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1 This paper examines evictions and displacement in relation to what Saskia Sassen (2014, p. 1) calls “logics of expulsion.” As Sassen argues, these logics of expulsion have arisen under contemporary neoliberalism and globalization as opposed to the post-War, Keynesian Welfare State era which was “driven by a logic of inclusion” (Sassen, 2014, p. 212). In the UK, the latter included large-scale social housing provision plus statutory homelessness support, both of which have substantially diminished consequent upon long-term neoliberalism plus post-crash austerity cutbacks. Under the latter, expulsions in the form of tenant evictions have multiplied (Paton and Cooper, 2016; 2017). In 2015, there were 42,728 repossessions in the private and social rental sectors by county court bailiffs in England and Wales, the highest annual figure since 2000 (MOJ, 2016). Evictions have also soared in Spain, Greece and Ireland as a result of mortgage foreclosures in the wake of the 2007-8 crash and subsequent austerity measures (Brickell et al., 2017).

2 In his celebrated ethnographic study Evicted, Matthew Desmond (2016) has powerfully evoked the sociological imagination as he unearths the processes and effects of widespread evictions on the poor African-American population of Milwaukee in the US. Despite the undoubted power of this work, it’s problematic to draw too many direct parallels between evictions and displacement in Milwaukee and other urban contexts. This is especially so for Northern European cities with extensive social rental provision and significant private renting regulation, a situation wholly dissimilar from Milwaukee’s free market, racialized chaos (Crook and Kemp, 2014; Watt and Smets, 2017). The US and Northern European countries have very different welfare state regimes and housing systems with the UK, for example, having a comparatively extensive social rental sector, a well-developed statutory set of responsibilities regarding homelessness, and substantial financial support for renters through the Housing Benefit system (Anderson, 2004), all of which are largely absent in the US. Having said this, all three of these distinguishing features of the UK housing system have been systematically undermined by a decades’ long neoliberal housing policy assault, coupled with post-crash austerity cuts, all of which are nudging the UK closer towards the thoroughly privatized US housing model (Robbins, 2017).

3 This paper sociologically develops Sassen’s logics of expulsion with reference to contemporary London, a global city which is an epicentre for speculative housing investment and is experiencing a massive housing crisis characterised by lengthening waiting lists in the social rental sector coupled with rising homelessness (Minton, 2017; Watt and Minton, 2016). The paper follows Sassen’s plea that the “spaces of the expelled cry out for conceptual recognition” (2014, p. 222) in two ways. First, it introduces two terms as ways of conceptually framing the experiential nature of displacement — “recurrent displacement” and “displacement anxiety.” Second, it sociologically deepens and enriches Sassens’s suggestive, albeit somewhat abstract framework, by identifying and empirically illustrating six distinctive logics of expulsion which emerge from the research findings on housing and homelessness. These six logics of expulsion are identified using the following numbering system LE1-6 which also appears in the findings’ sections. The first and primary logic of expulsion is the reduced capacity of low-income Londoners in housing need to enter social rental housing (LE1). Leading on from this is, secondly lengthening stays in insecure temporary accommodation which itself makes residents vulnerable to eviction and displacement (LE2). As social housing has shrunk, so low-income Londoners increasingly rent privately which leads onto the third expulsionary logic which is closest to Desmond (2016) — accelerating rents and escalating evictions in the private rental sector (LE3). Fourth, processes of displacement are not simply singular, one-off events, but increasingly take the form of recurrent displacement (LE4). Fifth, displacement is also geographical extended beyond the immediate scales of home and neighbourhood to the metropolitan and regional scales (LE5). The sixth logic of expulsion is from the homelessness support aspect of the welfare state (LE6).

4 In identifying and illustrating the above housing-related logics of exclusion, the paper is also contributing towards the sociological understanding of urban precarity, and especially housing precarity. In Urban Outcasts (2008) and elsewhere, L. Wacquant has identified increasing labour market precarity via the fragmentation of wage labour — involving the proliferation of insecure, short-term, part-time, low-paid employment in the post-industrial city — as a major feature of an emerging “new regime of urban marginality” (Wacquant, 2016, p. 1081). Such employment precarity is well-established among London’s post-industrial workforce, (Kennelly, 2016; Smith, 2005). One aspect of urban precarity which Wacquant has given less attention is the role played by housing. The notion of growing “housing precarity” has featured to same extent in analyses of specific aspects of housing-related insecurity, for example in relation to property guardianship in London (Ferreri et al., 2017). In focussing on displacement and evictions amongst the homeless in the form of temporary accommodation residents, many of whom are in poverty, this paper contributes towards addressing what Wacquant (2016, p. 1082) identifies as “the new social question of the early 21st century: namely, the spread and normalisation of social insecurity at the bottom of the class ladder and its ramifying impact on the life strategies and territories of the urban precariat.”

Map 1: Greater London, the three London boroughs of Barnet, Newham and Waltham Forest, and Welwyn Garden City

Map 1: Greater London, the three London boroughs of Barnet, Newham and Waltham Forest, and Welwyn Garden City

Map 1: Greater London, the three London boroughs of Barnet, Newham and Waltham Forest, and Welwyn Garden City

Sources : © Crown Copyright / detabase right 2013. An Ordonance Survey / EDINA supplied service. © OpenStreetMap contributors, MapQuest.

5 The paper begins with a conceptual dissection of evictions and displacement. The second part analyses social housing and homelessness within the UK and London contexts. This is fol­lowed by the methods and contexts section. The following three empirical sections focus on residents of temporary accommodation who have applied to the local authority as homeless. The six logics of expulsion are illustrated throughout the analysis of the findings at three locations — the north London borough of Barnet, the east London borough of Newham, and Welwyn Garden City outside London. The latter involves residents who have been displaced from Newham and Waltham Forest, another east London borough. Map 1 shows the three research locations (Barnet, Newham and Welwyn Garden City) plus Waltham Forest.

