Sunday photoblogging: rent protest!

by Chris Bertram on April 12, 2015

Yesterday morning there was a protest near my house in Bristol against a letting agent who has been pushing for rent increases, the story made the national press. Here’s my photo:



Sasha Clarkson 04.12.15 at 5:01 pm

Like! :)

Seriously – the rise in the private rented sector is a symptom of policy failure – and to everyone else’s detriment.

The buy-to-let sector played a serious part in the 2008 financial crisis in the UK, firstly, before the crisis, by adding to the upward pressure on property prices which helped make homes unaffordable for so many, and secondly by helping destabilise banks, like B&B, when the bubble burst.

It is extremely worrying that apart from the proven disaster of austerity, the Con-Dem’s only other strategy for economic recovery seems to have been to attempt to re-inflate the housing bubble.


NomadUK 04.12.15 at 7:52 pm

Worrying, but not surprising. It worked fine the first time around; nobody’s in gaol.


dsquared 04.12.15 at 11:17 pm

the rise in the private rented sector is a symptom of policy failure

Not policy failure. This was the policy; it was entirely intentional. Getting the buy-to-let sector to take off was the culmination of about ten years of effort in working out how to restructure tenancy agreements and mortgage finance in order to allow private sector landlords to fill the gap created by council house sales. It might have been a bad policy, but there is no sense in which housing policy in the UK got any other outcome than the one it wanted.


sanbikinoraion 04.13.15 at 8:48 am

The policy can still be a failure if the result of replacing social housing built and maintained by councils with free-market housing owned by rich people and managed by the predatory wankers we politely label “estate agents” is the awful if utterly unsurprising screwing over of hundreds of thousands of poor people to the benefit of said rich landowners.


Maria 04.13.15 at 9:15 am

Agreed, Daniel. It’s not a failed policy, just a really, horribly bad one.


sanbikinoraion 04.13.15 at 10:12 am

Bear in mind that the combination of policies that have brought this situation about was probably sold to Labour MPs as solving the problem of providing access to cheap housing for the poor through a market-based solution. The second part has certainly worked; the first, not so much.


Minnow 04.13.15 at 12:55 pm

Agree, the policy worked, it might just not be the way most of us would have wanted.

Obviously a Land value Tax is the answer to this and most other economic woes. I would just like Crooked Timber please to explain to me why that is obviously true and, obviously, why it might not be. Anyone? Big juicy thread beckons.


Sasha Clarkson 04.13.15 at 1:19 pm

The policies encouraging landlords started under the Thatcher government, and so in that sense the current situation is partly the result of deliberate policy. As well as being caused by a housing shortage, the house price booms are a result of the banking deregulation which sidelined the traditional building societies, enabling vast amounts of extra money to be created and pumped into the market. The consequence, eventually, was the crisis/crash of 2008. Thus the booms and the decreasing affordability of housing were, perhaps unforeseen, consequences of policy failure, or in the case of the New Labour government, the total lack of a real economic strategy. Blair and Brown trusted the markets and rode the wave, almost blindly it turned out.

House price gambling has distorted the British economy for generations, but many of the electorate benefit from the booms, and many of those who don’t still see the property market as an opportunity to get rich at some point in the future. Property porn TV programmes both feed this fantasy and are a symptom of it.

Of course, the whole concept of a “property ladder” to benefit from rising prices requires new buyers at the bottom to fund the system, and when they eventually are priced out, the bubble bursts. In the meantime, the boom has been a great way to transfer money from the poor to the rich and from the young to the old. Such is the public addiction to the dream however, that an honest discussion of housing policy near election time would be like taking political cyanide to any major politician who started it.


dsquared 04.13.15 at 1:44 pm

By the way, I really wouldn’t romanticise council housing. Local government allocations of council houses, back in the day, could be amazingly corrupt and abusive, and a lot of the actual housing stock was really poor quality. The buy-to-let policy has not turned out well, but there really was a problem that needed to be solved.


Minnow 04.13.15 at 1:54 pm

Council housing stock was very mixed, certainly the best flat I ever lived in was a council flat, although the neighbourhood was a little bit edgy.

The corruption in allocations was barefaced though and there was a problem that needed fixing. I think a Land Value Tax would mend things. Can someone explain to me why I think that?


Geoff 04.13.15 at 2:14 pm

There’s a British ACORN? (I assume the woman in the front right of the picture isn’t sporting a vintage American political button…) What’s the story behind that?


Brett 04.13.15 at 3:36 pm


I think a Land Value Tax would mend things. Can someone explain to me why I think that?

Landlords and landowners are sucking up a ton of the value created in the City due to expensive construction and the like. A Land Value Tax would recoup some (or a lot) of it, and also likely force them to build more apartments/condos.

