Housing policies 'impose' a middle-class makeover

Academics blamed for insensitive 'gentrification' of working-class areas. Zoe Corbyn reports

May 28, 2009

A professor studying government housing policies has accused academics working in the field of imposing their middle-class suburban values on working-class people.

Chris Allen, a professor of sociology at Manchester Metropolitan University, has launched an excoriating attack on academics who, he says, have promoted the Government's policies on housing market renewal (HMR) where terraced houses in run-down areas in the North of England are demolished or renovated to revive the housing market.

The attacks have been gripping the world of academic housing research, with Professor Allen blogging criticisms he has received of a paper and a book he published last year.

He is now intending to publish another academic paper outlining the politics of the area and exposing the "attacks on academic freedom" he claims to have been subjected to.

The Government's HMR policy has been controversial since it was introduced in 2002. More than £1 billion has already been invested in the programme, and a further £1 billion is planned to revive failing and weak housing markets by gentrifying poor areas.

But it is not only the policy that Professor Allen finds fault with in his book Housing Market Renewal and Social Class and paper "Gentrification 'Research' and the Academic Nobility: A Different Class?", which was published in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. He has also criticised the academics who conducted the research that led to the policy. He accuses them of imposing what he says are their "middle-class values" on the poor.

"There is a particular view within academic housing research that is reflective of some of the values that are held by middle-class gentrifiers," he explained.

"I don't think they are recognised as values as such, so when the research is undertaken, it is thought by those who undertake it to be scientific when really it reflects their own values," he said.

The result, Professor Allen suggests, is that "people who live in these areas are having values imposed on them by academics who are producing research justifying policies that damage their interests".

One of the architects of the policy, Brendan Nevin, who is now a regeneration consultant and visiting professor at the University of Salford's housing and urban studies unit, said the criticisms were unfounded.

"I would dispute whether there is any evidence at all that this is about middle-class values and the suburban ideal," he said.

He added that the policy was "demonstrably benefiting the poorest communities".

"(Chris Allen's) fig leaf is something called organic regeneration, but he never explains what it is, what it would achieve, or over what timescale," he said.

"These places were devastated back in the 1990s. Many of the streets were 30 per cent vacant. It was crying out for an intelligent, thoughtful overview of why that was happening so that the policymakers could then consider an appropriate response. This is a good use of academic research."


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