Involuntary residential mobility: displacement, evictions and gentrification

6 Displacement and evictions refer to expulsionary processes involving involuntary residential mobility. Such forced moves “involve situations in which tenants have no choice other than to relocate (or think as much)” (Desmond and Shollenberger, 2015, p. 1758). In being forced, evictions and displacement are distinct from voluntary residential mobility whereby households choose to leave their home: “voluntary moves are intentional and unforced relocations, often carried out ostensibly to gain residential advantage” (Desmond and Shollenberger, 2015), for example moving in search of the suburban “good life.”

7 Forced moves involve displacement — “what happens when forces outside the household make living there impossible, hazardous or unaffordable” (Hartman, 1982, cited in Slater, 2009, pp. 294-295). Displacement is thus caused by external forces, for example landlord evictions or rent rises, rather than by internal household factors such as marital breakdown. In a paper tracing the long-run nature of displacement in US cities, Fullilove and Wallace (2011) have identified numerous displacement drivers including post-war urban renewal, gentrification, the HOPE VI public housing renewal programme and the recent foreclosure crisis. Displacement can of course occur at different geographical scales ranging from the home, the neighbourhood and even the city, as the current paper highlights. Evictions comprise a sub-set of displacement whereby people are forcibly removed from their homes which, in the case of tenants, can involve a legal judicial process. However, as Hartman and Robinson (2003) argue, such a legalistic focus is too sociologically narrow since tenants can be informally evicted by landlords even though no court process occurs, for example by telling a tenant to leave or by changing the locks.

8 Recent UK literature has highlighted two main sets of social and urban policies that are currently driving displacement and evictions, each of which informs this paper. The first policy driver is post-crash, welfare and housing policy austerity retrenchment, as introduced by central government. While such austerity funding cuts are not specifically urban, their enactment can have profound urban impacts — “austerity urbanism” according to Peck (2012). These include cuts to Housing Benefit in both the social and private rental sectors (administered as Local Housing Allowance in the latter) which have resulted in increased levels of debt and evictions (Paton and Cooper, 2016; 2017; Powell, 2015), plus cutbacks to already badly diminished social housing budgets. This set of policy displacement drivers are generic to all three research sites.

9 The second set of eviction and displacement drivers involve urban policy whereby local states implement neo-liberal, entrepreneurial strategies to “regenerate” their areas, for example at local authority and neighbourhood scales. Such regeneration often targets those self-same territorially stigmatized areas of “advanced urban marginality” identified by Wacquant (2008, 2016) — ex-industrial, working-class city quarters such as east London (Cohen and Watt, 2017), or more geographically circumscribed “sink estates” of social rental housing (Watt and Smets, 2017). Two urban policies have been important during the last two decades, especially in London. The first is mega-events, notably the 2012 Olympic Games which aimed at radically changing the East London sub-region (Cohen and Watt, 2017). The 2012 Games frames our second and third case studies of temporary accommodation in Newham and the expulsion of the homeless from Newham and Waltham Forest outside the city (see Watt, 2017; Watt and Bernstock, 2017). The second urban policy takes the form of neighbourhood-based regeneration/renewal programmes targeted at social housing estates. Such estate regeneration involves the demolition of existing homes coupled with extensive private housing redevelopment under the guise of creating “mixed tenure communities” (Flynn, 2016; Glucksberg, 2017; Minton, 2017; Watt, 2013). Estate regeneration has been heavily criticised by activists and critical urbanists as “social cleansing” (Watt and Minton, 2016) — involving the loss of social rental homes, the breakup of existing neighbourhood-based communities, and the displacement of low-middle income residents to cheaper areas, either within or outside London. Estate regeneration provides the primary displacement driver for our first case study in Barnet, although similar regeneration schemes also exist in Newham and Waltham Forest and these have also contributed to the displacement patterns we identify in east London (Bernstock, 2014; Kennelly, 2016; Watt, 2013; 2017). Both estate regeneration and the 2012 Games can be regarded as urban policies that enact neoliberal restructuring involving “third wave,” “state-led gentrification” (Kennelly, 2016; Watt, 2013; Watt and Smets, 2017).

10 While some of the evictions and displacement that is discussed in the three case study areas is directly or indirectly due to gentrification — and especially it’s state-led form — it’s analytically important, as Maloutas (2012) argues, not to reduce all urban processes (in this case expulsions) to a singular gentrification logic. Not all displacement is due to gentrification and, as we discuss, austerity urbanism and its variegated housing and social policies have their own internal dynamics and effects which act in combination with gentrification dynamics and effects. It’s also clear that the relationship between displacement and gentrification is itself complex and multi-faceted (Marcuse, 1986; Slater, 2009). The emphasis in this paper is on what Marcuse (1986) refers to as “direct displacement” which occurs as a result of rent rises, evictions or other landlord pressures. However, as the research findings in this paper highlight, displacement is not necessarily a singular, before-and-after event, as Hardy and Gillespie (2016) argue. Instead it can involve households being compelled to move several times — what LeGates and Hartman (1982) refer to as “multiple displacements” or what Fullilove and Wallace (2011) term “serial displacement.” Although the potentially multiple/serial nature of displacement has been recognised in the gentrification literature (LeGates and Hartman, 1982), it has thus far received insufficient attention. The preferred term here in referring to multiple/serial displacement is “recurrent displacement” since this seems to better capture the ongoing, recurrent nature of the forced moves that people living in temporary accommodation have experienced.