They should require that landlords offer tenants longer-term lease contracts after they’ve been in the apartments for at least three years on one-year leases. At that point, it’s pretty obvious that they’re long-term tenants, and there’s no value in encouraging them to entrench themselves in their neighborhoods, homes, and jobs only to leave them vulnerable to being suddenly kicked out on short warning.


sanbikinoraion 04.13.15 at 4:11 pm

That would just result in landlords kicking people out every 3 years. IMO we need more institutional landlords offering 10-year leases, but that’s the exact opposite direction to which the market has gone in the UK.


Rich Puchalsky 04.13.15 at 6:50 pm

Geoff: “There’s a British ACORN”?

ACORN International has branches in England and Scotland. Naturally, they have actions in Bristol.


nick s 04.14.15 at 1:45 am

a lot of the actual housing stock was really poor quality.

In generational phases: a different combination of policies made possible T. Dan and Poulson. The last generation of council semis before right-to-buy were generally pretty solid, more so than much new build today. Coincidentally, they went up at the same time Rising Damp was on the telly.

(Mid/late-70s comedy has a few meddling landlords: Rigsby, George & Mildred, Charlie in Citizen Smith.)


david 04.14.15 at 5:48 am

“We want housing, but in good areas” is synonymous with “we want expensive housing that is, by a miracle, rendered cheap for incumbent residents”.

The UK government has always known how to solve it – build stronger commuter links out of London and then put the residences there. Moving communities out of London has always been how council housing has operated, it was true under the prewar Liberals, it was true under postwar Attlee, and the immutable logic remains true today: improving state housing for the lower 50% comes, by and large, through moving them elsewhere to a place where the state can buy better housing with the same political capital.

But if you sit around chanting Homes before Roads, you will get neither homes nor roads. “Everything Remains The Same But Better For Me” is political bullshit of the highest order.


ZM 04.14.15 at 6:34 am

“and the immutable logic remains true today: improving state housing for the lower 50% comes, by and large, through moving them elsewhere to a place where the state can buy better housing with the same political capital.”

Actually I read some reports about affordable housing in London last year for an assignment. There is apparently quite a bit of land in London’s limits already that could be built upon except the owners are land banking. So you need policies to stop people land banking like high taxation on land that is zoned residential or industrial (or whatever uk zoning equivalents are) but not being used as residences or for industry etc. This encourages people to bank with the banks, not with land and keeps a defined edge around the greater city limits instead of expanding.

The Housing London: A Mid Range Solution ( report released last year has the idea of using all this land that is being land banked to build medium density Mansion Blocks like in Mayfair — this is good for the environment due to density and you can build them with up to the minute green building standards and with solar and wind energy co-generation roof and pleasant shared allotment gardens in the courtyards — and helps to avoid problems associated with council housing like on The Jasmine Allan Estate on TV (also Mansion Blocks are suitable for classical architecture).

This is a very nice example of contemporary mansion blocks (the second fingernail image is the nicest I think)

If you think the government can’t afford to build great amounts of pleasant Mansion Blocks with shared allotment gardens for everyone — you just get the government to make an National Affordable Housing Act that mandates every multi-unit development has to have 15% council housing or 15%affordable housing. This encourages a nice mix of residents from al backgrounds to get to know one another.


Igor Belanov 04.14.15 at 7:25 am

The principle of council housing was undermined in several ways:

1) Councils were desperate to build quickly and densely in order to house their populations, and found the lure of industrialised building offered by building companies too tempting to refuse. The result was some poor quality, inappropriately built, often high-rise housing built with less consideration for the wider environment.

2) Government spending cuts and subsidy restrictions curtailed multi-storey housing but led to much cheaper, smaller and lower-quality housing from 1968. (Still better than some private sector housing- in the mid-1970s when Leeds Council was offered some new houses by a private builder who couldn’t sell, they commented that they were not at the same standard as public housing)

3) Changes in the often unfair allocation processes for council housing led to an emphasis being placed on need rather than a simple waiting list. This was often more ethical, but led to stigmatisation of sections of council housing as social problems became more prominent and increased in concentration on many estates. This was accentuated when ‘right to buy’ took much of the best housing out of the council sector and ‘ghettoised’ a lot of the rest. (The Tories now want to increase the damage by extending this to housing association dwellings.)


Shelley 04.14.15 at 4:03 pm

Always nice to see protesters looking happy. As Saul Alinsky knew, if what you’re doing makes your people feel miserable, then they won’t stay active for long.


Friend and Retaliation 04.14.15 at 6:15 pm


Eszter Hargittai 04.18.15 at 10:38 am

Just wanted to note that I love the idea of a photo resulting in this kind of a discussion.

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