Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

We originally wrote the following for one of our old business plans, and it occurred to us recently that some of this info might be of interest. So here it is, in all its gory detail:

Renting or buying houses in Bristol is becoming increasingly difficult, especially for those who are sick, out of work, disabled, or elderly. The bulk of landlords and agencies will refuse to let to those claiming housing benefit or in precarious employment; despite the huge rise in the number of people without secure employment contracts [1]. This adds to the factors increasing pressure on social housing, such as the continuing sell-offs of council properties; of which there have been 86 in Bristol since 2014, with much former Council land being re-purposed by developers to build new estates with zero affordable housing [2] (the 50 new planned Council houses in Ashton Vale [3] is a case of too little, too late). In March 2018, 11,500 families were on the waiting list for social housing in Bristol alone, which, as of April 2018, had only 20 properties available. Average time spent on this waiting list is six months for the most urgent cases, but can be more than 21 months. In South Gloucestershire, the Council saw fit to palm off its entire social housing provision to even less accountable housing associations [4]. Housing has long been a chronic problem in Bristol, as reported in the media since at least 2009 [5]. Precariously-homed people not yet on the streets are either getting evicted from their squats, moved on in their vans by complaining nimbys, or having their tents and vans torched by passing thugs. Indeed, according to official sources, the number of street homeless in Bristol has increased by 14% between 2016 and 2018 [6]. The current cocktail of low wages, incomprehensible benefits systems, and insecure housing is obviously intended to lead to homelessness but, rather than tidy up their political messes, ‘our’ rulers would seemingly rather that we scuttle off to a corner and quietly die (like the eight or more who died in Bristol last year [7]), rather than kick up a fuss.

Although average house prices in the South West have increased by 46% in the 10 years leading to 2018, and rose yet another 1.5% this year, the hike in rental costs has outstripped this figure dramatically (with an increase of 4.1% in Bristol in 2019, despite the pre-post-Brexit slowdown), and is expected to rise by a third more than the rest of the UK over the next four years [8]. This has led to residents being ousted from their communities as part of the process of gentrification, a symptom of the lack of affordable housing in Bristol. To even talk about “affordable” housing in any practical way is inaccessible. Formal definitions of affordable housing are simultaneously dense, unintelligible and vague, and are riddled with loopholes allowing those building new houses to match current targets without making meaningful change, and only minimal impacts on their profits [9]. This also makes it difficult to access for those looking for help with buying. Even going by these intangible criteria, not enough affordable houses are being built to buy, and Bristol Council felt compelled last year to half its targets [10]! Likewise, between 2016 and 2017, the total of affordable houses built in the UK was down by 40%, in comparison to the previous year [11]. To make matters worse, developers routinely exploit legal loopholes to reduce these numbers even further [12]. For us and a great many other people, this means buying through traditional means is impossible. Hence, forming a housing co-op is our best means to secure stable housing.

As well as providing housing for co-op members, housing co-ops can also have a positive impact on the wider local community by mitigating against the inflation of rents, whilst at the same time providing better quality housing. Approximately one in ten Europeans live in housing co-operatives, making them a well-established housing sector with a long history of providing accommodation at lower-than-average cost. There are many precedents to show that this is an effective way to provide affordable, quality housing.

The UK currently has more than 45,000 homes that are part of around 680 co-operatives or mutuals. This covers 0.6% of the population which, while somewhat substantial, is significantly less than in the rest of Europe. Reports, such as “Bringing Democracy Home”, have brought attention to the benefits of co-operative housing, stating that co-operatives have the highest satisfaction rate of any housing type [13].

References

1. Butler, Sarah (5 June 2017). “Nearly 10 million Britons are in insecure work, says union”. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/jun/05/nearly-10-million-britons-are-in-insecure-work-says-union. The Guardian. Retrieved 27 January 2018.

2. Cantwell-Corn, Adam (15 April 2019) “Revealed: How the council flogged off public land in the face of austerity”. https://thebristolcable.org/2019/04/revealed-how-the-council-flogged-off-public-land-in-the-face-of-austerity/. Bristol Cable. Retrieved 30 November 2019.

3. “Bristol to sell houses on the private market for the first time”. http://www.publicsectorexecutive.com/Public-Sector-News/bristol-to-sell-houses-on-the-private-market-for-the-first-time. Public Sector Executive. 27 June 2017. Retrieved 30 November 2019.

4. Yong, Michael (16 May 2018) “The true extent of Bristol’s housing crisis: Council home wait list numbers and times revealed”. https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/bristol-news/true-extent-bristols-housing-crisis-1573863. Bristol Post. Retrieved 30 November 2019.

5. “Bristol mum’s wait for a new home”. https://web.archive.org/web/20140623141025/http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/Bristol-mum-s-wait-new-home/story-11259538-detail/story.html. Bristol Post. 14 September 2009. Retrieved 14 June 2016.

6. Yong, Michael (16 December 2017) “Number of rough sleepers in Bristol revealed but it’s only the ‘tip of the iceberg’”. http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/bristol-news/number-rough-sleepers-bristol-revealed-916343. Bristol Post. Retrieved 27 January 2018.

7. Yong, Michael (8 May 2018) “At least eight homeless people have died in Bristol in the past year”. https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/bristol-news/least-eight-homeless-people-died-1541954. Bristol Post. Retrieved 30 November 2019.

8. Baker, Hannah (27 May 2019) “Renting and house prices in Bristol to increase more than London soon”. https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/business/renting-house-prices-bristol-increase-2887957. Bristol Post. Retrieved 30 November 2019.

9. “Affordable Housing Practice Note April 2018”. https://www.bristol.gov.uk/documents/20182/34560/Affordable+Housing+Practice+Note+2018/31012544-f558-ee5a-79fd-0ee560191537. Bristol City Council. Retrieved 29 November 2019.

10. Davis, Krishan (25 May 2018) “Bristol City Council halves affordable housing requirement for new developments – to encourage more affordable housing”. https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/bristol-news/bristol-city-council-halves-affordable-1609252. Bristol Post. Retrieved 30 November 2019.

11. Thatcher, Holly & Gouk, Annie (10 November 2017). “A total of 740 new homes were built in Bristol in the last year, meaning affordable housing made up 29 per cent of all new builds in the city”. http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/property/number-affordable-homes-being-built-759514. Bristol Post. Retrieved 28 January 2018.

12. Ashcroft, Esme (2 November 2017). “Bristol ‘lost’ 200 affordable homes due to legal loophole exploited by developers”. http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/bristol-news/bristol-lost-200-affordable-homes-715907. Bristol Post. Retrieved 28 January 2018.

13. “Profiles of a Movement.” http://www.housingeurope.eu/resource-115/profiles-of-a-movement. International Cooperative Association & CECODHAS. 2012. Retrieved 12 July 2016.

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