11 The paper introduces a conceptual refinment to Marcuse’s (1986) gentrification-induced displacement framework: “displace­ment anxiety.” This refers to a prospective ruptured sense of place — of home and/or neighbourhood — as a result of a potential, forced external real-world move. It is not equivalent to what Marcuse (1986) calls “displacement pressure” since this is a collective sense of “being out of place” linked to seeing how a neighbourhood’s character is gentrifying. Instead displacement anxiety refers to the subjective response to the threat of immanent direct displacement — the feeling that potential displacees have once they have either been told their home will be demolished, or when they are given notice to quit. Such displacement anxiety generates a profound sense of ontological insecurity as people literally do not “know their place.”

Social housing and homelessness in the UK and London

12 In relation to the UK, Anderson (2004, p. 371) has noted how “state intervention in housing preceded the development of a comprehensive welfare state by some 50 years,” since public housing emerged at the start of the 20th century, well before the post-War Keynesian Welfare State. Public “council housing” (provided by local authorities) was particularly well developed in London and other major cities in the inter-War and post-War periods (Cullingworth, 1966; Watt and Minton, 2016). As Table 1 shows, nearly 31% of all London households were council tenants in 1981, while another 4.1% rented from “third sector” housing associations, meaning that over one third of all London households rented from a social landlord. Social renting has markedly declined since 1981 in both absolute and relative terms. This decline results from the Thatcherite neoliberal onslaught against council housing including the sale of existing homes to sitting tenants via the Right-to-Buy introduced in the Housing Act 1980, plus funding reductions for new building and maintenance (Anderson, 2004). Such privatisation policies have reduced social renting to 24% of London households in 2011, just under the proportion renting privately (Table 1).

London, 1981
London, 2011
Council renting
Other social renting
Private renting
Source: Census.

13 Up until the late 1970s, obtaining a council tenancy largely occurred via queueing on the waiting list. However, despite the energetic efforts of London’s local governments — especially Labour councils — to expand public housing provision, London was never able to adequately house all of its work-income population and homelessness remained an issue (Greve et al., 1971). Certain groups were less able to gain access to council housing during its post-war expansionary period, notably young single people, and black and minority ethnic groups due to institutional racism, for example Bengalis living in the East End (Glynn, 2014; Watson and Austerberry, 1986; Watt, 2001; 2005).

14 A major policy shift occurred via the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 (Anderson, 2004; Fitzpatrick and Pawson, 2016). This Act gave a legal definition of homelessness and also placed a statutory duty on local councils to provide permanent council housing for those homeless households deemed to be in “priority need” (e.g. pregnant women, families with children, the disabled, young people at risk, victims of domestic violence). As Fitzpatrick and Pawson (2016) argue, the 1977 Act has had an enduring legacy despite subsequent policy reforms, and indeed it can be regarded as a significant, albeit imperfect, extension to the Keynesian Welfare State “logic of inclusion” (Sassen, 2014). Notably it gave certain groups statutory rights to permanent housing and turned social housing allocation from a queuing into a needs-based system (Fitzpatrick and Pawson, 2014). This is not to say, however, that the homelessness legislation resulted in a smooth “passport to social housing” as Evans’ (1999) argues. Her research in the early 1990s found that only a minority of homeless applicants were satisfactorily rehoused in permanent accommodation, largely in council properties, and that single homeless applicants who were not in a priority need category were particularly likely to be rejected despite their extant housing needs (Evans, 1999).

15 The Homeless Persons Act 1977 came into force just prior to the Thatcherite assault against state housing. Council housing was subject to a process of “residualisation” whereby not only did it shrink, but it moved from “general needs” housing, catering for a broad section of the population, towards welfare housing for the most deprived and disadvantaged (Forrest and Murie, 1991). Residualisation was also driven by recession and unemployment which impacted heavily on the manual working class who lived in council housing. In coinciding with the larger processes of expulsion and exclusion brought about by “roll back” neoliberalism and especially the sharp scaling back of public housing (Anderson, 2004), the 1977 Act contributed to a long-term shift in the demographics of council housing towards accommodating increasing numbers of the homeless including more disadvantaged and deprived households. This shifting demographic can be identified in London by the reshuffling that occurred during the 1980s between new local authority lettings which went to those on the waiting list compared to homeless households. In 1981-82, 47% of lettings went to waiting list applicants while 29% were homeless applicants; by 1989-90, these figures had reversed to 25% and 63% respectively (LRC, 1991a, p. 94). In a study of routes into council housing in the north London borough of Camden, Watt (2001) found that new lettings increasingly went to homeless households and that living in various forms of temporary accommodation was increasingly common among those who entered council housing during the 1980s-90s compared to previous decades. Accessing social housing, particularly council housing, under early neoliberalism increasingly occurred via the homelessness route rather than the waiting list.

16 This homeless route into social housing typically involved spending time in temporary accommodation including hostels, bed and breakfast hotels, short-life council housing and private sector homes leased by the council (LRC, 1991b). However, the process of obtaining a council tenancy in London, even via the homeless route, could be uncertain, lengthy and difficult, especially for single men (Watt, 2001). As Evans (1999) shows, rates of rejections under the homelessness legislation were greater in London than elsewhere. London-wide data for the early 1990s confirms that the average length of stay in temporary accommodation for a homeless household before being offered permanent housing was 47 weeks (around 11 months), with 35% in temporary housing for less than six months, but 37% remaining for over one year and 7% more than two years (LRC, 1991b, p. 11); see Figure 1.

