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The social cleansing of London council estates: everyday experiences of ‘accumulative dispossession’


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London’s council estates and their residents are under threat like never before. Council tenants are being forced out of their homes due to estate renewal, welfare reforms, poverty, and the precarity of low-income work. Social cleansing can be understood as a geographical project made up of processes, practices, and policies designed to remove council estate residents from space and place, what we call a ‘new accumulative form of (state-led) gentrification’. We outline these accumulative processes, practices and policies, but more importantly we present grounded, empirical evidence of council tenants and leaseholders’ everyday experiences of dispossession, focusing our lens on three south London boroughs identified as eviction hotspots.
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Housing Studies
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The social cleansing of London council estates:
everyday experiences of ‘accumulative
Loretta Lees & Hannah White
To cite this article: Loretta Lees & Hannah White (2019): The social cleansing of London
council estates: everyday experiences of ‘accumulative dispossession’, Housing Studies, DOI:
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© 2019 The Author(s). Published by Informa
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The social cleansing of London council estates: everyday
experiences of accumulative dispossession
Loretta Lees
and Hannah White
School of Geography, Geology and the Environment, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK;
Cambridge House, London, UK
Londons council estates and their residents are under threat like
never before. Council tenants are being forced out of their homes
due to estate renewal, welfare reforms, poverty, and the precarity
of low-income work. Social cleansing can be understood as a geo-
graphical project made up of processes, practices, and policies
designed to remove council estate residents from space and
place, what we call a new accumulative form of (state-led) gentri-
fication. We outline these accumulative processes, practices and
policies, but more importantly we present grounded, empirical
evidence of council tenants and leaseholderseveryday experien-
ces of dispossession, focusing our lens on three south London
boroughs identified as eviction hotspots.
Received 6 March 2019
Accepted 11 October 2019
State-led gentrification;
dispossession; austerity;
welfare reform; precarity
In 2012, Boris Johnson, then Mayor of London, criticized councils moving housing
benefit claimants out of the capital, saying he would not have Kosovo-style social
cleansingon his watch. Yet the social cleansing of council estatesthe large-scale
removal of members of a social category regarded as undesirable or disposablehas
continued apace in London and council estate residents are under threat like never
before. This dispossession is not a singular process, rather it relates to several co-
evolving and indeed accumulative processes including but not limited to: council
estate renewal/gentrification (Lees, 2014a, 2014b; Watt and Minton, 2016), changes in
housing and welfare policy (see Hamnett, 2010,2014), and the growing precarity of
low income work.
Since 1997, 54,263 units have either been demolished or are slated
for demolition on council estates of more than 100 units in London
; a conservative
estimate is that 135,658 households are being displaced. The estimates in previous
reports have been 50,000,
this is substantially higher. Council properties are being
further decimated through right to buy (see Disney & Luo, 2017). At the same time
reformsintended to cut the welfare bill such as the bedroom tax and tax credits,
plus the simultaneous rise of zero hours contracts, have hit the working poor hardest.
CONTACT Loretta Lees
ß2019 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (
licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Nationally rates of eviction from local authority properties have been rising steadily
mainly owing to rent arrears, and a number of London boroughs have been identified
by Shelter as eviction hotspots. In 2014 on average, one in thirty tenant households
in the three south London boroughs of Southwark, Lambeth and Lewisham received
a possession order, meaning they were subject to legal process where their home was
at risk (Shelter 2014).
This social cleansing of Londons council estate residents is underpinned by all four
features of David Harveys(2003) accumulation by dispossession: privatization, financi-
alization, the management and manipulation of crisis, and state redistributions. Social
cleansing can be understood as a geographical project made up of processes, practices,
and policies designed to remove council tenants from space and place. Social cleansing
is scalar (from the individual to whole council estates) and operates along a continuum
of percolating violence that can be slow but also at times very fast (see Elliot-Cooper
et al., 2019). Since 2010 there have been a number of commentaries by geographers
and others on the privatization of council housing, housing benefit cuts and welfare
reforms, which points to the residualization of council housing and dispossession of
the poor (e.g. Hamnett, 2010,2014). This work, however, tells only one part of the
story, for it has ignored the large-scale dispossessions due to the gentrification of coun-
cil estates, what Elmer and Dening (2016) have called the London clearances.
Likewise, there has been much work done around theorizing accumulation by dispos-
session and discussing the policies implicated in it, but much less on empirically inves-
tigating the lived experiences of dispossession. Hodkinson & Essen (2015) ask that we
ground our discussions of eviction and displacement in everyday life, looking at the
specificities of how dispossession plays out and is experienced by people on the ground.
In this article, we do just that through in depth empirical research with council estate
residents in south London experiencing dispossession from their homes.
In so doing, we extend other emerging research in this field (e.g. Glucksberg, 2017;
Minton, 2017; Watt, 2018) by following Londoners being dispossessed of their council
estate homes: we follow them out of their original council estate home, into the
county court room, and into public inquiries, providing important insight into the
processes, lived experiences, and indeed possibilities of resistance to this social cleans-
ing. Where Glucksberg (2017) looks back to the 1990s, we look at the contemporary
time period. Where Watt (2018) looks only at homeless people in temporary accom-
modation we look at those that have had more secure, permanent, council tenancies,
including leaseholders. Watt (2018) argues that two dynamics are at play in Londons
current housing precarityurban regeneration/state-led gentrification and austerity
urbanism, our research shows other important dynamics, including poverty, low pay,
the vagaries of zero hour contracts, and the bureaucratic failures of the benefits pay-
ment system. We believe that these multiple dynamics add up to an accumulative
dispossessionthat adds significantly to the estate renewal household displacement
numbers we cited earlier. We use the term accumulative dispossessionas distinct
from accumulation by dispossessionhere to underline the accumulation of policies
and practices that have been put in place in attacks on council estates and their resi-
dents, and to highlight the layering of these processes of dispossession over time and
space. Cooper and Paton (2017) provide the broader context in which this discussion
sits when they talk about the new urban frontier of everyday evictions in the UK as
part of state involvement in housing and austerity; but here we zoom in on London,
a hyper-gentrifying city with the highest land values in the UK (and amongst some of
the highest internationally), where these processes are playing out especially violently.
Following MacLeod (2002) we keep an open mind as to the possibilities of resisting
this social cleansing and in so doing consider those vestiges of the British welfare
state that act as protections for the poor.
The accumulative attack on council housing
In 1893 London County Council (LCC) built Londons first council estate in the
Shoreditch/Bethnal Green area in East London.
For the next 50 years LCC built
council estates in inner and outer London. The interwar push for homes fit for her-
oesand subsequent Housing and Town Planning Act of 1919 was a watershed
moment in the provision of council housing for working families (if not the poor).
The Housing Act of 1930 encouraged mass slum clearance and councils set to work
to replace slums with new build homes, trying initially to rehouse people back into
the communities they were forced to vacate following the demolition of their homes.
Following World War II many slum areas remained and had been made worse by
bombing during the war, council house building redoubled and by the 1960s over
500,000 new homes had been added to Londons stock. Post war architects and plan-
ners saw slum clearances as an opportunity to enact a modern urban visionhigh
rise estates with streets in the sky. Dunleavy (1981) showed that the lions share of
British high rise housing was built in London (36.2%). The clearances were different
in different boroughs, in Southwark large swathes of terraced housing was bulldozed
to make way for large council estates, e.g., the Heygate Estate and the Aylesbury
Estate which we focus on in this article. But by the time the Aylesbury Estate was
built in 1977 the high rise ideal was all but dead in the UK and there was a shift
from large scale clearances towards the preservation and rehabilitation of
older housing.
The first political/policy assault on council housing was from Margaret Thatcher
and the New Right (see Hodkinson & Robbins, 2013), although it had been threat-
ened by poor management, under investment, and paternalism from at least the early
1970s. From the late 1970s, when Londons population was shrinking, some Greater
London Council (GLC) tenants had managed to buy the homes they rented but then
the Conservative governments 1980 Housing Act gave all council tenants the right to
buy their council homes. Thatchersright to buylegislation saw the council housing
system begin to implode (see Hanley, 2007; Malpass, 2005). Since 1980 1,843,830
council homes have been sold through right to buy in England, 16% of these
(287,384) have been in London (
live-tables-on-social-housing-sales, Table 685). The number of properties managed by
London councils started to shrink; 1990 was the peak year for right to buy. In add-
ition, the 1986 Housing and Planning Act gave councils the option of transferring all
or part of their housing to another landlord (stock transfer), such as a registered
social landlord, this further cemented council housings decline (see Forrest & Murie,
1988; Cole & Furbey, 1994). The Thatcherite attack on council housing was aided by
geographer Alice Coleman (1985) who argued that the design of British high rise
council estates was to blame for the social problems on them (see Jacobs &
Lees, 2014).
