Having examined a unitary area, Wandsworth, the interviewing of senior

representatives at four agencies for private tenants took place; Kensington Private

Tenants Rights Project, Hammersmith Private Tenants Rights Project, Camden

Federation of Private Tenants and Brent Private Tenants Rights Project. Questions

were also levelled at squatters groups, protesters and other ‘dissenters’ in order to get

a rounded picture of the processes going on.

These organisations were more useful in facilitating a better understanding of the

nature of displacement whereas the local authority had provided a more adequate

picture of gentrification. This quite clearly stems from the ‘location’ of the

organisations examined in relation to these processes. The raison d’etre of these

organisations stems from a need to deal with the high levels of problems that private

tenants experience in inner London.

Transcripts for all of the interviews are provided in appendix E. The results of the

interviews with the tenant’s rights workers (TRWs) have been divided into three key

areas;

  1. i) a closer examination of the subject of gentrification itself
  2. ii) the identification of reasons for displacement of tenants and what happens to

displacees

iii) the wider impacts of the gentrification process in terms of its costs and effects to

areas where it has occurred

 

  1. i) Gentrification

While displacement stemming from gentrification was the focal point of the research a

number of additional points emerged from the interviews which had a bearing on both

the previous census methodology and the conceptualisation of the process. The

Locational factors are perhaps the most easily understood aspect to the gentrification

process. In speaking to a number of estate agents in the north of Kensington it was

quite clear that in addition to a cultural element surrounding the Portobello Road area

factors such as the proximity of the central line tube were critical in allowing City

workers looking for a ‘fun area’ to live in. In combination with the large bonuses paid

to City workers properties were deemed easily affordable by an increasing number of

such occupational groups who eagerly sought properties in the area. A particular

boom was being experienced at the top end of the market, that is, in the million pound

and above bracket.

Location is also clearly contingent on other factors such as price and availability so

that some areas appear to become popular either when saturation of an area like

Islington had taken place or the supply of cheap small flats had been exhausted. In

Hammersmith the main factor appeared to be location and a number of other factors;

“It might also be the style of the properties as well, the architecture because I

don’t think that Fulham is wildly well served for public transport or anything

like that…once you had got past the smaller properties of Islington going people,

professionals classes, became interested in places like Hackney which would

have been much cheaper but I think that they were starting to look to the Fulham

area – and there was a lot of development on the river”

The reasons for gentrification appeared similar to those alluded to in the literature and

at the local authority level. In an area like Kensington it was clear that a variety of

fairly obvious locational factors accounted for the desirability of the area;

“your just around the corner from Harrods, just around the corner from the West

End and the central line. Its Hyde park, posh hotels, posh restaurants, its

Knightsbridge, Mayfair, all of those kind of things that you would sort of

associate with people with huge pots of money. Its ‘popping down to Harvey

Nic’s darling’, you know its as simple as that.”

In Camden the market area clearly provided a focus for younger people who were now

finding it more difficult, through price and availability, to find accommodation. This

lack of available and affordable accommodation was having the, now familiar, effect

 

 

 

of leading people who wanted to be in Camden to look in neighbouring Kentish town

and was increasing prices there. The youthful profile of people trying to enter the area

led the TRW to make a distinction between gentrification and the ‘trendification’ of

Camden.

In Kensington a fundamental distinction was apparent between the kind of

gentrification found in the north compared to that of the south. This was phrased in

the following terms;

“The north gentrifiers are the usual gentrifiers, middle classes and wanting to go

into homeownership, places that are often not in terribly good condition, doing

them up making them into luxurious type homes. There have been some moves

of the sort of ‘Sloanes’ who have moved there as well, probably because this

area has become even out of their reaches. The south has been gentrified…by

people with absolutely ridiculous amounts of money, a lot of them are not

British by birth, are not naturalised in this country at all, don’t live here most of

the time”

 

The absence of these groups during the best part of the year meant that they would be

undetectable by the use of census data which may have accounted for the apparent

lack of gentrification in the south of the borough when using this data.

It is clear that these groups have had as strong, if not a stronger, impact on the local

housing market than the domestic gentrifier. What is clearly at issue is whether the

class of gentrifiers is the main identifying factor for a process of gentrification. It may

well be that gentrification is actually losing much of its class character. If this may

seem academically unacceptable it should be noted that the breakdown of the linkage

between higher classes and more wealth may mean that a process of gentrification is

breaking down into one of ‘incomisation’, as the fundamental displacement dynamic.

Where class still seems to refer to modes of consumption, money is cutting across

class cleavages so that the class gentrification debate obfuscates the true underlying

dynamic of the process.

 

 

 

Transport infrastructure may perhaps remain one of the most important factors for

gentrification. The tube network still acts as an express route to the central city and its

impact on housing markets is widely understood13 . Certainly a premium was set

(usually an additional ten percent) on those properties within a ten minute walk of a

tube station.

