Who is a city’s housing for? That is the question that elected officials, policymakers and residents in Greater Manchester should be asking. The housing crisis in the city-region has been noticeable and visible to all those who live and visit central Manchester and Salford. Dozens of homeless struggle to survive each day and numbers are only estimated to grow. Across each and every neighbourhood the ‘hidden homeless’ face conditions that mean many are struggling to access the basic human right of housing. But this crisis is not the only narrative that has emerged from the city-region in recent years. A landscape of cranes and new luxury apartments, media reports of investment opportunities and the growing presence of international capital in building and managing housing offers an alternative vision of a city-region on the up, boom time Manchester!
It is this paradox, between crisis and boom that the motivation for the report ‘From homes to assets: Housing financialisation in Greater Manchester’ emerged. While many of us are aware of the very visible consequences of the housing crisis there is much less information on how it is being produced. Of course, Conservative (and Liberal Democrat) imposed austerity is an important explanatory factor with Local Authorities being stripped of tens of millions of pounds, hindering the delivery of important services and households having state-support unfairly taken away. But the housing crisis is not just an outcome of unjust austerity. It has also come about through the relatively recent emergence of housing in Greater Manchester as an investment opportunity for financial actors, from within the UK and increasingly internationally.
In Big Capital: Who is London For? by the writer and academic Anna Minton the housing crisis in the UK’s capital city was made visible in a way that showed the transformation of housing from a public good to a investment strategy for the rich. Empty luxury towers across the city, billions of pounds of investment from so called ‘secrecy jurisdictions’ and the erasure of social and affordable housing for ‘market’ rate developments meant that, like other global cities, London’s residents were being priced out of housing. This was a problem that was understood in the UK context as confined to London and the South East but no longer. As the report argues the presence of this ‘big capital’ in Greater Manchester is now established. From pension funds to high-wealth individuals and private equity much of the housing development in central neighbourhoods in the city-region is now financed by actors whose concern is with profit maximisation rather than the well-bring of local communities.
While the term ‘housing financialisation’ is something of a hand full it does convey the ways in which we need to understand the transformation of how housing is being built in Greater Manchester. A recent United Nations report offers a useful definition suggesting the phenomena as;
“… structural changes in housing and financial markets and global investment whereby housing is treated as a commodity, a means of accumulating wealth and often as security for financial instruments that are traded and sold on [the] global market.”
The report attempts to understand this process of housing financialisation within the Greater Manchester context. It is focused particularly on the central areas of the city-region in which high-density developments have been concentrated. It collected evidence from over 25,000 under construction, or planned housing units, it used Land Registry data on off-shore owned properties and the latest statistics on Airbnb properties amongst other data sources. The report is not exhaustive and many of these issues, from financialisation to transparency, require further research and collection of data to better understand these shifts in housing in the city-region. The aim of the report has been to create a baseline, to open up a necessary debate and to help residents, campaigners and politicians better understand what have been very rapid shifts in the ways in which housing and global capital are now entwined in Greater Manchester.
The overall conclusion is that housing financialisation has come to dominate the delivery of housing in these central areas, that concerns for profit now trump the needs of residents and that housing has been transformed, from homes for residents, to assets for the global and local elite. The implications of this shift to financialised housing can be seen in the demolition of our built environment heritage, the growing pressures on neighbourhoods such as the Northern Quarter and perhaps most worryingly the lack of balanced communities as the central areas become ghettos for the well-off. In various ways Greater Manchester residents are struggling to access the basic human right of housing, showing that the problems of ‘big capital’ and housing are not just being experienced in London. When homes become a commodity; traded amongst various new financial actors, communities and households suffer, addressing this financialisation must be a priority in attempting to address Greater Manchester’s housing crisis.