Figure 1: Length of stay in temporary accommodation in London, 1990 and 2014

Figure 1: Length of stay in temporary accommodation in London, 1990 and 2014

Figure 1: Length of stay in temporary accommodation in London, 1990 and 2014

Sources: 1990 data (LRC, 1991b, p. 11) ; 2014 data (Shelter, 2014a, p. 3).

17 What has happened under the 2010-2015 Coalition Government and “austerity urbanism” (Peck, 2012)? Social renting has been subject to further financial cutbacks, and “fixed term tenancies” were introduced in the Localism Act 2011 meaning that social landlords can make tenancies subject to a probationary period followed by up to another five-year period before a lifetime tenancy is granted (Fitzpatrick and Pawson, 2014). Housing Benefit/Local Housing Allowance caps have restricted support for both social and private rental tenancies and the results include increased levels of evictions, homelessness and people living in temporary accommodation (Fitzpatrick and Pawson, 2016; Powell, 2015; Shelter, 2014a). The end of assured shorthold tenancies in the private rental sector has been a growing cause of homelessness; this accounted for 40% of homeless acceptances in London (Fitzpatrick and Pawson, 2016). Indeed, London has much higher rates of repossessions than elsewhere in England (Shelter, 2014b). Use of temporary accommodation has also increased since 2011 across England, but especially in London, as Figure 2 shows. Furthermore, in London there has been a dramatic increase in households’ length of stay in temporary accommodation compared to the early 1990s, as highlighted in Figure 1 above. In 2014 over half (56%) of households had been living in temporary accommodation for over one year and 39% for over two years. In fact, 22% had been living in temporary housing for more than five years with 3% over ten years (Shelter, 2014a).

Figure 2: Temporary accommodation, N per thousand households in England, London, Barnet, Newham and Waltham Forest, 2011-2017

Figure 2: Temporary accommodation, N per thousand households in England, London, Barnet, Newham and Waltham Forest, 2011-2017

Figure 2: Temporary accommodation, N per thousand households in England, London, Barnet, Newham and Waltham Forest, 2011-2017

Source: Local Government Organisation/Communities and Local Government.

18 To worsen matters further, the Localism Act 2011 has meant that councils can discharge their homelessness duties in the private rental sector (Rugg, 2016). However, Local Housing Allowance cuts mean private landlords in London are increasingly financially unable (or unwilling) to sustain such placements (Powell, 2015). The result is an increasing struggle on the part of London councils to find affordable temporary accommodation within their own boroughs (Rugg, 2016; Shelter, 2014a). This has contributed towards greater geographical displacement as London councils increasingly source temporary accommodation ‘out-of-borough’ (Figure 3) or even outside the city altogether (Figure 5 below). By end-2016, 19,860 (37 %) of London 54,170 households in temporary accomodation were living outside their borough (source : Figure 3) and, as Figure 3 shows, the three case study boroughs of Barnet, Newham and Waltham Forest have witnessed above the London average increases in such out-of-borough displacements.

Figure 3: Households in temporary accommodation located in another Local Authority district: Barnet, Newham, Waltham Forest and London average, 2009-2016 (end of year N)

Figure 3: Households in temporary accommodation located in another Local Authority district: Barnet, Newham, Waltham Forest and London average, 2009-2016 (end of year N)

Figure 3: Households in temporary accommodation located in another Local Authority district: Barnet, Newham, Waltham Forest and London average, 2009-2016 (end of year N)

Source: Statutory Homelessness, end-of-year, 2009-2016, Detailed Local Authority Level Responses, Section 6 [online:].

19 While this battery of statistical data indicates increasing housing precarity in London — and especially in the three boroughs of Barnet, Newham and Waltham Forest — what is less well understood is how this housing precarity manifests itself in the lives of Londoners. One can even argue that in comparison to Desmond’s dense evocation of the experiential nature of evictions, the existing UK literature is strong on policy critique but less insightful on understanding evictions and displacement as social processes. In this sense, the paper aims “to make visible the crossing into the space of the expelled — to capture the visible site or moment of expulsion, before we forget” (Sassen, 2014, p. 215), in the London context. In relation to this aim, the methods’ section below emphasizes the employment of a longitudinal methodology.

Methods and context

20 The paper focuses on those who have applied to a London council as homeless and who have then been placed in temporary accommodation, either pending further inquiries or after the homeless application has been accepted. Such temporary accommodation residents are de facto homeless even if not officially classified as such. The empirical data is drawn from several research projects on social housing and homelessness in London that the author has undertaken since 2010. Each project has employed multiple methods including in-depth interviews, participant observation (including informal conversations) and documentary research. All these methods are drawn upon in this paper, but the main data source is in-depth interviews undertaken from 2013-2017 — a period when the austerity cuts were biting — with 44 residents of temporary accommodation at three locations in and around London. Nearly all of the interviewees had poverty or near-poverty level incomes on the basis of either working in low-paid jobs (often part-time or otherwise “flexible” work), unemployment or long-term sickness/disability. As such, they form part of the burgeoning post-industrial, urban precariat identified by Wacquant (2008, 2016). Furthermore, they are part of a racialized fraction of this class given that the majority were from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, although most had either been born in or grew up in the UK. Two-thirds were Black (British, Caribbean or African); the rest had White British, White European, South Asian, Middle Eastern and Turkish backgrounds.

