It’s not often that I say this, but the Guardian got it right. In an editorial on the criminalisation of squatting, it said that squatting is a symptom of our much larger housing crisis: builders own land but won’t put up new houses because people can’t get mortgages to buy them with, bringing us back – as always – to the financial crisis.
The financial crisis has had another interesting effect on the housing crisis, this time from the other end. As the FT today reports, there has never been higher demand for London luxury property: foreign money – especially of late from the PIGS – is sloshing its way into London because property here keeps its value and your title is generally safe. It’s then quite common for owners to spend only a fortnight or a month in their London houses. Prime and super-prime London continue to accelerate, driving up local prices with their ripples.
And where might these two trends meet? In squatting, perhaps. The lack of supply at the bottom meets the supply of expensive empty houses at the top and attractive opportunities for squatting – sneaking in through an open Belgravia garden flat window, say – might arise. This rarely happens, however: the ripest cherries are never bitten. The super-wealthy, according to Charlie Ellingworth of property finders Property Vision, may not live in their houses much but they keep them well-protected: “Most have housekeepers or house sitters or burglar alarms… people who come every day to check it, flush the loos, turn the heating on.” So squatting doesn’t affect the largely-empty houses of the very wealthy but buildings abandoned for dereliction, hardly the sort of places you’d want to raise a family.
Our entire housing system is in trouble and shows no signs of being righted. Squatting is the desperate response, not the problem.
Josh Spero is the editor of Spear’s.