Around 9,000 illegal “beds in sheds” housing tens of thousands of people have sprung up across London over the last five years, a report says today.
London Tories warn the unregistered dwellings provide sub-standard living conditions and conceal illegal immigration, trafficking and benefit fraud.
Around the world where the poor cannot house themselves lawfully those with land will provide housing, and charge rent, unlawfully. Until recently once exception was the UK, where informal settlements were unknown, enforcement was strict, and a safety net for the homeless existed.
No longer. The universal dynamics of urbanisation equally apply now to England. The shortage of housing, the weakness of the housing safety net (which Grenfell showed cannot even absorb the contents of one tower block) and the number of those who cannot work in the white market and hence qualify for a safety net are such that favelas have emerged on a large scale in London.
We need to get real about this.
Is the scale of the problem such that we we only ever enforce against a small part of it – yes.
Is it impractical to expel anything larger than a tiny proportion of illegal immigrants – yes.
Do we have any alternative housing for the residents – No.
Given this what choice do we have?
Indeed globally we find in many cities where this is an issue – such as San Francisco and Los Angeles operate effective moratoriums where units can meet basic standards.
Indeed the problem in the first place is zoning in land constrained areas causing a shortage of housing.
One of the solutions found is to allow ‘accessory dwellings’ – these households don’t need parking or amenity space, as long as basic fire safety and other standards are met they should be tolerated and the best units should be permitted. It is much better to have a ‘white market’ of architect designed units that might stand a chance of meeting fire regulations than creating a black market which doesn’t. Remove the black market and you remove much of the criminality – such as slave labour and benefits fraud – that goes with it.
In public policy terms we need to distinguish between the action against slum landlords from action against tenants. In the past we would evict the landlord not the tenant and improve the housing – why not now ?
Indeed the pragmatic solution would be to use the taxation system to improve standards, taking over units that don’t pay enhanced taxation. We know where these units are – so they are taxable. Taxing 100% of land value uplifts and ringfencing the proceeds to improving the units- being the only long term approah which stands a chance of success.