21 The first location is the north London borough of Barnet where the research site is the West Hendon estate. This council-built estate has undergone a regeneration programme from 2002 onwards involving a phased demolition of the entire estate and the removal and rehousing of the original residents. The focus is on “non-secure tenants,” seven of whom were interviewed; these tenants have no rehousing “right to return” to the estate following its redevelopment. The second location is the east London borough of Newham where the primary research site is the “Hostel,” an anonymised supported housing unit for homeless youth which was emptied out from 2014 and then closed in 2016. Research was undertaken from 2010-2014 on young people’s housing and employment experiences before, during and after the 2012 Olympic Games (see Kennelly, 2016; Watt, 2013; Watt and Bernstock, 2017). The emphasis here is the 2013-2014 interviews with twenty youth plus a Hostel worker, although reference is also made to earlier findings. Additional interviews were conducted with three homeless families living in temporary housing in Newham. The third location is Welwyn Garden City, a town around 25 miles north of London. The research site here is Boundary House which is a block of flats located two miles from the town centre and used as temporary accommodation by several London councils. The author conducted interviews from 2015-2017 with fourteen Boundary House residents and ex-residents, most of whom were lone parents with young children (see Watt, 2017). Most Boundary House interviewees had been rehoused from the east London boroughs of Newham and Waltham Forest, although one came from Tower Hamlets.

22 The longitudinal aspect of the methodology is provided in two ways. First, via qualitative data on housing histories which tracks interviewees’ residential moves from home-to-home and tenure-to-tenure over their lifetimes (Watt, 2005). This housing data is intertwined with employment and family history data in order to provide a biographical account of interviewees’ housing transitions (Skobba, 2016). Second, the research projects have involved returning to the primary research sites (West Hendon estate, the Hostel and Boundary House) several times over a period of years to undertake repeated observations, as well as to re-interview several of the original respondents.

23 The following provides a brief contextual overview of Barnet, Newham and Waltham Forest; see Figure 4 for their changing housing tenures. All three are Outer London boroughs, although they are quite socially, economically and politically distinct (Travers, 2015). Barnet is a residential suburban borough with a strong middle-class presence and a large owner-occupied housing sector. By London standards, it has a small social renting sector and is also the least deprived of the three boroughs. In sharp contrast, Newham is a “classic inner-city authority” (Travers, 2015, p. 249) with widespread deprivation following deindustralisation and the closure of the docks. Renting has been prominent and social renting was the largest tenure in 1981 largely as a result of large-scale council building in the post-War period (Watt, 2013). Waltham Forest is more socially mixed than either Barnet or Newham, containing wealthy suburbs as well as social housing estates and areas of deprivation in the south bordering Newham. Figure 4 shows that all three boroughs have shared in the wider London-wide trends regarding housing tenure (Table 1) — a significant contraction in the size of social renting and a large increase in private renting, although this shift has been especially pronounced in the case of Newham. In terms of their own housing stock, all three councils out-sourced their housing management to an ALMO (Arms Length Management Organisation) in the early 2000s: Barnet Homes, Newham Homes and Ascham Homes (for Waltham Forest). However, the latter two ALMOs subsequently transferred back to direct council management.

Figure 4: Housing tenure in Barnet, Newham and Waltham Forest, 1981 to 2011 %

Figure 4: Housing tenure in Barnet, Newham and Waltham Forest, 1981 to 2011 %

Figure 4: Housing tenure in Barnet, Newham and Waltham Forest, 1981 to 2011 %

Source: Census

24 Homelessness has worsened in all three boroughs and, as Figure 2 above shows, they have much greater numbers living in temporary accommodation compared to the London and England averages. Of the 54,283 households living in temporary accommodation in London’s 33 local authorities in early 2017, Newham has the largest number (4,457), Barnet is 6th (2,757) and Waltham Forest is 10th (2,299) (Shelter, 2017). Not only is temporary accommodation well above average in the three boroughs, but so is their out-of-borough temporary housing placements (Figure 3). Furthermore, evictions are also a major problem, especially in the two east London boroughs (Shelter, 2014b, pp. 7-8). It’s important to note that the emphasis in this paper is highlighting the sociological commonalities — the logics of expulsion — faced by temporary accommodation residents, and not on providing a detailed comparison between the three London boroughs where the residents either currently live or from where they originated prior to being displaced.

Estate regeneration in North London

25 Research on estate regeneration and resident displacement in London has tended to focus on either council tenants or leaseholders (those people who either bought their council properties under the Right-to-Buy policy or on the open market from an original Right-to-Buy owner) (Flynn, 2016; Glucksberg, 2017; Watt, 2013). However, this binary tenure focus masks the important role played by “non-secure tenants” at London regeneration estates who have short-term tenancy arrangements. Non-secure tenants are relocated onto regeneration estates by the council among those who have applied as homeless. Empty estate properties provide the local authority with a ready source of temporary accommodation and filling them also helps to prevent squatting. Significant numbers of empty properties emerge due to the long-running nature of regeneration combined with the fact that numbers of secure council tenants will either die or move away from the estate over the regeneration period. Importantly, non-secure tenants lack the equivalent rehousing rights that secure council tenants have under regeneration regulations, as is the case at West Hendon. In addressing the displacement situation of non-secure tenants, the paper makes an original contribution to the burgeoning literature on estate regeneration since this group’s post-redevelopment destinations are largely unknown, as with the case of the Heygate estate in south London (Flynn, 2016).

26 The West Hendon estate was built in the 1960s and originally consisted of around 680 properties, mainly flats and maisonettes. At the time regeneration was mooted in 2002, there were 529 secure council tenanted properties plus 106 leasehold and 36 freehold properties at West Hendon (LBB, 2014) but no non-secure tenants (Hill, 2015, p. 22). Regeneration took far longer than envisaged, partly as a result of the 2008 crash, and the secure council tenants reduced over this time while the number of non-secure tenants dramatically increased. A detailed tenure breakdown of 597 residential units on West Hendon in 2013 showed that there were 212 non-secure tenants, exactly the same number of Barnet Homes’ secure tenants (Quod, 2013, p. 8). Official data suggests that 85 non-secure tenants were “decanted” from April-September 2015 (LBB, 2015) as part of that regeneration phase. One of the most contentious issues was how the non-secure tenants had no rights to any of the new social rented properties that were being built on the estate, even though their “temporary” tenancies had extended over many years.

