The provision of adequate housing is one of the most important political issues in the UK today. Against a background of disparate policy interventions, resistances, contradictions and conflict, the Housing – Interdisciplinary Futures Conference seeks to bring together architects, planners, sociologists, artists, economists, geographers, political activists, housing associations and policy makers. The aim is to debate this urgent issue and consider problems, options and potential solutions. Reflecting the belief that housing and its social implications are not discipline-specific concerns the conference invites cross-disciplinary, creative, and critical thinking from those engaging in research and activism from both inside and outside academia.
The context faced today in the UK can be presented as one of an ever dwindling supply of social or state funded housing, a reluctance from the private sector to meet the shortfall, and ever more pressures on Housing Associations to operate in the model of private landlords. Recent newspaper headlines have claimed that “housing squalor and exploitation are back”, and that government policies are forcing the most vulnerable “onto the streets”. Others have suggested that living conditions in some of the poorest areas of our cities result directly from government policies that amount to a “let-the-poor-be-poor crusade”.
On the reverse side it is arguable that government intervention has been the problem all along and that regulation prevents the private sector meeting the needs of the country. The 2010 UK government reforms of planning policy and the freeing of greenbelt land for residential development are the most obvious manifestations of this position. The shift in UK planning policy to an ‘assumption of favourability’ is another. In this case, responding to housing need is presented as a dual solution – meeting housing shortage and boosting a flagging economy.
Following the position of Bernard Rudofsky’s Architecture Without Architects however, others reject either the government or private sector dichotomy. Looking to local development projects led by local residents as the way forward, multiple activists and community groups are seeking a DIY approach. From this perspective, externally led projects will inevitably result in a dilution of the user’s voice and a blurring of their needs.