In 1994 there were 645,588 council rented dwellings in London, by 2017 this had
declined to 393,938.
The borough with the largest number of council properties,
Southwark, declined from 55,803 in 1994 to 38,553 in 2017; the next largest Lambeth
declined from 44,531 to 23,715. Continuing in the same vein, in 1995 Thatchers suc-
cessor as prime minister, John Major also condemned multistorey estates: There they
stand, grey, sullen, concrete wastelands, set apart from the rest of the community,
robbing people of ambition and self-respect(Meikle, 1995).
The attack on council estates was instigated by Thatcher but continued by New
Labour. New Labours assault on council estates has been well documented (Watt &
Jacobs, 2000; Lees, 2014a, 2014b; Hodkinson & Robbins, 2013), clothed as it was in
language about the moral failure of council estate residents and social responsibility
to take the poor and disadvantaged out of sink estates(see Johnston & Mooney,
2007; Slater, 2018). Of course the story of why poverty and social problems became
concentrated on council estates is complex and part of the history of council housing
in the UK (see Hanley, 2007), indeed the language of moral failure was evident before
New Labour in publications from the free market think tank the Institute of
Economic Affairs in the 1980s (e.g. Murray, 1990). New Labours solution was to
rebuild council estates as mixed income communities. Demolition occurred in a com-
plex and spatially uneven manner out of the third way reform of the governance and
financing of council housing away from local authority ownership and control
(Hodkinson & Robbins, 2013; Watt & Minton, 2016). Critical urban scholars have
charged that council estate renewal through mixed communities policy was/is
gentrification by stealth(Bridge et al.2011) socially cleansing the inner city of low-
income communities. They have also raised questions about the underpinning ideal
of mixed communitiesas a poorly conceptualized and ineffective policy panacea for
social ills (Lees, 2008; Cheshire, 2009; Tunstall & Lupton, 2010). A London based
study by Arbaci and Rae (2013) found that mixed communities policy in London exa-
cerbated social inequality and masked deprivation. In their Islington study area they
found that affluent professionals had displaced low income populations of Greeks
and Somalians, and that council tenants were being pushed further out of London to
places such as Enfield and Cheshunt in Hertfordshire. The much touted shared-own-
ership schemes were taken up almost exclusively by young professionals from outside
of the neighborhood.
In 2004 the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) was established by Iain Duncan Smith
as an independent think-tank to make policy recommendations to tackle the root
causes of poverty. Like New Labour, the CSJ argued that living on a council estate
affected your life chances. The CSJ was commissioned by the then Leader of the
Opposition, David Cameron, to develop a new poverty-fighting agenda for the
Conservative Party which resulted in the 2007 Breakthrough Britain report,
argued for an end to any obligation to provide council housing and that we should
encourage private landlordism instead. In many ways this report was an extension of
New Labours urban renaissance agenda, for example, Section 3.2 repeated the New
Labour mantra on delivering socially mixed communities. But they pushed it further
by underlining that council housing was to be a spring board and not a safety net
(p.95). This was followed by a report Principles for Social Housing Reform,
Localis, recommending councils should exploit [the] huge reserve of capital valuein
their houses and the land by selling it off and charging market terms. London based
Housing Associations got in on the act, for example, Kate Davies, now Chief
Executive of Notting Hill Genesis, contributed an Introduction to the 2008 CSJ report
Housing Poverty
in which she said that council estates are ghettos of needy people,
council homes are subsidized by the taxpayer, council tenants often pay little or no
rent, and get their home maintained in good order for free. She also maintained that
living on an estate can affect your health, your ability to work, the type of education
your children will get and your life chances. She added that social housing is not a
desirable destinationand that private ownership is preferable to state pro-
vided solutions.
Such reports were the supporting planks to assault three, the Coalition govern-
ments changes to housing benefit payments, which, from 2013, allowed local
authorities to pay not the median local rent but a payment equivalent to the 30th
percentile of local market rents, which almost immediately exacerbated already-exist-
ing processes of displacement. Reduced tenancy rights followed when the statutory
right to lifetime tenancies for new council housing tenants in England and Wales
were axed. Indeed, Hodkinson & Robbins (2013) argue that the Coalition govern-
ment saw a return to the Thatcherite agenda and class war conservatism, enacting
Harveys(2003)accumulation by dispossessionby halving the affordable housing
budget from £8.4 billion to £4.5 billion, 2011-2015. The predictions that low income
Londoners would experience mass displacement(Fenton, 2011) and that such poli-
cies would pave the way for a new wave of gentrification (Hodkinson & Robbins,
2013) are already materializing. To kick-start and acceleratethat process, the gov-
ernment launched a £150 million Estate Regeneration Programme of loans to pri-
vate developers redeveloping existing estateson a mixed tenure basisso as to
boost housing supplyand improve the quality of life for residents in some of the
most run down estates in London and nationwide(HCA, 2014).
The Welfare
Reform and Work Act 2016 sustained the attack on disadvantaged groups (within a
landscape of austerity) with benefit caps and freezes, and changes to carers allowan-
ces, etc.
In assault four Camerons Conservative government
announced in 2016 that it
would blitz poverty and improve the life chances of the disadvantaged by demolishing
the UKs worst sink estates. This announcement was aided by a report from prop-
erty consultants Savills who argued that such an approach would help catalyze the
building of hundreds of thousands of new homes in London alone. Redeveloping
council estates with market housing was touted by both the Conservative Minister for
Housing, Brandon Lewis (2015),
and Labour peer Lord Adonis (2015),
as a way
to address deprivation and increase housing supply without public funding, showing
the cross party support for demolishing council estates. Hodkinson & Robbins (2013)
are surely right to say that such interventions were designed to
unblock and expand the market, complete the residualization of social housing and
draw people into an ever more economically precarious housing experience in order to
boost capitalist interests(p. 1).
In fact, London was already ahead of the sink estate strategy, as the Mayor of
Londons (2014) Housing Strategy called for the vast development potential in
Londons existing affordable housing estates(p. 59)
to be unlocked through private
redevelopment. And borough councils argued there is no alternative to estate renewal
at a time of cuts to local authority budgets and restrictions on municipal finance.
The, now somewhat diluted, 2016 Housing and Planning Act
is set to accelerate
social housing losses and make social housing more generally a less secure tenancy
through the selling of higher value council housing and pay to stay, etc.
For the moment, council estates remain home to a large number of Londoners
and offer secure and truly affordable accommodation, but they are massively under
threat. Add to this the C21st precarity of low income work, like zero hours contracts,
and the everyday realities of poverty and marginality, and a perfect storm has been
created. The outcome of the 2018 Social Housing Green Paper, a new dealfor social
housing, is yet to be known. The Grenfell fire tragedy caused panic at central govern-
ment level, resulting in a Green Paper which in theory was meant to address the stig-
matization of social housingbut which has not yet resulted in any concrete
proposals. In what follows we present grounded empirical data on the lived experien-
ces of these assaults on council estates and their residents in London.
Everyday experiences of dispossession on London council estates
Our research lens is focused on those south London boroughs identified by Shelter
(2014) as eviction hotspots. Eviction can occur due to serious anti-social behavior,
such as drug-dealing or domestic violence, rent arrears, or estate renewal. The latter
two are the most statistically significant and are analyzed here. We draw on a mix of
primary and secondary data from four interlinked research projects,
this allows for
a much needed longitudinal view. The primary data includes in-depth interviews with
those displaced from the Heygate (n¼20) and about to be displaced from the
Aylesbury (n¼35) estates in Southwark. These interviews were undertaken between
2011 and 2018. The interviews focused on both council tenants and leaseholders
experiences of displacement and its economic, social, cultural, and emotional impacts.