 

It appeared that a valid distinction could be made between modes of gentrification

which involved a more traditional ‘gentry’, or middle class, and a process which relied

primarily on vast levels of personal wealth less related to a hierarchical class structure;

either through inheritance or foreign business i.e. foreign affluent workers whose class

position is made less clear by their short periods of residence in this area.

The involvement of estate agents was perhaps wider than might at first be thought.

The TRW from Kensington described how estate agents were;

“involved at all levels, they don’t just create a market, they are also involved in

representing landlords at rent assessment committees they are looking for the

highest possible fair rent, they are making vast amounts of money…Many are

international, all looking for this ‘non-resident, tons of money consumer’ but the

result is that the borough is experiencing higher and higher levels of crime”

The role of the estate agent is instrumental in the development of gentrification. In

areas like Kensington it appears that the market has both been distorted beyond the

recognition of local inhabitants and been appropriated both by foreign wealth and

agents who profit from such customers.

Another role of the estate agent comes in the form of the pre-packaging of places ‘ripe

for gentrification’. As the rent officer in Wandsworth alluded many agents have tried

to apply names which conjure up images of village, community or pastoral scenes

such as;

“Earls Court Village…an estate agents creation and is highly gentrified, there has

been a massive amount of displacement in those areas”

The new transport links being created south of the river have lead to a large amount of speculation as

to whether older areas like Peckham and Brixton will see people buying as an investment in areas

where a house may cost as much as a flat in a more popular area of London. A number of conversations with agents in these areas showed that prices since 1990

had soared. One agent described the current changes in Netting Hill as ‘economic

migration, as it should be in my view’, apparently adding a veneer of legitimacy to the

process of displacement which he admitted was going on in the area. Such areas

appear to fade from view as their credentials as an expensive but ‘hip’ area become

more widely known.

Discussions with agents further revealed that many ‘gentrifiers’ would rent in the area

while looking for the ideal property. The market was most buoyant at the top end of

the market where rises in price had also been most acutely felt. Asked what the

transformation of the area would do for affordability there appeared to be a general

agreement that it was unlikely lower paid workers would be able to afford property in

the area – even ex-council flats and previously ‘dangerous’ areas were witnessing a

good deal of interest.

While it was clear that a traditional pattern of renting to owning was going on there

was verbal evidence given that renting was also moving upward in its socio-economic

profile. Kensington and Chelsea still has one of the largest private rented sectors in

the country. The link between gentrification and renting was also made clear in

Hammersmith;

“There is gentrified private rented accommodation now – accommodation people

couldn’t afford, its not affordable housing…an awful lot of it has gone from

private rented to owner occupied or from private rented at affordable levels [in

Hammersmith] to private rented at unaffordable levels – gentrified in that way,

that is certainly the case in the mansion blocks, rents in mansion blocks are

£3 0,000 a year”

and;

“there has been a major loss of particularly family accommodation in favour of

company lets [in Camden]…and that is mirrored by the increase of single

homelessness in the borough – people can’t access or use the private rented

sector – there are real problems.”

The issue of company lets came up several times and provided another route for

private rented accommodation to enter a rented but restricted access tenure and it appeared that people had been cleared out of properties in order to make them

company lets. It appeared that rented accommodation was still moving into the owner

occupied sector where it was more profitable to do so;

“what we see is properties that are quite happily going along being rented with

quite a lot of houses in the Fulham area where they might have been rented in an

HMO situation, not self contained but with, say, two families, but now as soon

as there is any kind of vacant possession there landlords are into self containing,

extending, doing them up often then selling them rather than renting them

out…where the landlord thinks that they can bring any pressure to bear to get rid

of the tenants then they do it”

There is also an interaction between local authority roles in areas such as

environmental health where the enforcement of standards can have an unintended

negative consequence for affordability and provision so that bedsits are;

“converted into flats, frequently sold to owner occupiers or rented at the top end

of the market. Rent levels have really increased in Camden and one of the

things…LA environmental health have tried to [do is] improve standards in that

type of shared accommodation by encouraging self containment but that tends to

have meant that the profile of people living there, when the original tenants die,

changes so your getting younger professional people looking for temporary

accommodation or overseas business men coming into those areas”

This rental at the top end of the market also seems to be related to a transitory series

of company lets which mirrors the ‘absent’ form of gentrification to be found in south

Kensington. Whether this can be considered gentrification is debatable since it may

not be considered to be a residential form of the process yet the effects are the same

and so is the rationale – higher paying buyers and renters;

“the wards that have the highest levels of private renting both have bizarre

populations. There is a large Japanese community living in the private rented

sector in Belsize…you see more and more lettings agencies advertising for

company lets”

and;

Another of the large landlords in Camden is Crown estates, they are quasi public

and quasi private landlords and they have been actually selling and emptying

some of their properties on long leases to the Shanghai bank to be used as

company lets”

 

 

 

The loss of certain dwelling types (HMOs and non-family homes) by social or

physical alteration is important because it means that (a) displacement is required to

make it available and (b) a relatively fixed level of supply of these dwelling types is

lost to those groups who need such accommodation.