Are hipsters really pricing people out of their neighbourhoods?


By Reuben Bard-Rosenberg

hipsters posterThese days it’s hard to get through a conversation about London’s ongoing housing crisis without the discussion turning to hipsters and gentrification and hipster led gentrification. This is perhaps unsurprising. As incomes stagnate, and house prices continue to rocket thousands are indeed being forced out of their neighbourhoods. Meanwhile, the opening up of cafes with  such hilariously ironic names as The Jobcentre has not exactly endeared London’s hipsters to those of us who want London to be a city for the many and not the few. As such, the narrative of hipsters driving people out of working class neighbourhoods due to their penchant for “Edginess”, and their collective ability to make poorer areas desirable for wider swathes of the middle class, has become somewhat entrenched.

Perhaps it’s time to subject this narrative to a bit of critical scrutiny – not out of any particular sympathy with the dickheads, but because in my opinion at least, this enjoyable narrative with its visible villains is beginning to obscure the real forces that are driving so many to London’s edges. If you look at what’s happened to house prices over the past twenty years, there is precious little evidence of the hipster effect. What is of course immediately striking is the extent to which prices have gone up across the city as a whole – a whopping 366% since 1995. What’s harder to detect is an clear relationship between diminishing affordability and hipster coolness. Particularly damning is the fact that house prices have actually risen faster in North West London than they have in North East London. For the benefit of non-Londoners, NW London is about as cool as a turnip that likes listening to Bonnie Tyler. It’s hipster appeal is restricted to a few bits of Kilburn, whilst North East London, for the purposes of these statistics, includes Tower Hamlets and Hackney.

Of course hipsters, in and of themselves, do not exist in sufficient numbers to substantially alter the shape of the housing market. Yet it is often asserted that, like wizards summoning ghouls from the nether world, a small community of hipsters can make an area more appealing to a much wider section of their class, and this is what drives people out of hitherto working class communities. No doubt there is an element of truth in this. But the point is that over the past 20 years, the mass migration of London’s middle class out of their traditional redoubts and into working class areas would have happened anyway, regardless of moustaches, synths or any other cultural trend. And that’s because the traditional redoubts of the middle class have rapidly become unaffordable to anyone but the super-rich.

Take Kentish Town. In 1995 the average property cost £140,000 making it reasonably affordable to the teachers and social workers with whom it was brimming, at least if they were paired up. Today the average Kentish Town property cots £725,000. I suspect that this might be a greater motivation for such families to up sticks and move to Deptford, than the allure of a pub that serves jellied eels.

In short if we want work out what’s screwing up the housing market and screwing Londoners, we need to look at what’s making housing unaffordable across the city at large. One obvious factor is a lack of supply. There simply has not been enough house building to keep pace with demand. The 18,000 new homes built every year will not suffice for a population growing by 100,000 annually. Meanwhile there has been massive influx of foreign capital – with investment funds increasingly treating our homes like currency, and buying them up as a tax-efficient speculative asset. Meanwhile, over the last 25 years mortgage lenders have lent out more and more, backed by a massive expansion of credit within the financial system at large.  And finally, if we want to talk about affordability,  then this depends not just on prices but on incomes, which today are below what they were 6 years ago.

Bashing hipsters might be cathartic – after all they are an annoying bunch of dickheads. But these are the real issues we need to address if we want to build a London that will house the many.

3 Responses to Are hipsters really pricing people out of their neighbourhoods?

  1. Speculation in housing is wrong and harms human health. On the Bishops Ave in Barnet a £73m portfolio of ten properties were bought in 2013 by investors through an Isle of Man company, from owners believed to be acting for Saudi Royals. These properties are empty and derelict, never occupied – over 120 unused bedrooms on the Bishops Ave.

    Also, have a look at this from Danny Dorling – Prime central London property locations:

  2. On the ‘Job Centre’ pub one local blogger (the consistently excellent 853) has some really useful background knowledge on both the building and the story – he really pulls the story apart.

    Read can it here.

  3. Reuben Bard-Rosenberg

    Wow that is some brilliant local blogging Jim. I guess the current atmosphere around the tweeting left is such that stories like this make a big stir. After all there is now a big bunch of people who are more comfortable howling about how offensive it is for a pub to be called the job centre than, you know, proposing alternatives to the economics of mass unemployment