We also collected postcode data on displacement from both the Heygate and
Aylesbury estates, mapping where people were displaced to. The primary data also
includes research undertaken at Lambeth County Court over 3 months in 2015 shad-
owing solicitors acting as duty advisers for the court.
This access provided us with
the unique opportunity to observe solicitors helping council tenants in the boroughs
of Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark facing a dispossession order on their home.
Judges also gave us access to some of the court cases, in which we were able to follow
the tenant and duty solicitor into the courtroom. We were able to examine the rea-
sons why tenants found themselves in arrears and facing eviction, and their experien-
ces of this. We were also interested in how local authority housing and the law
protects those who are vulnerableand/or on low incomes from dispossession. In 15
randomly selected visits to the court we were able to observe over 50 cases, and made
detailed notes on 43. Statistical analysis of the duty scheme data for 2014/15 (based
on 790 unique visitors) also provided information on the gender and ethnic origin of
those facing a possession order in court, the type of landlord and the order made.
In what follows we begin by looking at dispossession due to council estate renewal,
then we turn to council possession orders, of course these different forms of dispos-
session can be layered on top of each other. It is what Watt (2018, p. 96) calls the
the vicious intertwiningof long neoliberal policies coupled with short-term austerity
cuts, but it is more than that too, for poverty, ill health, zero hour contracts, and the
vagaries of the benefits system are all evident. There are no doubt cases of council
estate residents that may be experiencing both displacement due to council estate
renewal and dispossession due to a possession order at the same time, although
thankfully we did not come across anyone in this unique situation. The enormity of
the accumulative dispossessionthat London council estate residents are facing
becomes evident, as does their lived experience of the dynamics at play. What is clear
is that the state, government policy (or the lack of government policy in the case of
reeling in the injustice of zero hours contracts and low pay), is to blame.
Dispossession due to council estate renewal
The Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle was sold by Southwark Council to the
international property developer Lendlease for £50 million. Southwark then spent
over £44 million moving the 3000 plus council tenants and leaseholders out (Lees,
2014b). One in three secure tenants were subjected to eviction proceedings (on the
connection between state-led gentrification and state-led evictions, see Paton and
Cooper, 2016). The Heygate Estate has now been demolished, its replacement
Elephant Parkwas sold off-plan in East Asia. There were 1194 council flats, the new
development will have no council flats but it will have 82 affordableunits, affordable
means 80% of Londons super-heated market rent, more than double the level of
council rents. As the displacement maps in Figures 1 and 2show both Heygate coun-
cil tenants and leaseholders have been displaced from their homes. Just one in five
secure tenants managed to stay living in the neighborhood, that is the wider SE17
postcode, the rest were displaced across Southwark and beyond. Tenants were asked
to find a new home through the Councils Homesearch waiting list and bidding
scheme and were given only 6 months to do so: it took six times if you dont
accept any of the bidding you go back to the bottom again I think I got mine after
the third bidding(ex Heygate council tenant who was displaced, interview 2013).
Then the council began to issue eviction notices over the heads of those who failed
to find their own council place or refused the councils offer of alternative housing.
One ex-Heygate tenant who had lived on the Heygate for 14 years, between 1995 and
2009, was a single mother living in a one bedroom, privately rented flat that was very
expensive for her at £650pcm. She said that her 22 year old son was sleeping on the
sofa, that she was on the housing register for Gravesham Borough Council but did
not have enough points.
This was not her first move since leaving the Heygate,
indeed as is often common in stories of displacement she moved multiple times
(Watt, 2018, calls this recurrent displacement), first to Surrey Quays, then to
Rotherhithe to housing association accommodation where she lived for 2 years before
moving to Kent. She said: Because I moved away from London I dont think I
might be moving back I still have sisters that live in South London I still see
them on the train you know. But I lost contact with friends I still have their num-
bers but its the distance and everything(interview, 2013). Displacement is rarely a
singular move, more often multiple moves occur before people settle.
Interviews with council tenants being displaced from the adjacent Aylesbury
Estate (see Figure 1 in Hubbard & Lees, 2018) backed up the stories gathered on
the Heygate Estate. Of course, the impacts on the elderly and those with health
issues were even worse. One elderly council tenant in the process of being evicted
from the Aylesbury had onset dementia, as such the interview was done with
her daughter:
Well the only way she wants to be coming out of here is in a box at the end of the
day they are not listening to what she is saying which is just leave me here!. Because
theyll move em out, it will be just like the Heygate. The blocks will stand up year after
year my mums 83, shell be long gone before the blocks. So part of me thinks just
leave her here, just leave her alone. So thats what I say(interview, 2013).
The impacts on the elderly are especially acute. Another interview with a widower
who had lived on the Aylesbury Estate for 25 years showed clearly what he felt he
was leaving behind when he accepted a replacement council flat in Kennington Park,
it also shows the impact of the slow violence of these regeneration schemes as he
begins to withdraw his sense of place:
As you can see I put a lot of effort into this flat. I worked hard on it. I sanded the
floors. Ive got a mural that I cant take with me Its not to everybodys tastes but
its to my taste, at least it was to my taste 10 years ago but basically Im decorating
the new place in a similar way. When I moved in here it was a combination of my ideas
and my wife at the time, so the difference between that and me doing it by myself is,
err, yeah, you know. When they announced that they wanted to demolish the place it
Figure 1. Council tenant displacement from the Heygate Estate, London (Source: Lees et al.,2013;
London Tenants Federation et al.,2014; also reproduced in
changed things for me, in a sense that I didnt feel as inspired to decorate and to keep
the place. Like, it doesnt look like it did. The floor was immaculate, I let it go a certain
amount. I didnt deliberately let it go I felt like, you know, I had this thing hanging over
my head. Thats one of the reasons I decided to move(interview 2013).
Even for those that have been able to move nearby, the feelings of loss are acute:
(The new flat is) 10 mins from the old one, its so small, dad cant get in the bathroom
or take a shower. He was in hospital and hes at my mums now he cant move here.
The kids miss their grandma, theyve never been in a place where grandma was not
there, they will cry at night …“I want to go to Nans.Ill say wait until the weekend
son. He cries he wants to move back to the Aylesbury. Mums losing her marbles, shes
lost so much weight, she lost her friends one is in Cooks Road, one is in Nunhead,
she hasnt seen them since she moved. She hasnt seen any of them(interview 2017).
Baxter and Brickell (2014) have called this home unmakingand they are clear
that some home unmakings like the ones in this article are brutal, alienating and dis-
criminatory. Supportive familial and community networks are undermined and
often destroyed.
The whole process of dispossession of council tenants from the bidding process for
a replacement home to the demands of viewing potential (but often unsuitable) new
homes was highly stressful and destabilizing. One interviewee who lived with her eld-
erly, disabled mother who spoke little English, and had two young children, one at
nursery, the other at primary school, said:
Things have been really mad. We were offered to view a flat but mum couldnt get
there but mum said it was okay for me to look and to see if there was enough room for
the children. The council dont care and only offer us 2 bedrooms but I am at the point
now that I just dont care, Ive had enough. The flat was really small and only 2
bedrooms. There were disabled rails like in the bathroom. The kitchen is very small, the
lounge very small, but I told them we couldnt take it because there was no lift so how
could my mum get up there? She cannot use stairs. They said they didnt realize my
mum is disabled. We were offered to view another place and I went there. I was waiting
in the cold for 35 minutes and no one turned up! Now they say our bidding is
suspended! It has been for the last 2 weeks. I asked why and they said I never turned up
for the viewing! But I did, I was there for over 35 minutes and didnt see no-one!
(interview, 2013).