27 By the time of the first interviews in 2014, the seven non-secure tenant interviewees had been living at West Hendon between one and ten years. They were aged from 30s-50s. Five were single and two were lone mothers. They varied educationally from Shiela with a postgraduate degree to Chris with no qualifications. They all suffered from chronic health conditions, physical and/or mental. With the exception of Chris, they all had extensive employment experience in the past — mainly in routine manual and non-manual work — but this had ceased, largely connected to their worsening health.

28 The interviewees’ housing histories revealed all six logics of expulsion even prior to their moving to the West Hendon estate. For example, being unable to access social rental housing (LE1) was universal, while recurrent displacement was common (LE4). Such displacement could also mean being moved into temporary housing outside their home borough (LE5). The most extreme case was Chris (White British) who had a lifetime of housing precarity. As a child, he had been placed into care and then as a youth he had lived in homeless hostels throughout London; he had also squatted empty flats and “dumped cars.” Chris was taken out of a children’s home when he was 17 and placed into a bed and breakfast but was evicted; “so that is when I started mixing with the wrong crowd, luckily I stayed away from the drugs, only alcohol.” Somewhat ironically, Chris’ decade-long, non-secure tenancy at West Hendon was the most housing stability he’d ever experienced: “when you have been on the streets as long as I have, it’s a roof over your head. [This was] my first ever flat, the first place I could call my own.” When faced with the imminent threat of eviction from his about-to-be-demolished flat, Chris became confused and angry and demonstrated severe displacement anxiety: “I just don’t know why I am where I am now, you know, it’s like where do I go?” Part of this anxiety stemmed from concerns that he might become street homeless again.


“You know I want to get a permanent flat, I’m pushing 40 now. I am not getting any younger and I don’t want to go back to that way again, I’ve been there, got the T-shirt, I’m not going there again. Don’t put me back on the streets.” (Chris)

30 Douglas (White British) had spent periods sleeping rough following the breakdown of his marriage. It took him two years before he was officially classified as homeless despite having long-term health issues. Renting privately was financially out of the question for Douglas and all the non-secure tenants: “you’d be looking at a month’s rent as a deposit and then a month’s rent upfront and I just couldn’t pull that money out.” Once Barnet Homes eventually accepted him as homeless, Douglas was shunted around four different temporary rooms in north London over a two-year period — recurrent displacement — and these included out-of-borough moves. He was then offered a non-secure tenancy at West Hendon: “it’s basically, take it or leave it, you know, if you don’t take it you’ll be making yourself homeless,” an illustration of LE6 that we discuss in detail below. Like Chris, Douglas experienced displacement anxiety — he had depression and sleeping problems: “now it looks like I’m going full circle and coming from being homeless to being homeless again, because, there’s no guarantee of being a council tenant or a housing association tenant.”

31 In contrast to the other West Hendon interviewees, Shiela had a middle-class educational and employment background. Since migrating to London from the Middle East, Shiela had largely rented privately, mainly in north London. Early on in London, she had a professional “good job,” albeit temporary, which meant she could earn enough to rent a “very, very small room, it was really a box room, but because I’m out most of the day I just needed a place to sleep.” Shiela then spent several years moving from private room to room. Although some of these moves were voluntary, others were forced. For example, Shiela began sub-tenanting a room from a friend who was for large parts of the year not in the UK: “whenever you come here, once a month or whatever, I’ll go to the sitting room and sleep on the sofa.” However, the flat was sold after a year and Shiela was informally evicted. Her housing moves incorporated ever-diminishing standards of accommodation and independence in which she was de facto “sofa surfing.” Parallel to Shiela’s deepening housing precarity, her career also became less secure and remunerative as she moved from temporary employment to self-employment and eventually unemployment. Shiela developed a growing sense of homelessness and displacement anxiety.


“I thought I can’t manage it, it’s like killing me. This moving and not knowing, I mean, you know there are two things here. As a foreigner, as a person who’s not accepted in her own country, you know I felt like an alien here. And this pain of moving, moving, moving, not knowing even your bedroom, something that you feel is yours. Something that you can think, ‘this much I have, this much is mine’. And I thought that I need to do something different.” (Shiela)

33 At this low point, Shiela went to Barnet Homes in 2010: “I need to go and ask for a council place really. I thought I’m gonna end up homeless. I can’t do it anymore, I want a place which I think belongs to me.” Even at this period before the current round of austerity cuts, the homelessness application process was protracted and difficult. Shiela was pressurised into going back into renting privately by the housing officer. She thought this might be because she was not British, but instead, “he said, ‘no, no, no, no, that is not what we’re saying, but these days we don’t give council houses’” — a perfect illustration of LE1. Only once she enlisted the support of her doctor was Shiela housed in temporary accommodation by Barnet Homes, but in another north London borough. Official data show the scale of geographical displacement in Barnet — of the 2,850 households living in temporary accommodation at August 2015, 731 (26%) were located out-of-borough and another 130 (5%) were out-of-London (LBB, 2015). Shiela described how she “fought for eight months to get a better place and to be accommodated in Barnet, my own borough.” She was moved back to Barnet, but on an estate undergoing regeneration which was demolished after two years. Subsequently she was displaced onto the West Hendon estate where, yet again, she faced the same recurrent displacement prospect: “you don’t belong, you’re just a … you have to move.”

