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Assets and Homes in a Changing Economy
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At the root of the housing crisis is the problematic relationship that individuals and economies share with residential property. Housing’s social purpose, as home, is too often relegated behind its economic function, as asset, able to offer a hedge against weakening pensions or source of investment and equity release for individuals, or guarantee rising public revenues, sustain consumer confidence and provide evidence of ‘growth’ for economies. The refunctioning of housing in the twentieth century is a cause of great social inequality, as housing becomes a place to park and extract wealth and as governments do all they can to keep house prices on an upward track.

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Contexts, drivers and outcomes

With trust in top-down government faltering, community-based groups around the world are displaying an ever-greater appetite to take control of their own lives and neighbourhoods. Government, for its part, is keen to embrace the projects and the planning undertaken at this level, attempting to regularise it and use it as a means of reconnecting to citizens and localising democracy.

This unique book analyses the contexts, drivers and outcomes of community action and planning in a selection of case studies in the global north: from emergent neighbourhood planning in England to the community-based housing movement in New York, and from active citizenship in the Dutch new towns to associative action in Marseille.

It will be a valuable resource for academic researchers and for postgraduate students on social policy, planning and community development courses.

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Communities, Networks and Governance

Neighbourhood planning offers a critical analysis of community-based planning activity in England, framed within a broader view of collaborative rationality and its limits. From the recent experience of drawing up parish plans, and attempts to connect these to formal policy frameworks, it identifies lessons for future planning at the neighbourhood scale. It is not a manual on community planning practice, nor does it provide a formula for producing parish or neighbourhood plans. But in the context of the latest ‘localism’ agenda in England it, first, examines the potential contribution of neighbourhood planning to building a ‘collaborative democracy’ and, second, asks how much movement towards genuine local partnership, and consensus around development decisions, can be achieved through the rescaling of ‘statutory’ planning as opposed to expending greater effort locally on building stronger relationships, and generating trust, between ‘people and planning’

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This chapter looks at connections between community groups, engaged in community level planning, and local government. It suggests that community planning support groups have a vital role to play in helping communities understand the opportunities to connect to formal government structures and also in helping those structures understand the benefits of keying into the work of community groups. It argues that a ‘learning bridge’ needs to be built between community and local government planning activities, so as to maximise the potential of the former. The chapter draws on research undertaken in southern England in 2009 / 10

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This chapter begins by detailing the outward characteristics of the housing crisis including income to housing cost ratios. It then looks at different ‘framings’ of that crisis, as a product of inadequate supply or a refunctioning of housing’s purpose, manifest in new patterns of consumption. The chapter then goes on to explore the nature of housing supply – a combination of new homes and second hand housing - and the relationship between planning regulation and market processes. The wider political economy of housing is then explored ahead of a more detailed account of housing inequalities and the onward structure of the book.

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Two competing views of the housing crisis are offered. The first is that housing outcomes can be ‘corrected’ within the current political economy – that incremental remedies and ‘fixes’ can be applied, enabling business as usual. The second is that housing outcomes signal a much deeper crisis rooted in fundamental economic processes. Addressing the question whose housing crisis? this chapter asks whether housing stress points simply to an inter-generational crisis manifest in the hardships of ‘generation rent’ (which can be remedied through various supports) or whether there are processes at work that threaten a more pervasive socio-economic breakdown. Issues of inequality, social cohesion and prosperity/wealth are also examined.

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The closing chapter explores what might be done immediately to assist households without the homes they need and what might be done in the longer term to shift the function of housing in the economy – de-commodify it and deliver a ‘right’ to housing. There is a need for more planning, essential for the coordination of infrastructure investments that foreground housing development. London’s approach to managing overseas’ investment pressure must be aligned with that of other global centres. The public sector’s role in direct housing provision must be restored. And space must be created for a broader set of housing delivery models, including self-build. In the longer term, patterns of housing consumption can only be shifted through tax reforms that incentivise work over the accumulation of housing wealth. Banks need to prioritise lending to businesses over housing. And the planning system should distinguish between housing as an essential social infrastructure and housing as a financial asset.

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Delivering broader access to decent, affordable housing is a wicked problem – a seemingly intractable challenge that has incubated in a political space. There are numerous competing explanations of the housing cost crisis and each explanation reveals a particular political leaning and a preference for either incremental action (aimed at protecting the status quo) or deeper structural change, which would be difficult to achieve given that the housing crisis is differently experienced depending on the market position of particular groups and actors (generating divergent self-interest). This chapter unpacks the nature of the housing crisis as a wicked problem, showing how and why remedies are highly contested and single actions are unlikely to deliver the fundamental change that is needed – largely because housing has become the centre of economic gravity in many countries, owing to the financialisation of land and housing and increased reliance on asset sheet growth, as a substitute for productivity growth.

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Housing has long been implicated in the productive economy, providing a focus for manufacturing, construction and material consumption. The privatisation, assetisation and financialisation of housing in the twentieth century has broadened and deepened its economic function. This chapter examines the changing profile of the UK economy and the greater centrality today of services related to real estate and debt securitisation. It explores the idea of a ‘credit switch’ in the latter half of the twentieth century into the financialised built environment and the implications of that switch for both the wider economy and public revenues. The chapter explores the broadening role of housing in the UK economy and implications for productivity, workplace earnings and housing affordability (relative to those earnings). The tax treatment of housing – and various instruments of financialisation - are presented as critical scaffolding for this economic shift, which is theorised/explained using a range of key literature.

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Returning to the idea of housing access/affordability as a wicked problem, this chapter explores 6 critical explanations of the housing cost crisis, showing how these explanations intersect to produce a broader narrative account of the political economy of housing outcomes. The chapter looks at impediments to increasing housing supply, the role of direct (overseas) investors in the London housing market, reliance on volume housebuilding (the lack of plurality in the UK model of housing production), the associated reliance on ‘build to sell’ (and the lack of space for alternative models), the impact that the tax treatment of housing has on consumption and housing supply, and the role that credit supply has on house prices and housing costs.

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