Leaseholders on both the Heygate (see Figure 2) and targeted blocks on the
Aylesbury (see Figure 2 in Hubbard and Lees, 2018), who had bought their flats
through right to buy, were issued with Compulsory Purchase Orders and the council
made them low balloffers. Each leaseholder was made an offer on an individual
basis (so the same size flats in the same block might be given a different offer), a
council divide and ruletactic that they hoped would both reduce what they had to
pay and stop leaseholders coming together to resist council offers. The last lease-
holder to be forcibly evicted from the Heygate (where he was refusing to move until
he got market value for his property), a teacher, commissioned an independent sur-
veyor who valued his property, a 3-bed maisonette, at £240,000; £80,000 more than
the Councils surveyors. The councils surveyors argued that theirswasagoodoffer
given that the properties were soon to be demolished. Obviously value should not
have been linked to other properties about to be demolished but to market rates in
the area. The council resorted to Rachmann
like tactics to get this leaseholder out,
turning off his gas and electricity, and barricading in the near empty estate. On
being evicted from the estate, the council billed him for his eviction, and he was
forced to move in with his partner as he could not afford to buy another property in
the area. Another leaseholder from the Heygate was offered a flat in the nearby
newly built, high rise, Strata Tower. She was given £150,000 for her 3-bed flat on the
Heygate Estate, but flats in the Strata Tower ranged from a studio flat at £240,000 to
3 bed flats at £775,000. The 2-bed penthouse was on the market at the time for £1.6
million. The leaseholder had worked three jobs, seven days a week to pay off her
mortgage and saw her right to buyflat as an investment for her children. To buy
in the Strata (or indeed elsewhere in London) she would need to get another mort-
gagenot easy on her low income and with insecure jobs and new mortgage restric-
tionsher life security and investment was destroyed (Lees, 2014b). This was/is
nothing less than domicide (Nowicki, 2014). Porteous and Smith (2001) define
domicide as the planned, deliberate destruction of someones home, causing suffer-
ing to the dweller.
Leaseholders on the Aylesbury Estate who fought the CPO told similar stories of
below market value offers and dirty tactics by the council to get them out. One lease-
holder who was involved in the first and indeed second Aylesbury Public Inquiry was
put to the severest of tests. The list could not be more disturbing: the council built a
high fence around her block (see Figure 3) making it very difficult for her to access
the property that she owned, she had to wait for a security guard to let her in to her
own home; the council got the postcode of her block deleted meaning she could not
receive post, including benefits, a replacement fridge etc. They began demolishing the
blocks around her (see Figure 4), this seemingly caused a gas leak in late 2016 that
Figure 2. Leaseholder displacement from the Heygate Estate, London (Source: Lees et al.,2013 and
London Tenants Federation et al.,2014; also reproduced in
saw her hospitalized for gas poisoning (interview, 2016). Moreover, on her return
home from the hospital she got stuck in her blocks lift for 90 minutes when it failed
due to non-maintenance, only to get in her door to find the council had left her
cooker on the whole time she had been in the hospital. When asked how she man-
ages to survive all this she said I have no alternative!.
The results of the (first) Aylesbury Public Inquiry were released later in 2016. The
leaseholder testimonies and academic research presented to the inquiry looked at the
eradication of home against the will of its dwellers, to the sweeping destruction of
families, communities and ways of being. They gained a precedent setting win, as the
Planning Inspector
ruled that the CPO would have significant negative impacts on
protected (BAME) groups, thus breaching Public Sector Equality Duty. In his follow
on ruling, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government said that
the owner-occupiers refusing to move should not be forcibly evicted. He too was con-
cerned that the impact on the majority of the estate who are from BAME back-
grounds would be disproportionate and that they would have to move out of
Southwark if the Order was confirmed (see Rendell, 2017; Hubbard & Lees, 2018).In
the 2018 revised Aylesbury Estate public inquiry there were further wins with a
change in Southwarks policy for dealing with the CPO of leaseholders (see Lees and
Hubbard, forthcoming), even if ultimately this did not stop the dispossessions. The
demolition of council estates in London is ongoing and is having detrimental impacts
not only on the number of council homes available but also critically on peoples
everyday lives. But welfare changes and the vagaries of working poverty are also
Figure 3. Aylesbury EstatesAlcatraz fencebuilt by Southwark Council around Chiltern House
(Photo: Loretta Lees, 2018).
pushing Londoners out of council housing and indeed the capital. It is to this related
dispossession that we now turn.
Dispossession from council homes due to possession orders
As Hamnett (2014) points out London accounts for the highest share of UK housing
benefit (26%), and housing benefits make up the lions share of total benefit spending
in London (50%, bar pensions and child benefit). He charges that London is witness-
ing welfare policy generated social cleansing(p. 501), but welfare cuts (including
caps on housing benefit, the bedroom tax) are only one part of the story, for the neo-
liberalization of the world of work (e.g. zero hours contracts), low incomes, and the
bureaucratic vagaries of how benefits are managed, are also significant factors causing
rent arrears and dispossessions. Those facing eviction proceedings at Lambeth County
Court faced multiple challenges, despite 67% being in full or part time work the over-
riding reason for their rent arrears was poverty (cr. Malpass, 2004, on residualization
in social housing). Those in care and service industry jobs were simply not paid
enough to cover rent, council tax, utility bills, food and travel, even when living in
low cost council housing. Similarly those who were self-employed or on zero-hour
contracts described struggling to budget and manage rent payments due to insecure
working conditions, inconsistent hours, delayed housing benefit payments and with
no contingency to cover periods of sickness or family crisis. The precariousness of
tenantscircumstances and the fine line for many between being able to just about
manage and falling into arrears was stark:
Figure 4. Demolition of the blocks behind Chiltern House (Photo: Loretta Lees, 2018).
The landlord, Lambeth Council, is seeking a suspended possession order. The woman a
nursery nurse officer works full time. She earns £1156 a month. The monthly rent is
£636.35. The arrears built up when her parents died, one after the other. She spent her
rent on travel to the Midlands to make arrangements for the funerals(Field
notes, 2016).
During our visits to the court we also saw, first hand, how benefit reform
intended to reduce welfare dependencyin the Welfare Reform Act 2012
had dir-
ectly increased the threat of dispossession (see Fitzpatrick & Watts, 2017, on the wel-
farization of English social housing). In one case a woman in her sixties who had
lived in her two-bed council flat in Lambeth for 30 years, was facing a possession
order for rent arrears after her housing benefit payments had been cut by 14%. The
woman was self-employed and earned £107 a week, her rent was £126.94 and she
simply did not have enough money to cover the shortfall. The under-occupancy pen-
alty(bedroom tax) also left people without enough money to pay their rent and
tougher benefit sanctions introduced in 2012 led to peoples housing benefit being
wrongly withdrawn and consequently receiving a possession order. For example, a
couple with learning difficulties had been served notice after falling behind with their
rent as a result of their housing benefit being suspended because their adult daughter
was suspected of earning more than she had declared. Their housing benefit had
since been reinstated, but arrears had built up and the couple had failed to keep up
their payments. When the solicitor asked why they had stopped paying their contri-
bution, the woman admitted that when she got stressed outshe couldnt cope and
things had fallen apart. In another case a young, black man suffering from depres-
sion, anxiety and psychosis had had his employment and support allowance (ESA)
and housing benefit stopped after he was assessed as being physically fit for work.
The man was in the process of appealing against this and although his housing bene-
fit had since been reinstated he had no other income to pay off the arrears and was
living from food-banks and handouts from friends. During the hearing the Judge
asked why people evidently in need were having their housing benefit stopped.
Under current law, housing benefit should not be automatically suspended when
an individual is subject to other benefit sanctions. However, The Guardian reported
that the Department for Work and Pensionscomputer system had been wrongly
informing local authority housing benefit departments that those subject to sanctions
had had their benefits cancelled rather than temporarily withdrawn.
This led to
housing benefits being wrongly suspended or stopped, as in the case above. This
increased the risk of homelessness, while adding to the national welfare bill, as
increasing numbers of people faced eviction proceedings over unpaid rent. It was also
apparent during the research that administrative mistakes by under-resourced hous-
ing benefit departments were jeopardizing peoples homes.
Of the 43 cases we observed, 28 claimed housing benefit and 2 were awaiting a
claim to be processed. In half the cases delays or a mistake in housing benefit pay-
ments had been a contributory factor to their rent arrears. Problems encountered
included: delays in processing claims, delayed payments for those on zero hour con-
tracts and/or flexible working arrangements, and clawing back’—the practice of
deducting sums from housing benefit payments owing to a previous over payment.
These issues were critical for those struggling to make ends meet and contributed to
peoples homes being put at risk. In another case, a woman had had her housing
benefit suspended when she went to Pakistan for two months owing to a family
bereavement, despite informing the housing benefit office that she would be away.
