The organization of housing in mid-twentieth century Britain did a better job of providing people with decent, secure, and affordable homes than the order of housing does today. This was not benevolently bestowed by some caring government but was instead won through collective struggle. Council housing, rent controls, and regulated tenancies represented not only an important set of material gains, but a recognition by the state that it had a responsibility to house the people. During the 1980s these gains were eroded and ever since, successive governments from both political camps have sought to remove the state from the provision and regulation of housing. By every measure this experiment has been a failure. Through an understanding of the range of strategies deployed in the struggle for better housing, we can begin to work out how to continue this fight today.
In History of the Housing Crisis, Rebecca Searle offers a unique insight into the long history of the housing crisis, telling three stories that are central to understanding the contemporary crisis. The first explores the growth of owner occupation and how this was fostered by generations of parliamentarians as they wrested to contain the disruptive potential of democratization. The rise and fall of council housing is traced in the second story, which documents how a rent strike organized by Glasgow women forced the introduction of rent controls and council house building. Finally, the third story details the surprising legacy of the strikes, which was the boost they gave to the housing finance industry. Searle charts how successive property booms were fuelled by lenders using financial mechanisms to displace risk to extend loans to lower-earning households. Rising interest rates placed strain on overextended borrowers and as boom turned to bust, wider economic turbulence ensued. Today we sit upon the largest housing bubble yet seen. As interest rates creep up, this book offers a timely intervention on how housing policy could better house the people.
Rebecca Searle is a contemporary historian whose work focuses on the ways in which the study of the past can be used to make critical interventions in the politics of the present. She is a principal lecturer at the University of Brighton and deputy director of the Centre for Applied Philosophy, Politics, and Ethics. Searle established and leads the University of Brighton Housing Forum, which brings together researchers, community organizations and policy makers to develop local solutions to the housing crisis in Brighton and Hove.
Chapter 1: Property
Chapter 2: Housing the People
Chapter 3: Boom and Bust: The Growth of Housing Finance
About the Author
Enlightening, inspiring and revealing in equal measure. From the plotting of Conservatives to the failures of New Labour and the rearising of radicalism in Scotland, Rebecca Searle’s brilliant account of the housing history of Britain not only details where we have come form, but also where we need to move to next.
An outstanding survey of Britain’s current housing crisis, its terrible effects on growing numbers of housing-deprived, and its origins in centuries of conservative commitment to grasping private property ownership. By 1915 so many could not afford decent housing that they rebelled, led by a Glasgow women’s rent strike which scared the government into imposing rent controls and funding council housing. This belated, incomplete recognition of a human right to decent housing survived to the 1980s, when Thatcher returned to the old ways, leading to a situation now comparable with 1915. As Searle concludes, only renewed resistance will end this return to inhuman housing inequality.
This engaging and important new book shows exactly why understanding the past matters. In Searle's hands the history of housing sheds new light on the development of modern Britain. It is a book that both explains the current housing crisis and suggests how it might be resolved. Everyone should read it.