Steel City Reflections: Prof Ken Gibb’s on the HSA Conference

Prof Ken Gibb reflects on his experience at the Housing Studies Association conference in Sheffield. He discusses his presentations on political economy and student accommodation, as well as the latest research on the tensions between expertise and democracy in the rent control debate. He also shares his thoughts on hybrid conferences and the need for further research on housing, location, and transport choices.

The last three days of March were given over to this year’s HSA conference in Sheffield. This was once more a hybrid affair with 80 plus people present and maybe another 30 or 40 joining online. We had a strong representation of Australian academics present in Sheffield, a smattering of practitioners joining the old lags, like myself, and the continuing strong numbers of early career researchers who are the lifeblood of housing studies.

I overdid the paper-presenting a little bit. I gave two and co-authored another two; the latter were presented by Alex Marsh and Nick Bailey. The paper with Alex raised the debate about the tensions between expertise and democracy/social movements with respect to the rent control debate, framed in terms of ideas within public policy analysis. Nick’s presentation was also about the PRS and asked, via natural experiment, what happened to private rents after the 2016 Act in Scotland that created new indeterminant length tenancies? Two data sets were used, adopting difference in difference methods, comparing Scotland and England up till covid lockdown, and it appears that rents in Scotland, controlling for confounders, fell slightly but significantly.

My own papers were on political economy and on student accommodation.  Chris Foye and I have been reading the new growth model theories of national capitalism associated with Mark Blyth and colleagues – ideas based on post Keynesianism, political growth coalitions, and a macroeconomic demand-side emphasis. These yield, for the US and the UK, a housing and household debt model of consumption wherein government seek to maintain real house prices and use debt deregulation to stimulate economic consumption weakened by wage stagnation. We are trying to situate these new models in other models of political economy and welfare regime theory relating to housing. In this paper we have also begun to consider what the Covid-19 housing market and housing policy experience might say about such models.

Student accommodation crisis – a multi-layered story

The student accommodation paper referred back to the purpose built student accommodation research in Scotland that CaCHE did last year, but combines it to ongoing work about the causes and consequences of the student accommodation crisis apparent in both Glasgow and other parts of the country. This complex and multi-layered story connects a demand-supply imbalance with contrasting emphases in local and national housing policies and higher education policy and practice. Data could be better in terms of the HMO PRS part of student accommodation, but it does appear that private landlords are reducing the lets available to students. At the same time, the PBSA offer, the part of the sector that is growing, seems to march upmarket with every new development. And, while there is resistance to PBSA repurposing of redundant and empty city centre commercial office stock on a large scale, student housing and all of its implications still needs to play a proportionate role in housing strategies and needs analysis. Our ongoing work seeks to understand what happened to students in the autumn regarding not having accommodation, facing precarity and homelessness, as well as thinking about practical short and longer solutions that the different stakeholders can introduce for the future.

A hybrid affair 

Back at the conference, I was struck by how effective using a conference app (Whova) is to do one’s conference business. I don’t know how much work it is on the back end, but I think it does work well for events like the 3 day HSA meeting. I did wonder also how sustainable the current format is with hybrid presentations. Will it inevitably return to face to face with perhaps wholly online slots alongside it? While the hybrid papers worked better this year in terms of audience experience in the room (for the ones I saw), there are still, inevitably, clunky bits, too.

A great event, all in all. Well done to the HSA committee and all of the people who made it work so successfully. It was good to see old colleagues and make new acquaintances. We’ll draw a veil over the Friday afternoon cross-country trains to Scotland, which are inadequate for the numbers travelling, and a test of one’s stoicism and patience. Sheffield is a great place and venue for the conference. I need to find alternative routes where trains still travel regularly, take alternative transport modes or find less busy times to travel. Even getting to Edinburgh from Lanarkshire for an early connection is increasingly challenging these days. Maybe we need a new research agenda on housing, location and diminishing transport choices.


Date: April 3, 2023 5:58 pm


Categorised in: