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.
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
- 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
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
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
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.