On her return it was reinstated in full, but five months later she was still waiting for
a payment to cover the arrears and it was this debt that led to the landlord filing a
Section 8 eviction notice. The Judge adjourned the case on the basis that the notice
had been filed incorrectly, however in the absence of this oversight, the Judge would
have had no option but to grant a possession order.
For those on low incomes, the process of clawing backmeant that tenants were
unable to budget and pay their rent. For example, despite this single parent working
part-time and studying (she was still awaiting her first student loan payment), she
was struggling to make ends meet:
Crying and hardly audible she explains that she has had to borrow money from family
and friends and that she has paid all she can and has no more money (the day before
the hearing the tenant paid £700 towards the arrears). She says the housing benefit issue
is due to a mistake on her claim and as a result she has not been getting any assistance.
Herself and her son are living off £20 a week. She says she wants to pay but cant. In
order to go to University she has to borrow an oyster card from a friend because she
cant afford to top up her own card(field notes, 2016).
We observed three other similar cases of lone-parents who were students, strug-
gling to manage their student loan income and housing benefit entitlement. In each
case the tenant had not understood what benefits they were entitled to or how they
should manage the loans and budget for the holidays. In one of the cases, the wom-
ans original debt dated back to 2003. Since then shed been paying back the arrears
at £3.75 a week. Notice had been served after her payments became erratic, due to
her student loan being delayed, the NHS bursary she was expecting suddenly being
halved, and changes to her housing benefit payments. In court, neither the Judge,
solicitor or housing officer could make sense of her housing benefit entitlements or
payments and the case was adjourned and a housing benefit officer requested to be
present at the next hearing.
We observed the impact of benefit sanctions, historical underpayments and delays,
but it was also apparent that the system itself was under resourced and in disarray.
Amongst tenants facing eviction proceedings, there was confusion regarding what
benefits they were entitled to and many claimed they had not received any paper
work or advice regarding a housing benefit decision which had resulted in them not
being able to pay their rent. For example, a single parent, working two days a week
at Sainsburys supermarket and in receipt of full housing benefit, claimed shed been
unaware that she was in arrears until she received the court summons. In court, it
was apparent from the housing benefit record that despite there being no change in
her circumstances her housing benefit had been suspended and then later reinstated,
but the arrears payment put into her account did not cover the entire period her
benefit had been stopped for.
For those struggling with a range of issues such as ill health, depression, caring for
a dependant, poverty, and problems with benefits, the court experience was traumatic
and served to worsen their situation. In one case, a single woman with an adult child
living with her who had agoraphobia, anxiety and depression was facing eviction pro-
ceedings because she did not have enough money to pay her rent. During her con-
sultation with the duty solicitor it was apparent that due to her fluctuating income
she was eligible for housing benefit, however it had been delayed owing to a query
on her case. She was also struggling to pay council tax and although she was the pri-
mary carer for her son she was not eligible for a carers allowance. The duty solicitor
explained that because the womans income was so low if she received a suspended
possession order she wouldnt be able to keep up the arrears payments and was at
real risk of losing her home and as such sought an adjournment. After the hearing
we interviewed the woman about the possibility of losing her home:
I made it a home for 26 years and to lose it you know Im getting on in life. Its not
a good thing, the stress of it and being under all the stress makes me worried that I
wont be able to do my job properly, if at all. I might lose my job. If I am made
homeless I will lose my job because I get sent my rota at home, it has personal
information about service users and that cant be urm [starts to cry] disclosed to
anybody, so I will lose my job too, as well as my home(interview, 2016).
On paying her rent she said:
I was never in dispute of it: I simply dont have enough money. I go to bed every night
with a sandwich and a cup of tea [still crying]. I cant even have a proper meal. I
understand that its got to be done, but urgh it just feels like a punishment for the
poor. If I was in Dickensian times I would be in debtors prison(interview, 2016).
Disproportionately at risk of eviction in South London were women with depend-
ents and ethnic minorities. According to the 2014/15 duty scheme records, 18% of
clients were white British, 27% black/British African, and 20% black/British
Caribbean. Similar demographics were recorded during our duty scheme observa-
tions: 23% were noted as being white British and 60% black/British African and
black/British Caribbean. Women were also overrepresented, 61% of the 2014/15 duty
scheme clients and 67% of those we observed were female. Of the female clients
observed, 15 had a dependent child living with them, 3 lived with a non-dependent
child, and another 3 lived with a non-dependent child with care needs. Only 4
women with children lived with a partner. These figures reflect the BME populations
of council estates in South London that the Planning Inspector and Secretary of State
were so concerned about in terms of ethnic cleansing of the Aylesbury Estate (see
previous section).
It was apparent during our observations at the court that the duty scheme and
solicitors, and indeed many judges, were essential for keeping council tenants in their
homes. The atmosphere at court was frantic and when listening to tenants it was
clear that many did not understand the eviction process and some were even unclear
as to why eviction proceedings had been taken against them. Solicitors were able to
advise tenants on what type of order or ruling they should apply for, suggested realis-
tic amounts for paying back the arrears, negotiated with housing officers, and in
court were able to ensure that due process had been followed. It became evident that
these safeguards were essential for protecting council housing tenants from homeless-
ness. Of the 19 local authority cases we observed, only one suspended possession
order, one outright possession order, and one warrant application were upheld. It
was also evident that secure council tenancies provide extra protections in the evic-
tion process. A local authority can only forcibly evict a council tenant by seeking a
possession order through the court, and when in court they must demonstrate that it
is reasonable for an order to be made. Given the extremely difficult circumstances
that both life and the benefits system has put some tenants in, this safeguard proved
essential for protecting the poor and otherwise marginalized from homelessness. In
order to evict a tenant, a council or housing association must follow a number of
steps (see White & Lees, 2016). In cases where the tenant is facing potential eviction
over unpaid rent, before the council or housing association begin proceedings they
are first required to follow the pre-action protocol for possession claims introduced
in September 2015.
When a case reaches court, if it is proven that the pre-action
protocol steps have not been followed by the landlord then the Judge can adjourn
(postpone) or dismiss a case. The court can also adjourn a case or suspend an order
if a council or housing association tenant offers to pay the rent arrears back by a
mutually agreed amount (this should be affordable and based on the tenants income,
with minimum payments starting at £3.75). If an order is suspended a tenant will
only find themselves back in court if they fail to meet the agreed payments. The pri-
vate rental sector does not have these inbuilt protections for its tenants (see Cowan,
2011, on the legal context of social housing).
Although housing associations should follow the same guidance as local authority
landlords, they, as well as private landlords can speed up the eviction process by seek-
ing outright possession of a property using a Section 8 Notice. This means that if the
tenant is more than eight weeks in arrears at the time the summons is served and/or
the case is heard, and the notice has been served correctly, the court has no mandate
to intervene and the tenant can be evicted. During the research one of the duty solici-
tors suggested that increasingly some housing associations were resorting to progress-
ing evictions more swiftly. Given the large number of stock transfers of council
estates (accelerated by the Decent Homes program and PFI schemes) to housing asso-
ciations in London, e.g. Notting Hill Trust, now merged as Notting Hill Genesis, is
redeveloping the Aylesbury Estate, this is especially worrying. Those council tenants
who do get to move back onto the original footprint of their estate into new HA
homes will nevertheless lose the protections discussed above built into council hous-
ing tenure, potentially opening them up to future dispossessions. In addition, those
dispossessed council tenants who end up in the private rental sector are even more
vulnerable to eviction proceedings than housing association or council tenants.
Significantly, between 2005 and 2015 private rental stock in Southwark, for example,
rose by 26.1% from 61,096 to 77,023, while in the same period council rented stock
fell by 11.8% from 43,885 to 36,687 (Southwark Council 2015, Southwark Key
Housing Data, p. 15). Where Hodkinson & Essen (2015) show legal frameworks
assisting in accumulation by dispossession in peoples everyday lives, in this paper we
also show how legal frameworks can offer protection to council tenants facing dispos-
session. Protecting these protections should be paramount for future scholar-activist
work (cr. Layard, 2018).
In our observations at Lambeth County Court it was clear that the duty solicitors,
council tenancies themselves, and the judges all played a critical role in protecting (or
at least trying to protect) low income council tenants from losing their homes. But
the Ministry of Justice closed Lambeth County Court in 2017 in further cut backs,
despite widespread concern over the potential impacts on those facing an eviction
order, as a result of increased travel times to other courts (now also under threat of
closure) and costs (Cambridge House estimated 10% minimum of a tenants weekly
budget), and concerns over whether the duty scheme would be able to continue.
