is possible to conclude from

the interview with the rent officer that displacement from price increases had occurred

in Wandsworth over the past twenty years. The reasons for such increases cannot

simply, however, be found in the professionalisation of the area although this was

clearly a significant factor. The diminishing number of secure tenancies, the link

between high rents and late eighties mortgages and gentrification, in combination,

formed a difficult rental environment to survive in. The idea that being priced out was

something that was happening in all tenures highlighted the idea that the costs of

living in general were creating various forms of displacement

 

 

It was clear from the interviews and data collected within Wandsworth that an almost

total restructuring of the borough had taken place based on a large influx of young

professionals seeking easy access to the city in an area of low taxation, high levels of

amenity provision and a quality environment. Political peculiarities to Wandsworth

and a number of environmental factors clearly feed into a wider debate about the

underlying reasons for the timing and location of gentrification.

Having examined the apparent reasons for gentrification in the area the attempt to find

out if this had induced displacement was more problematic for two reasons. First, the

authority did not recognise a process of displacement and, second, the forthcoming

data required an interpretative process by which displacement could be established.

This interpretation was also based on the background theory of the gentrification and

displacement literature and the results of the census data. It was thereby believed that

 

 

the interpretation given was logical and that displacement could be judged to have

occurred.

Displacement plays an insignificant role on the local authority’s agenda. This may be

for one of two reasons (a) displacement is an insignificant problem in relation to other

needs which the local authority must cater for or (b) it is picked up, but in the form of

a number of problems which are labelled without giving thought to wider causes for

such problems. Issues such as harassment, bad landlords, eviction and apparently

voluntary moves to other areas may be due to displacement but are not labelled in this

way.

Cameron’s (1992) term ‘disbenefiting’ may be used to refer to the nature of many of

the policies directed at the privatisation of housing provision in the borough in which

policy is not directed against certain groups yet, by its very nature, does nothing to

help them or promotes other decisions which may benefit other groups. The director

of housing made it clear, for example, that any welfare agenda would always be

skewed toward provision for bigger problems in the first instance and that, further,

there was no awareness on the part of the authority that displacement had occurred in

the borough over the period. When asked if displacement was identified as an issue

the director answered, “not as a tangible issue, unless someone goes out to measure it

its not an issue”. This highlights what is meant by the proposition that displacement

only exists where it is labelled and thereby monitored as such.

The tenure changes from area action were potentially indicative of displacement since

it was unlikely that this could be achieved without some form of displacement,

whether it be buying out tenants, eviction or harassment. It is unlikely in the extreme

that 100% increases in owner occupation occurred in the space of five years by

‘natural’ rates of migration or through sales to tenants alone.

The director of housing considered that;

“politicians tend to espouse a particular policy not realising that as you squeeze

people it has an effect right across the board of tenures”

 

 

 

This remark highlights the greater impact of the tenure changes in the borough. What

such effects might be is not clarified yet the large transfers of rented to owned

property would suggest that negative impacts have been felt.

The loss of non-self-contained accommodation, transfers of tenure in area based

renewal and large scale tenure transfers were considered to be the most likely

observable indicators of displacement but would not in all cases be due to

gentrification, even though, in many cases, gentrification was an outcome. That these

issues did not show up in greater levels of housing need may temper the view that

displacement had occurred and yet one should remember that Wandsworth is a

discrete area and that movement over its borders by poorer groups is possible and

likely, to cheaper adjacent areas like Lambeth or Merton.