I want to begin with those often-quoted words scribbled down by Marx 170 years ago: ‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.’ This famous statement poses the question of the role of knowledge within the relations of power. It’s a role we should consider within the housing movement when engaging in what is not an academic debate, but a struggle for survival.
1. The Housing Crisis
In the lead up to the recent Labour Party leadership elections, Architects for Social Housing (ASH) was contacted by some people making a film for Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign. They asked us if there were any policy changes in housing we wanted to see brought in. We said ‘Yeah, one or two . . .’ In terms of policies, the failures of Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act to guarantee affordable housing are obvious; the abuse of viability assessments by property developers to reduce the quota of affordable housing is another; the use of payments in lieu to councils to trigger the otherwise ‘exceptional circumstances’ under which affordable housing can be built off-site is another; the definition of what ‘affordable’ means as up to 80% of market value is another; the misuse of Special Purpose Vehicles by bankrupt councils to redevelop existing council estates is another. I could go on, but these are technical details in a more systemic problem, which is that Labour councils across London are doing the dirty work of Tory housing policy. It’s very simple, but the policy ASH would like to see changed is that Labour councils stop knocking down council housing and start building it instead.