I haven't attended the annual conference of the Housing Studies Association (HSA) before, and after a few years outside the housing community it was refreshing to see that housing research seems to be enjoying something of a rennaisance.
The conference was held at the University of York and was both welcoming and impeccably organised. A particularly innovative feature (which I gather is standard practice at HSA) is to have a dedicated stream of papers given by early career researchers, who can have a go at presenting ongoing work without fear of receiving a monstering from experienced colleagues. This can only be a good thing and it was great to see that so much interesting work is being done by postgraduates across the UK. I found Darren Baxter's work on precarity in the private rental sector to be particularly informative given the rapid expansion of this form of housing tenure.
Plenary sessions at conferences are often a good opportunity to do some sightseeing but I was extremely glad not to have missed the HSA keynotes. First, Beverley Searle and Sue Heath focused on intergenerational transfers of housing wealth. Searle argued that housing wealth shouldn't be seen as a generational conflict between older people hogging expensive homes and young people 'priced out' of the market. Instead, she emphasised that housing exacerbates many forms of inequality, and these problems are likely to worsen in the near future as housing makes up more and more of most people's wealth and outgoings. Heath's work with young people provided a host of examples of how this plays out in ordinary life, with many young adults dependent on gifts and support (in kind as well as in cash) from their parents just to live independently.
Day 2 saw a change of focus, with Kate Barker speaking first about the political challenges posed by the much discussed 'housing crisis'. Her analysis was rather downbeat and she emphasised that solving Britain's housing problems is rather more difficult than just building the hundreds of thousands of homes promised by the recent party manifestos. Ken Gibb developed this theme with a detailed discussion of four directions in Scottish housing policy that have resonance for the whole UK: (1) generating affordable supply, (2) investing in private rental housing, (3) the role of Housing Benefit and Universal Credit and (4) council tax reform. The take home message was a sense of despondancy that these will be addressed by whoever is in government after May 7th.
The final plenary saw us head to London for presentations by Lisa McKenzie and Rowland Atkinson. McKenzie's work in working class neighbourhoods raised a number of uncomfortable questions such as: why is staying in one place seen as a bad thing that's indicative of a lack of aspiration? why are we seen to be in the midst of a 'housing crisis' or 'cost of living crisis' but not a 'jobs crisis' or 'inequality crisis'? Atkinson addressed the other end of the spectrum, namely the lives and housing decisions of London's super-wealthy. He argued that this is generating a new form of 'hyper-gentrification' that is rapidly reshaping how London looks and who can move and live where. For anyone with even a remote interest in urban inequality these are massively important issues, even if Atkinson's idea of a cross-class anti-gentrification alliance seems hopeful at best.
I left the conference with a sense of the vitality of British housing research, as well as some useful feedback on my own work (shameless plug alert: the presentation is available here!) I'd thoroughly recommend HSA to anyone interested in getting into the housing scene as you get a lot out for a relatively modest fee. I've already had a number of follow-up email exchanges stimulated by discussions and presentations at the conference.