The Social Cleansing of BAME and Migrant Communities
Having been widely debated since the 1960s, the issue of gentrification in the UK is not a new phenomenon. Defined by sociologist Ruth Glass in 1964 as the process whereby working-class communities become overrun by middle class newcomers ‘until all or most of the original working-class occupiers are displaced and the whole social character of the district is changed’, it has been challenged by activists and politicians for over half a century. Yet despite primarily being considered a class issue, gentrification has, in recent decades, become highly racialised - with BAME and migrant communities often bearing the brunt of its life-altering repercussions.
Gentrification manifests in countless ways however it often rears its head through social housing and the gradual erasure of small, local businesses. Tenants living within rundown neighbourhoods are often promised ‘redevelopment’ schemes which purport to transform old, neglected council housing into new apartment complexes – supposedly at an ‘affordable’ price.
Yet, what such schemes fail to account for is how this will spur an influx of middle-class newcomers and significantly bump up both rent and house values, pricing out existing tenants. Sharon Hayward of the London Tenants Federation insists that this is social cleansing; “Flats are typically rebuilt with a portion offered as "affordable housing", with rents set at up to 80% of market rate, instead of the 30% or 40% that social housing tenants pay.” Such a drastic increase is often one that existing tenants simply cannot afford.
This is not to mention that, in many cases, communities that are sold the dream of ‘redevelopment’ or ‘regeneration’ schemes - and who are reassured that they only face temporary eviction whilst their buildings are refurbished - are in fact never rehomed in their original dwellings. In Southwark, for example, residents were guaranteed new, affordable homes through one such development scheme, yet it transpired that the council’s version of ‘affordable’ housing entailed upwards of half a million pounds. What’s more, all the properties sold went to overseas investors, while just 82 of the 500 social housing units promised by the council have actually materialised for those who were initially evicted.
While such gentrification-induced displacement invariably hurts all of those within affected low-income households regardless of race, it overwhelmingly burdens BAME and migrant communities, who suffer higher levels of housing deprivation. The Windrush generation who were invited to the UK post-World War II, for example, and who were ostracised upon their arrival, suffered a hostile segregation which saw them confined to derelict areas - the only spaces they were able to build a sense of home and community.
Now, these same communities – in areas such as Brixton, Notting Hill, Hackney – which were radically transformed by entrepreneurial Windrush migrants, are suffering at the behest of property developers and investors keen to attract affluent, middle-class crowds. With their history of struggle and relentless toil disregarded, second and third generation migrants are incessantly pushed out of their family homes and replaced by wealthier, young professionals.
In a recent IRR (Institution of Race Relations) report, Jessica Perera examined how the dispossession of BAME and migrant communities across the UK, as a direct consequence of gentrification, parallels the government’s ‘hostile environment’ policies which saw the excruciating, unlawful deportations – and even deaths – of Windrush migrants, despite being accepted as naturalised British citizens decades earlier.
Analysing both racialised policing strategies and housing across the UK, Perera notes how, through gentrification, the hostile environment has thrived unabated - operating as a subtle yet equally violent means of displacing BAME families at a local level.
Another study carried out by urban geographers Loretta Lees, Phil Hubbard and Adam Elliott-Cooper, insists that ‘there are important parallels to be drawn between the experiences of those being displaced within cities and those of international refugees and migrants who make homes while in a state of ‘limbo’’. Evidently, race is innate to the violence of forced displacement; both beyond borders and domestically.
Under the current capitalist economy, austerity cuts, welfare reforms and the ongoing housing crisis - all key components of neoliberalism - are responsible for the decentralisation of poverty across the UK.
An endless pursuit of profit, in this case through real estate investment, is detrimental to the most marginalised, as the urban city has become a cesspit of systemic inequalities. Only through prioritising the needs of existing communities can ‘regeneration’ schemes negate the afflictions of gentrification.