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Social Policy in a Cold Climate

Public housing, commodification, and rights to the city: the US and England compared

doi:10.1016/j.cities.2012.10.004 in Cities, the international journal of urban policy and planning

Alex Fenton, Ruth Lupton, Rachel Arrundale and Rebecca Tunstall

In the past decade, England has not experienced the radical neglect and demolition of public housing that We Call These Projects Home describes happening in the United States. The English social housing sector has declined in size, primarily by sales to sitting tenants, but it remains a significant part of the housing system. Nonetheless, in London, we find that the progressive commodification of housing has contributed to the dispersion and suburbanisation of the urban poor over the 2000s, as the city as a whole prospered.  As well as some demolition of inner-city housing estates, the increasing use of subsidised private renting has played a central role in this. We argue that in England, the boundary and relationship between state and market is an essential foundation to an analysis of 'rights to the city'. This is because it both determines the actual proportion of housing allocated by market pricing (as opposed to rights or needs) and the spheres of decision where market logic (rather than claims to rights) prevails. Current changes to Housing Benefit exemplify the effects of privatisation on the socio-spatial organisation of the city.