The 2019 International Research Forum on Multi-Owned Properties
Photo: Residential block, Pitești, Romania
CaCHE Research Associate, Dr Adriana Mihaela Soaita, reflects on the 2019 International Research Forum on Multi-Owned Properties, which took place at Stellenbosch University in South Africa in January 2019.
Whether one believes vertical living is blight or bright, residential towers and blocks have long been part of city skylines across the globe. Symbols of affluence in the heart of global cities and financialised capitalism, legacies of command economies in post-communist cities and towns, or cyphers of mighty Asian and BRICS economic growth, residential towers clearly carry very different socioeconomic codes, cultural meanings, bundles of property rights and residential attachment.
It was fascinating to dive into this diversity at the 2019 International Research Forum on Multi-Owned Properties (Deakin University) held at Stellenbosch University on 17-18 January where I had the honour of being invited to give a keynote speech on post-communist housing estates. The Forum brought together not only perspectives from across the globe but two disciplinary groups that rarely socialize, law scholars and those of a more sociological bent.
This short blog cannot discuss the entire research presented, such as Drs Nicole Johnston’s and Sacha Reid’s important examination of building defects in newly-built condominiums in Australia. A similar research agenda will clearly be of interest given the UK’s likewise poor performance. Hence, I focus only on two themes: the disheartening nexus between free/common/leasehold property rights and the difficulty to adapt the existing housing stock in the UK; and arguably the more hopeful story of participatory redevelopment/major improvement of post-war private estates in Japan and Romania.
Property rights and related difficulties to adapt the stock
Sarah Nield told the stories of Mrs Williams and Mr Plammer, living in a lower- and up-market freehold flat, respectively, who were denied by neighbours and the block management their requests to have disability aids installed in the common parts of the building. To hear about the legal weakness of the UK Equality Act 2010 relating to ‘reasonable adaptions’ and ‘duties of service providers’ was to me profoundly distressing. I could only fear the even dimmer prospects that private renters face if disability strikes.
Relatedly, Susan Bright told about leaseholders and renters ‘living in limbo’ in towers with combustible cladding. Owning or renting homes whose values have plunged to virtually zero hence unable to move, these residents were desperately willing to obtain the removal of dangerous cladding but were unable to. The power to remove/replace cladding is the sole prerogative of the lease granter or the landlord who cannot legally be forced to act. These two different case studies direct our attention to the legal privileging of property (and property rights) over equality, safety and home. I believe strengthening interdisciplinary links between legal and housing scholars can better challenge the status quo and call for more strong-minded government action.
Hazel Easthope told the exciting story of renewing the post-war housing estate of Muromi Danchi in Fukuoka, Japan, a middle-class estate of 35 outdated buildings (870 apartments) affected by population ageing. Residents refused developers’ proposals that aimed to increase density 4-fold and decided to self-manage the process. They aim to achieve better housing of lower density (2-fold increase) in an age-mixed community with lifts and other services provided. Documentations, financial modelling, residents’ surveys and workshops are well on the way.
Comparing this ambitious redevelopment with Romanian practices may appear odd. Romanian residents in the smallest flats built in the 1960s, joined forces to extend outwards their homes by 2-2.5m (with municipal approval; see picture above). The floor area increased from 30-35 m2 to 40-45 m2, approaching the national average. Unfortunately, lacking state subsidies, some low-income households were unable to contribute, missing this opportunity to increase their wellbeing. These two very different examples share a residents’ engagement in non-profit economic action and resistance to speculative housing delivery, directing our attention to a promising area of new research (Gibson-Graham, 2008).
Dr Adriana Mihaela Soaita is a Research Associate at the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence.
View the full 2019 conference programme.
Download Dr Adriana Mihaela Soaita’s full presentation.
Gibson-Graham, J. K. (2008). “Diverse economies: performative practices for `other worlds’.” Progress in Human Geography 32(5): 613-632.
Please note that this blog was updated on 12 March 2019.
Date: February 19, 2019 11:20 am
Author(s): Adriana Mihaela Soaita