Access to justice itself for those facing dispossession is becoming increas-
ingly difficult.
Im a council tenant. I stay council tenant. I die council tenant. Simple as that!
(interview, 2013).
For over a century now council housing in London (as in the rest of the UK) has
provided secure and affordable homes for the working and workless poor, as part of
a welfare state deal that protected people from homelessness and acted as a counter
to the private rented sector. This protective shield is disappearing as we speak.
Council estates are being demolished and regenerated, and their residents pushed
out of their homes and communities. The benefits system no longer provides essential
safeguards for council estate tenants, partly the result of the 2012 Welfare Reform
Act, but also due to errors in the housing benefit system, which has seen, according
to the charity Crisis, one-third of housing benefit claimants subject to a sanction on
their un-employment benefit, having their housing benefit suspended or withdrawn.
Many more have been affected by delays in processing claims, mistakes and under
payments, while a lack of communication means that many are not even aware that
their home is at risk. This situation will only worsen with the rolling out of Universal
Credit, intended to simplify the benefits system by merging together the six existing
benefits, including employment benefit, tax credits and housing benefit.
The attack on council estates and their residents which began in the 1970s has
escalated over time. Recent benefit cuts have coincided with the aggressive disman-
tling of the council rented sector through the Housing and Planning Act 2016.
is underpinned by the principle that the market should provide the nations housing
needs either through owner-occupation or the private rented sector. This ideological
attack on council housing combined with benefit reform, we argue, can be viewed as
anew accumulative form of (state-led) gentrificationthat has chipped away at ten-
antsrights, forcing the working poor and those on benefits out of the capital, it is
even shutting down the courts where they seek justice. As we have shown there is a
violence to this accumulative dispossession, whether in the displacement due to
estate renewal or the austerity policies that have dismantled the social systems that
used to buffer against economic hardship (see Cooper & Whyte, 2017). Thinking
about these processes as accumulative dispossessionforces us to see this as a stealth
dispossession that is multi-layered and ongoing.
In July 2018 the current Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, introduced a new rule
(the first in the UK) that major estate regeneration schemes involving the demolition
of homes must have the backing of residents through an estate ballot, before receiving
City Hall funding. The newly elected Mayor of Lewisham said: Balloting residents on
estate redevelopments means that existing communities are truly at the heart of
changes in their area. Lewisham will be balloting residents as part of our ambitious
program to build new social and genuinely affordable homes.
Welcome as this
might be it only stands for future regeneration schemes, the numerous council estates
which already have planning permission are exempt. Nor does the ballot extend to all
households on an estate, e.g. private tenants who have been on a councils waiting list
for less than a year, or who are not on the waiting list at all (this is important given
that 40% of council homes sold under right to buy are let to private tenants) and
homeless households living in temporary accommodation (see Watt, 2018).
Moreover, Sadiq Khan secretly signed off on funding for 34 estates before announc-
ing the new ballot, including a number (like the Aylesbury Estate) in the 3 south
London boroughs we have focused on in this article.
The state, as we have shown here, plays an active role in coordinating new forms
of dispossession and diminishing the power of the poor in favor of the rich. The
2018 Social Housing Green Paper
has continued the dismantling of council housing,
offering no funding to build new council homes but offering all tenants a way into
property ownership through shared ownership schemes. How those on zero hours
contracts struggling to pay council rent could ever afford to buy through shared own-
ership was not discussed.
Londons Mayor and its borough councils are facing increased resistance to this
new accumulative form of gentrification; yet resistance is not enough, we also need
to create alternative blueprints to gentrification that regenerate without displacing
and socially cleansing low income groups. As Hodkinson & Robbins (2013, p. 72)
have said: within this context, not only will housing and tenant campaigns be crucial,
but so too will the role of academics in critically dissecting the purpose, mechanisms
and effects of these policies
as well as offering intellectual resources to help nourish
the creation of alternative policies and paradigms. No easy task but urgent
and critical.
1. See
2. This database has been collated as part of an ongoing ESRC project, PI: Lees,L; CoIs:
Hubbard,P. and Tate, N. Gentrification, Displacement, and the Impacts of Council Estate
Renewal in C21st London 2017-2020 [ES/N015053\1]). The database is not static and will
be updated until the end of the project.
4. See Boughton (2018) on the history council housing in the UK more widely.
including-vacants table 116).
6. Iain Duncan Smith was Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 201016, Leader of the
Conservative Party and Leader of the Opposition 20012003.
12. The role of Conservative Think Tank policy wonk Alex Morton as advisor to the
Cameron government explains the radical nature of the 2016 housing and
planning reforms.
16. On what was enacted and what was not adopted in the 2016 Housing and Planning Act
17. This includes research into the gentrification of council estates (funded by a 2012
Antipode Scholar-Activist Award, plus interviews from an associated urban studies
internship at KCL in 2013, and work with the Aylesbury Leaseholders Group for the
2015 public inquiry, plus the ESRC project [ES/N015053\1] listed in footnote 1) and
research into council tenants facing possession orders at Lambeth County Court
undertaken in 2015 with Cambridge House (funded by a University of Leicester Impact
Acceleration Award 2015-16).
18. In a scheme funded by Legal Aid and managed by Lambeth Law Centre a number of
legal advice centers and firms of solicitors from Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark
provided duty advisers for the court. A duty adviser is there to represent defendants who
come to court without legal counselusually because they cant afford it. The cases they
deal with are all possession hearings.
19. Each local authority has its own allocations policy that determines the criteria to qualify
to be on their register for a council home.
20. Cooks Road is in Kennington, Nunhead is in Peckham, some distance from the
Aylesbury Estate.
21. Peter Rachmann was a landlord in London in the 1950s notorious for the intimidation of
his tenants. His actions were associated with the winklingof tenants out of their homes.
22. See
29. See White and Lees (2016).
A special thanks to Karin Woodley at Cambridge House, Just Space, The London Tenants
Federation, Southwark Notes Archive Group, 35% Campaign, the Lambeth County Court duty
solicitors, all the interviewees, and to research assistants Sue Ansarie, Gavin McLaughlin and
Adam Elliot-Cooper.
Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.
Loretta Lees
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... This study and wider project are theoretically located within a critical urbanist account of the breakdown of the Keynesian welfare state and the subsequent rise, consolidation and intensification of neoliberalism (Gillespie et al., 2021;Peck, 2012;Peck & Tickell, 2002). Within the UK (notably England), the neoliberalization of urban space and the welfare state has been pronounced in relation to housing since public housing estates have been targeted for privatization, demunicipalization, deregulation and demolition for four decades under both Conservative and Labour governments (Hodkinson, 2019; Lees & White, 2020;Wallace, 2015Wallace, , 2020. The end result is a shrunken social housing sector that is manifestly deficient in relation to meeting housing needs, especially in London where homelessness and overcrowding are rampant (Gillespie et al., 2021;Watt, 2021a). ...
... New urban renewal schemes involving demolition and displacement have proved highly controversial among residents, politicians and academics (Watt & Smets, 2017). Whereas some researchers have suggested that demolition allows social tenants to move to improved homes and revitalized neighbourhoods (Kearns & Mason, 2013;Posthumus et al., 2014), critical urbanists identify regeneration with state-led gentrification and emphasize the socially and psychologically harmful aspects of displacement (Allen, 2008;Lees & White, 2020). What the literature tends to share is an abbreviated temporal focus on the period just before and just after physical relocation. ...
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This paper takes a long view perspective on estate regeneration with reference to Clapham Park, a large social housing estate in London. This estate was one of 39 areas in England included in the Labour Government’s New Deal for Communities (NDC) flagship regeneration programme which ran for ten years during the 2000s. This programme is an exemplar of New Labour’s brand of roll-out neoliberalism involving both communitarian and privatization strands. The research involves a multi-method case study of the estate before, during and after the NDC. The findings are analyzed in relation to neoliberalism, managed decline, and the dialectical interplay of regeneration and degeneration. Housing improvement was slow and limited during the NDC period itself, while post-NDC progress has been spatially uneven across the estate, with some refurbishment and redevelopment but also continuing housing deprivation. Tenants who had originally been supporters of the NDC were disillusioned with post-NDC housing and physical environment progress. The paper illustrates how regeneration and degeneration have intertwined over the long term, and concludes by highlighting the tensions within the NDC public–private partnership programme that attempted to meld together two ultimately contradictory governance logics—communitarian and market—that configured New Labour’s estate regeneration policy.