34 By 2017, five of the seven interviewees had been legally evicted via court processes as their homes were demolished, while two remained as non-secure tenants at West Hendon. The eviction and rehousing processes had been lengthy and caused considerable distress to already vulnerable people.


“It was very stressful and very frightening. I still, up until today, dream about being evicted from Barnet Homes. It’s not over because although I have moved, there is always this worry, what are they going to do next? I was pushed into a flexible tenancy and I’m not happy. I’m very insecure about the tenancy.” (Laiba, British Asian)

36 Laiba and Douglas were among 39 non-secure tenants who were rehoused into “secure tenancies in borough’ (LBB, 2015), either in Barnet Homes” or housing association properties; Laiba and Douglas were displaced several miles from West Hendon. However, as Laiba’s quote indicates, their nominal “secure tenancies” are in reality “flexible” fixed term tenancies which are de facto less secure (Fitzpatrick and Pawson, 2014).

37 A further 29 non-secure tenants were rehoused to temporary accommodation in Barnet and three to such housing out-of-borough (LBB, 2015). The former include Kayleigh and Natalie – two lone-parent interviewees — who were displaced to another regeneration estate in Barnet several miles from West Hendon. The remaining 14 non-secure tenants had the homelessness duty discharged because of reasons including tenancy breaches and “refusals to accept reasonable offers of alternative accommodation” (LBB, 2016, p. 52), and these included Chris.

38 The official account (LBB, 2016) of non-secure tenant rehousing implies that the process was smooth and painless. The interview and observational data reveal an entirely different picture of the stress of eviction and displacement. Laiba’s feelings of anxiety and powerlessness during her eviction rekindled issues from a previous private rental eviction involving landlord bullying: “he said ‘I have sold that property, there is no way you’re going to stay in that property, I want you out of there.’” Not only does her account highlight the corrosive mental impacts of recurrent displacement, but it also illustrates the un-merry-go-round nature of the expulsionary housing logics since Laiba had applied to Barnet Homes for housing following her removal by bailiffs from her private flat. Douglas was convinced that, as a single man, he would have been one of those whom Barnet Homes discharged their homelessness duty to — and would have therefore been pushed into renting privately or failing that onto the streets — had he not been legally represented in court. Furthermore, the official account hides how the evictees remain embroiled in housing precarity since they still lack lifetime secure social tenancies and face the prospect of yet further evictions and displacement; as Laiba says, “it’s not over.”

Post Olympics’ East London

39 This section turns to the east London borough of Newham and focusses on youth and adults living in temporary accommodation during the 2013-2017 Post Olympics’ period. The twenty youth interviewees at the “Hostel” had been living there for periods ranging from eight months to four and a half years with an average of just over two years. Most were single but three were lone mothers. Nearly all had grown up in Newham and they were largely from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. At the time of the interview, most were NEET — Not in Employment, Education or Training. Despite this, nearly all had previous employment experience, albeit typical precarious wage labour in entry-level, private sector service jobs (see Kennelly, 2016).

40 Although the youth had less experience of independent living than the Barnet non-secure tenants, their housing histories demonstrated considerable precarity in relation to being homeless, including sofa surfing and sleeping rough, as well as forced moves. The reason most young people gave for leaving home, becoming homeless and moving to the Hostel was domestic disputes with parents, step-parents and siblings, although chronic overcrowding was also a significant contributory factor (Watt, 2017). Two interviewees — Jourds and Hannah — had lived independently in the private rental sector when they were working, whereas most could not contemplate this because of costs: “it was just too much for me at the time” (Aaron, Black British). Jourds (Black British) had moved to east London to work in security as part of the 2012 Games. Initially this meant sofa surfing with friends, but he then rented a private room. However, like hundreds of others, he was made redundant by the security firm and was subsequently informally evicted by his landlord, suggestive of the intertwining of employment and housing precarity.


“I had to tell the woman who owned the place that I wasn’t working anymore and I had to say to her I have to go on benefits to at least help myself, and she said ‘we don’t accept benefits’. So, I just had to accept what she says. So, I was back to basically sofa surfing.” (Jourds)

42 Jourd’s housing and employment histories reflect the wider patterns in the Hostel whereby renting privately only really became possible if the youth had a job, but that such jobs are typically low-paid and insecure. Hannah (Black British) had previously rented a private room in Newham while working in retail. However, she had an accident and experienced worsening health and reductions in her hours which, combined with austerity benefit cuts, meant she had to give up her tenancy based upon the realistic expectation of being evicted: “when I did go and try and get help from Housing Benefit, they told me they could only pay a certain amount, that’s how I ended up in the Hostel.”

43 Over the course of the 2010-2014 research period, it was certainly possible — even if far from easy or straightforward — for the young people to gain entry to social housing through various routes including being nominated for either council or housing associations properties, mothers being able to access council tenancies, plus bidding. However, beginning in 2013 but becoming more evident by 2014, there was a marked reduction in the capacity of the young people to access social housing, as discussed in detail elsewhere (Kennelly, 2016; Watt and Bernstock, 2017). A combination of austerity funding cuts and Newham Council’s reprioritisation of new tenancy allocations towards members of the armed forces and those in paid employment (Thompson et al., 2017), meant that unemployed youth and lone mothers were effectively pushed down the social rental priority “queue” (Watt, 2017). This meant that “private renting is basically the only option” as a Hostel worker said in 2014. However, private rents had also sharply increased in the wake of the 2012 Olympic Games (Watt and Bernstock, 2017). Given such rent rises, hefty rental deposits, benefit cuts and the youth’s low incomes, renting in the private sector was becoming even more difficult, as Angelica (Black British) noted:


“… as to the Olympics, obviously that’s one of the reasons why all the properties in the area, the prices have shot up, like literally a two bedroom property in this area, you’re looking at minimum £900 a month and most of the landlords as well in this area they won’t take Housing Benefit.” (Angelica)

45 Angelica and her sister were contemplating moving to a cheaper area outside London, prompted by their own diminishing social housing prospects in east London: “there’s no housing in Newham… the council are telling us now that if we do want help that they can place us anywhere in the UK.” By 2014, the Hostel was downsizing as a result of austerity funding cuts and a wide-scale programme of evictions was underway related to rent arrears.


