Five of the best books about the UK housing crisis

Unaffordability, insecurity, overcrowding, homelessness: the housing crisis is something that has become so ubiquitous, and so apparently insolvable, that it is easy to become resigned to it as an inevitability. But it is not. Our current predicament is a product of political choices, a situation that has been consciously manufactured by successive generations to preserve their power and protect their assets. The following books go some way to explaining how we got into this permacrisis – and what we might do to get out of it.

Generation Rent: Why You Can’t Buy a Home (Or Even Rent a Good One) by Chloe Timperley

Black mould, botched repairs, rent hikes, revenge evictions, stolen deposits – the stories recounted in bleak detail in this lively book will be sadly familiar to many people who have rented in the UK. Chloe Timperley, herself a young renter with a background in finance, is an insightful guide to how we got here, charting the impact of the right to buy, the iniquitous role of land agents, the scandal of ground rents and the ongoing leasehold trap – all of which have led to a situation where, on average, renters are spending close to 40% of their incomes on lining their landlords’ pockets.

After her seminal 2009 book Ground Control, about the increasing privatisation of public space, Anna Minton focused her quiet fury on exposing the reasons for the capital’s housing crisis, with equally measured clarity. Big Capital tracks the conscious political decisions that saw housing transformed from a common good to a “financialised” asset, and unpicks the devices that enable developers to wriggle out of their affordable housing obligations. Minton also speaks to people at the sharp end: from victims of people-trafficking in illegal garden sheds, to mothers sharing one-bed flats with their children, stranded in satellite towns, painting a picture of a system broken at every level.

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The Property Lobby: The Hidden Reality Behind the Housing Crisis by Bob Colenutt

A veteran campaigner and community planner, turned radical academic, Bob Colenutt is well placed to expose the murky world of the property development industry – and offer some useful solutions for how to fix it. In this succinct 160-page book he shines a spotlight on the complex network of landowners, housebuilders, financial backers, professional bodies and politicians who are engaged in propping up the status quo to ensure that their interests prosper, at the expense of everyone else. The housing crisis is no accident, he argues, but the calculated product of an elite group who have no reason to fix it.

From the endless drive for cost-cutting to the shrugging off of responsibility, the details revealed by the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire paint a damning portrait of the construction industry, and of those whose job it is to regulate it. Housing journalist Peter Apps, who has covered the story in forensic detail since the beginning, weaves a compelling tale in this harrowing book. He deftly intersperses accounts from the night of the fire with chapters that interrogate the political, regulatory and managerial failures that led up to it, showing how the government’s “bonfire of red tape” ultimately led to a tragic fire of a very different kind.


Municipal Dreams: The Rise and Fall of Council Housing by John Boughton

Less a book about the housing crisis than a paean to a different age, Municipal Dreams asks why, if it was possible to build hundreds of thousands of homes in a country suffering from postwar austerity, is it not possible today? Author of a popular blog of the same name, which lovingly details the country’s council estates and their residents, John Boughton charts the origins and evolution of public housing, eloquently explaining how the consequences of successive governments’ policies have led to our current predicament. Celebrating a time when housing was “the first of the social services”, the book makes a passionate argument that such a principle is well overdue a revival. Keir Starmer, please take note.


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