... Loretta Lees and Hannah White (2019) have argued that these evidence a broader set of neo-liberal imperatives. They have led to 'large-scale dispossessions due to the gentrification of council estates, what Elmer and Dening (2016) have called 'the London clearances' (Lees and White 2019). At the time of writing (2020), the Old Kent Road (on which is one of the main entrances to the park) is undergoing a planning consultation process that, if successful, will lead to a number of new high-rise blocks; initial plans referenced a block that was 44 storeys high. ...
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Equality in the city is an aspiration. Cities have never been equal, equitable or fair. Now, optimum efficiency is celebrated as progress, and reconfigurations of urban spaces are focused on the clean lines of punctual service delivery. Smart cites are controlled cities, where data is the fuel that pumps through the heart. The common denominator in smart city rhetoric is the assumption that organization, planning and programmability will provide optimum conditions for comfortable urban life. Yet some aspects of our cities and our lives within them will never be machine-readable (Mattern 2014) and there may be a growing disparity between the natural and the constructed; the vagaries and messiness versus the program-mable and measurable life in cities. Giddens's theory of social structure suggested that spaces and buildings are what people do with them-spaces themselves structure social relations and practices, and therefore 'relations of power and discipline are inscribed into the apparently innocent spatiality of social life' (Soja 1989: 6). If urban life is to be smart, digital and codified, then what becomes of the varied human experiences and how can we consider their relation to power? How can this be married to digital futures? The smart city emerges from networked urbanism, propagated by the promises of efficiency, using technologies to deliver and manage services to city dwellers; embedded sensors, drone surveillance and real-time monitoring to give us more effective transportation, waste, security and energy systems. Within this discourse, people are sources of data that are fed into algorithms; their experience of the city is muted in favour of the foregrounding of digital efficiency. Much great work on the neo-liberal ideals that underpin smart discourse has already been done (Kitchin 2014; Mattern 2017; Cardullo et al. 2018; Kitchin et al. 2018; Cardullo and Kitchin 2019). The various essays in this collection consider the promises of the smart future and provide some new discussions and provocations, moving 2 EqUALITY IN THE CITY beyond the field of human geography and urban planning to a social, personal and egalitarian approach. By theorizing and interrogating various theoretical approaches to the promises of the smart city, we question how humans can feasibly have fair and equal access to those smart technologies that promise a better future. How can cities better support human life? What makes cities liveable in an era of growing urban inequality? While housing, service provision, health care, education and other important social needs are critical issues in imagining future cities, this collection looks more broadly at how we conceive of the city of the future and what sorts of steps can be taken to 'take back the city' in the digital future. Smart futures and smart urbanism are situated in a paternalistic ethos rather than focused on human rights, citizenship and fair access to digital technologies that ostensibly improve human life. Such technologies are changing the places in which we live and the way we live in them. They also impact on our ideas about how and where we might live in the future. There is a reverence for what is called 'disruptive technologies' and the way in which disruption is deemed not just ok, but excellent, when it comes to how we live, work and exist in spaces. Disparate fields such as human geography, information and communications technology (ICT), engineering and social sciences have addressed many of the debates around the forms of (digitized) governance that smart cities propose. Here, we bring together scholars from across disciplines to consider ideas of active participation in the imagined smart cities of the future. The essays consider the ruptures in smart discourse , the spaces where we might envisage a more user-friendly and bottom-up version of the smart future and imagine participation in novel ways.
... As the harmful and sometimes deadly outcomes of property speculation become an integral element of the rental market, debates on housing regularly lay blame on the basis of housing rights, housing justice, and resulting judgments about neoliberalism's structural wrongs (Madden and Marcuse 2016, Lees and White 2019, Pull and Richard 2019, Baker 2020: Scholars lament the short-sighted municipal practises to sell out safe and affordable housing options (Ferreri 2020), dispossessive state-led or state-promoted regeneration policies (Lees and White 2019), corporate owners' exploitative strategies of rent extraction (Fields 2013), the infrastructural harms caused by austerity politics (Zamfirescu and Chelcea 2020), or the seeming absenceif not complicityof government regulation (Wijburg, Aalbers and Heeg 2018). However, responsibilityas an analytic or topic of (legal) debateis out of vogue in critical housing studies. ...
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As property speculation has become an integral element of the rental market, debates on housing dispossession and displacement regularly place normative claims on responsibilities for the provisioning, maintanance, and safeguarding of adequate and affordable housing. Yet, while offering important perspectives, these discussions lack a theoretically grounded account of responsibility that would allow for an analysis and critique of how modes of responsibility and irresponsibility are practised and an understanding of how these practises are mediated by liberal property regimes (Singer, 2000, Blomley, 2013). Focusing on the evacuation of the mass rental housing complex Hannibal II in the municipality of Dortmund (Germany) and the eviction of its 753 tenants in the context of decades-long processes of speculative disinvestment and property neglect, this paper explores the lived relations of (ir)responsibility that shape processes of housing. How is responsibility assigned, abdicated, and enacted by all concerned parties? Based on a discussion of the building’s decay, the tenants’ evacuation and later redevelopment attempts, we argue that the narrow understandings of responsibility for housing inscribed in liberal property regimes obscure responsibility relations that work alongside, disguise, or stabilize the vulnerabilities and harms of housing regimes. In conclusion we thus suggest that reading property relationally – as a string of social agreements that mediate the relation between people (Cooper, 2007, Blomley, 2020) – requires rethinking responsibilities for rental housing property and propose a broader conception of responsibility that is feminist, political, and encompassing.
... They are unforgiving in the setting and extraction of rents, and the research literature is pessimistic (Walks & Soederberg, 2021). Even in the world of social investing, new styles of dispossession, some linked to the rise of state rentierism, have emerged (Beswick et al., 2016;Lees & White, 2020;Penny, 2021;Rosenman, 2019). ...
... Displacement is a key component and definer of gentrification (Davidson and Lees 2005), and there is a growing body of literature on the ways in which displacement occurs and how it is experienced in residents' everyday lives. New conceptualisations have emerged, for example, homemaking and unmaking (Baxter and Brickell 2014), symbolic displacement (Atkinson 2015), the slow violence of displacement (Kern 2015), unhoming (Elliott-Cooper, Hubbard, and Lees 2019), and accumulative dispossession (Lees and White 2019). Yet there is still ambiguity around appropriate or useful methodological frameworks for both accessing and researching the displaced. ...
... Before demolition, the estate had 1194 homes at council rent. Once the scheme is completed, it will only have 82 'affordable' units [18]. London Tenants Federation, Loretta Lees, Just Space and the Southwark Notes Archive Group [19] traced where some of the residents had to move: (i) council tenants were displaced to other parts of the borough and some of them out of Southwark; (ii) leaseholders had to move much further away, some of them out of London, since the compensation they receive for their homes is not sufficient to buy a home in the area. ...
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This paper explores the role of social impact assessment (SIA) as a tool to evaluate the social sustainability of council estate redevelopment or regeneration. The paper first revises the evolution of the concept of SIA in recent years, arguing that it should be included as a core part of the planning approval process to enhance community-centred planning decision-making practices, as claimed by the Just Space network in London. To contribute to this argument, the paper explores how to co-produce an SIA with those communities that are potentially affected by the scheme. We use as a case study William Dunbar and William Saville houses, two housing blocks located in South Kilburn Estate, London Borough of Brent, which are planned to be demolished as part of a large estate redevelopment scheme. The paper uses a diversity of participatory action research methods to co-produce an SIA with residents from the two housing blocks. From the experience of co-producing an SIA with residents, the paper comes out with three sets of findings and contributions. Firstly, the paper provides findings on the impact that demolishing the homes and re-housing residents would have on residents. Secondly, from these findings, the paper contributes to the argument that SIA should be incorporated into the planning system, but they should be co-produced with residents and carefully applied rather than becoming another box-ticking exercise. Thirdly, the paper provides very relevant methodological contributions on how to co-produce the SIA with those potentially affected.
