In the Shadow of the Olympics: Dickensian Squalor

Simon Clark and Chris Spillane document the illegal, and often squalid, housing that can be found only three miles from the gleaming Olympic Stadium.
July 27, 2012, 8am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Clark and Spillane accompany Christine Lyons, the chief planning enforcer of the London borough of Newham, host of the Olympics, on a search for unlawful "sheds with beds" that dot the borough.  

"There are as many as 10,000 outbuildings where people may live illegally in the 14-square- mile East End district, she says. Raids have found as many as four people sleeping in a single backyard shed and sharing a filthy shower and toilet that aren't always properly connected to the sewage system."

Such conditions reflect the desperate situation caused by simultaneous cuts to welfare benefits, rising household indebtedness, declining supplies of publicly subsidized housing, and an "overheating" rental market.

With Britain "more polarized over inequality in housing wealth than at any time during the mortgage financing era, which began in the Victorian period of the 19th century," write Clark and Spillane, "The lack of affordable housing is the biggest problem facing [London], according to London Citizens, a community organizing group that has successfully campaigned for a higher minimum wage in the British capital and has challenged excesses of the finance industry. London has the world's second-most expensive residential real estate after Hong Kong, according to broker Savills Plc."

"London councils are reluctant to set aside land for cheap housing because they can earn so much money by selling it to developers," says Neil Jameson, director of London Citizens. "Without cheap housing, people have to move away from their families."

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Published on Wednesday, July 25, 2012 in Bloomberg
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