A lot has been written about the effects of gentrification in London; prices are now rising so quickly that they'll soon be unaffordable to all but the richest. Boris Johnson's comment that the cap on housing benefit could lead to 'Kosovo-style social cleansing' looks like it might become reality. It's a difficult situation for those on the breadline who would not be able to afford their rents without state help, but it's also difficult to contend with for those of us who have to pay the entirety of their exponentially-increasing rents.
The transformation of an area always follows the same pattern: an area not thought to be desirable provides cheap places to live for its indigenous population. Artists, looking for somewhere cheap to live, move in. These are what Grayson Perry calls the 'shock troops of gentrification' - the people that first open a nice cafe and give the area a bit of a buzz. They, in turn are followed by more wankers who want to live in "the next..." - at the moment people are looking for "the next Dalston", but pretty soon it'll be "the next Peckham" and so on. These in turn are followed by the dickheads - people like me who work in media and whose flatmates have fixie bikes. You're reading my blog, so this is probably you as well. We're also not willing to pay too much and are often recent graduates with salaries to match. When I was interviewed by the Evening standard, the reporter called my flat 'unprepossessing', which I think was a euphemism for 'a bit shitty'. The dickhead area of the city also attracts the young people from across Europe who have fled their country's high youth unemployment. More shops, businesses and market stalls open up and the area gentrifies further. In my time living in Hoxton, I have watched my local kebab shop become a 'boulangerie'. Say no more. But the glittering towerblocks being thrown up on City road are the shiny nails in the coffin. They herald the era of the twats. Where people live in places like the 'canaletto' building which announces itself as 'a Masterpiece' on its hoardings before it has even been built. The artist's impression makes it look like a tapeworm. In the area where irony was once king, any sense of self-awareness is crushed under monied bullshit.
Once an area gets a reputation for being quite nice, it attracts the wrong sort of people; people that work in finance and have so much money that prices matter very little, and foreign investors looking to maximise returns by buying in an area that is sure to go up by 10% or more, whilst simultaneously collecting enormous rents (which are predicted to rise at 26%). The middle ground are all forced out as living in this area is only available to either the ludicrously wealthy or to those for whom the government is picking up the tab. As anyone who has read The Spirit Level will tell you, huge levels of inequality existing cheek-by-jowl is in no one's interest. Feeding into this are government policies such as the Help To Buy scheme, which further blow smoke up the arse of an already bullish market. In the long run, it will help no one to buy as prices will just move further out of reach of people, even with their increased borrowing power (and I'm pretty unconvinced that saddling people with more debt is the way to go on this one.. remember what happened last time everyone borrowed too much?)
So, what's the solution? It's simple really. The government need to address demand, rather than short-sighted palliative responses like the Help To Buy scheme. They need to do as Shelter and others have been advocating for a long time and allow councils to borrow money in order to further invest in the housing infrastructure. This will create both homes and jobs - both, I would argue, are good things. In the long run, it'll save money too, as the state won't be bleeding so much money to private landlords. In the meantime, this dickhead needs to find somewhere else to live. Maybe Peckham? Or back to my native Croydon? After all, as they sing in Selhurst Park every week "South London is Beautiful!"