The global reach of gentrification has been widely debated. Through a case study of the Kwun Tong Town Centre (KTTC) project, this research investigates whether redevelopment led by the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) in Hong Kong constitutes a form of state-led gentrification. Against the notion of generic gentrification, we argue that an urban process becomes gentrification only when the conceptual assumptions are consistent with contextual realities. Through a literature review, two core assumptions about state-led gentrification were identified: 1) the redevelopment is capital-led and against the community’s will, and 2) the logic of capital has overridden the logic of the government during the redevelopment. Despite the appearance of state-led gentrification, the KTTC redevelopment was a state-led while socially-oriented process supported by the local community. This project was undertaken to redress environmental deterioration and building obsolesce in a crowded and old urban area. Government-led planning was necessary because the project required government land, proactive planning, and public subsidies. Local support was conditioned on a societal consensus on the policy governing acquisition and compensation. The scheme design reflected a commitment to social goals and community aspiration. The URA endeavoured to address residents’ housing needs by directly engaging residents in the acquisition process. The authority leveraged private-sector capital to take forward redevelopment, but retained control over the project through a plan-led approach and a profit-sharing formula. The negative outcomes of displacement were mitigated by the authority and other contextual factors. The government’s ongoing commitment to public housing limited the chance of area-wide gentrification. Whilst not negating the problem of displacement, this article advocates for a grounded perspective to understand the cause and effect of a gentrification-like process. It further calls for research on similar projects to support the development of generalisable counter-gentrification agendas.
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By portraying the circumstances of people living with chronic conditions in radically different contexts, from Alzheimer’s patients in the UK to homeless people with psychiatric disorders in India, Managing Chronicity in Unequal States offers glimpses of what dealing with medically complex conditions in stratified societies means. While in some places the state regulates and intrudes on the most intimate aspects of chronic living, in others it is utterly and criminally absent. Either way, it is a present/absent actor that deeply conditions people’s opportunities and strategies of care. This book explores how individuals, groups and communities navigate uncertain and unequal healthcare systems, in which inherent moral judgements on human worth have long-lasting effects on people’s wellbeing. This is key reading for anyone wishing to deconstruct the issues at stake when analysing how care and chronicity are entangled with multiple institutional, economic, and other circumstantial factors. How people access the available informal and formal resources as well as how they react to official diagnoses and decisions are important facets of the management of chronicity. In the arena of care, people with chronic conditions find themselves negotiating restrictions and handling issues of power and (inter)dependency in relationships of inequality and proximity. This is particularly relevant in current times, when care has given in to the lure of the market, and the possibility of living a long and fulfilling life has been drastically reduced, transformed into a ‘reward’ for the few who have been deemed worthy of it.
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This paper discusses the role of artists engaged in live-work property guardian schemes and their potentials to act in a dignifying way at sites of struggle over the regenera-tion of council housing in London. To gain this understanding, I will describe how artists are embedded in this context by looking at the interaction between artists and property guardian enterprises working on housing estates in London. I will critically examine the artist role through the lance of artwashing critical method, namely allyship of the art world with the real estate industry in the process of social cleansing of housing estates in the UK. Following this, I will discuss the potential of artists to act in a dignified way, drawing on interviews with artists that have lived as property guardians. I will talk about the frustration of artists that stems from their circumstances, namely torn between the necessity to survive within an unaffordable housing market in London and the wish to make art in an uncompromised way. Studying the instrumentalization of artists employed by real-estate industry property guardian enterprises and the artists' attempts to resist this instrumentalization is vital for any understanding of the recent mutations in the capitalist management of housing and art and vital for the attempt to establish new sites of artistic urban struggle for housing justice.
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Displacement has become one of the most prominent themes in contemporary geographical debates, used to describe processes of dispossession and forced eviction at a diverse range of scales. Given its frequent deployment in studies describing the consequences of gentrification, this paper seeks to better define and conceptualise displacement as a process of un-homing, noting that while gentrification can prompt processes of eviction, expulsion and exclusion operating at different scales and speeds, it always ruptures the connection between people and place. On this basis – and recognising displacement as a form of violence – this paper concludes that the diverse scales and temporalities of displacement need to be better elucidated so that their negative emotional, psychosocial and material impacts can be more fully documented, and resisted.
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Displacement is central to the process of gentrification, but the importance of law in both enacting and resisting such displacement is often overlooked. Noting the tensions between existential, embodied meanings of displacement (i.e. being removed from a place called home), and the formal legal definitions of displacement (i.e. the removal of the right to a property), this paper explores how the law is implicated in the struggle for London's remaining council estates, with processes of expropriation providing councils a means of displacing residents from these estates to allow for (private) redevelopment but also an opportunity for residents to assert their ‘right to community’. Here, we focus on the implications of the UK Secretary of State's decision not to overturn the Planning Inspectorate's (2016) recommendation that Southwark Council should not be allowed to compulsory purchase those homes on the Aylesbury Estate which residents had not already vacated via negotiation. This decision was reached on the basis that while tenants would be compensated financially for the loss of property, they would not be adequately compensated for losing their home. This is suggestive of an expanded notion of housing rights that encompasses a right to community—something that raises the possibility of the law actually aligning with the interests of council residents rather than supporting the politics of gentrification.
People around the world are confused and concerned. Is it a sign of strength or of weakness that the US has suddenly shifted from a politics of consensus to one of coercion on the world stage? What was really at stake in the war on Iraq? Was it all about oil and, if not, what else was involved? What role has a sagging economy played in pushing the US into foreign adventurism? What exactly is the relationship between US militarism abroad and domestic politics? These are the questions taken up in this compelling and original book. In this closely argued and clearly written book, David Harvey, one of the leading social theorists of his generation, builds a conceptual framework to expose the underlying forces at work behind these momentous shifts in US policies and politics. The compulsions behind the projection of US power on the world as a "new imperialism" are here, for the first time, laid bare for all to see.
This article explores the history and traces the realisation of a category that was invented by journalists, amplified by free market think tanks and converted into policy doxa (common sense) by politicians in the United Kingdom: the ‘sink estate’. This derogatory designator, signifying social housing estates that supposedly create poverty, family breakdown, worklessness, welfare dependency, antisocial behaviour and personal irresponsibility, has become the symbolic frame justifying current policies towards social housing that have resulted in considerable social suffering and intensified dislocation. The article deploys a conceptual articulation of agnotology (the intentional production of ignorance) with Bourdieu’s theory of symbolic power to understand the institutional arrangements and cognitive systems structuring deeply unequal social relations. Specifically, the highly influential publications on housing by a free market think tank, Policy Exchange, are dissected in order to demonstrate how the activation of territorial stigma has become an instrument of urban politics. The ‘sink estate’, it is argued, is the semantic battering ram in the ideological assault on social housing, deflecting attention away from social housing not only as urgent necessity during a serious crisis of affordability, but as incubator of community, solidarity, shelter and home.
This paper provides an empirically-grounded, sociological reworking of Saskia Sassen’s ‘logics of expulsion’ with reference to London’s housing crisis and burgeoning homeless population. It does so by drawing on in-depth research on evictions and displacement undertaken with residents of temporary accommodation at three locations in and around London. The first is a north London public housing estate undergoing regeneration involving demolition. The second is post 2012 Olympic Games’ east London, while the third location is a town outside London and specifically a block of flats which is temporarily housing Londoners who have been displaced from the city. The paper offers three main conceptual insights: first it sociologically deepens and enriches works on displacement and evictions by classifying six distinctive logics of expulsion and tracing their effects on households; second it shows the importance of ‘recurrent displacement’ in relation to multiple forced moves; and thirdly it adds the notion of ‘displacement anxiety’ to the displacement conceptual repertoire.
Encouraging neighbourhood social mix has been a major goal of urban policy and planning in a number of different countries. This book draws together a range of case studies by international experts to assess the impacts of social mix policies and the degree to which they might represent gentrification by stealth. The contributions consider the range of social mix initiatives in different countries across the globe and their relationship to wider social, economic and urban change. The book combines understandings of social mix from the perspectives of researchers, policy makers and planners and the residents of the communities themselves. Mixed Communities also draws out more general lessons from these international comparisons - theoretically, empirically and for urban policy. It will be highly relevant for urban researchers and students, policy makers and practitioners alike.