“There is loads of evictions going on. They think that they are going to be evicted anyway, so they might as well carry on living here, save whatever money they’ve got so that when they do get evicted or do end up moving out, they have got a bit of money, because they have no other way they are going to get a deposit together.” (Hostel Worker)

47 The worker estimated that only a tenth of the youth were happy to leave the Hostel. The Hostel was closed as a supported youth unit in 2016, but the building was then taken over by Newham Council as general needs temporary housing.

48 While she was living at the Hostel, Hannah thought it unlikely that she would be evicted because she had no rent arrears and this was confirmed in a follow-up interview after she’d left the Hostel. Her account illustrates the interlinked, overlapping nature of the logics of expulsion. For one thing, Hannah had lived in temporary accommodation for four years, indicative of the often-lengthy periods people spent in such housing (LE2). Instead of being evicted from the Hostel, Hannah describes how she and the remaining residents were pressurised into applying for private renting by the council: “no one was offered social housing, all private” (LE1), and these were typically outside east London including on the South Coast of England around 70 miles away. Following the council’s refusal to pay for a room in Newham, Hannah obtained a private rental flat in a cheaper borough (LE5) for which Newham Council paid the deposit. During this period, Hannah had a baby and the landlord then told her that she wanted Hannah to leave because the flat was only meant for a single person, indicative of evictions and recurrent displacement (LE3 and LE4). The landlord had not formally issued an eviction notice, but was instead waiting until Hannah’s assured shorthold tenancy expired. Hannah was now caught in-between the local residency rules regarding housing and homeless applications. Her new borough would not assist her since she had not lived there long enough, while Newham Council said she was no longer their housing responsibility because they argued that Hannah had moved from the Hostel to her new flat voluntarily.


“[Newham Council] took us off the system, they cleaned us off. So now, we’ve no way to get back to Newham, but they didn’t tell us all this. They said to us ‘if you have a link to Newham you can come back at any time,’ that’s what they kept telling us. But they didn’t tell us that if you rent a property yourselves we won’t be able to come back. The way they made it’s like the Hostel was never closing down. They made it like we just decided to move our life on, that we decided to find a property and they paid the deposit for us. It’s like we just decided to jog on, ‘you know what, I’m tired of the Hostel, I want a better life and decided to rent a property’, that’s the way they made it out, they never made it out that we were homeless.” (Hannah)

50 As Hannah says, not being formally evicted de facto “cleans” you off the homeless support system in that the local authority claims to no longer have rehousing responsibilities (LE6). Hannah is therefore stuck in limbo facing eviction in a strange neighbourhood miles away from her family.

51 Ousman (Black African) was middle-aged and had spent several months with his wife and young children living in the Hostel building during its transition phase in-between catering for youth and general temporary accommodation. The family had previously rented privately in Newham, but were evicted because the landlord sold the house. Ousman was subsequently rebuffed by the local estate agents and landlords he approached because, despite earning an above-average salary, he would still need to claim Local Housing Allowance in order to afford the “colossal amounts of money that private landlords are asking for.” Ousman and his family were moved from the Hostel to other temporary housing in Newham where they had been living in for nearly two years. Although Ousman described the present house as “OK”, his family existed in a permanent limbo state including underlying displacement anxiety. They remained caught in-between multiple expulsionary logics — an unaffordable, inaccessible private rental sector (LE3), the virtual impossibility of obtaining a social tenancy (“bidding for council homes is an exercise in futility because hundreds of people bid for the same property and everyone is a priority” — LE1), and the ever-present housing precarity of living in temporary accommodation for years (LE2): “they could tell us to move out whenever, it could be as little notice as a few hours, one hour even!” Thus, even for some middle-income households, residential mobility in London is not volitional: “we have no control over where we move to.” This lack of control reached its nadir among those who were expelled outside the city, as we now discuss.

Expulsion from the city

52 London councils are increasingly displacing their homeless application cases to temporary accommodation beyond the Greater London boundary, as Figure 5 below shows for 2013-2016. The data is incomplete since it is based on only 20 of the 33 London local authorities and omits Waltham Forest. Nevertheless, Figure 5 highlights how Barnet and Newham account for a large and growing proportion of the London total — up to one-third in 2015-2016. Earlier data suggest that Waltham Forest also has an above average number of such out-of-London placements (Spurr, 2014). Most of these moves are to the ROSE (Rest of South East) area around London, [2] including suburban commuter towns such as Welwyn Garden City, our third research location, although some moves are as far away as Birmingham and Manchester.

Figure 5: Out-of-London temporary accommodation placements for Barnet, Newham and 20 London local authorities, 2013-2016

Figure 5: Out-of-London temporary accommodation placements for Barnet, Newham and 20 London local authorities, 2013-2016

Figure 5: Out-of-London temporary accommodation placements for Barnet, Newham and 20 London local authorities, 2013-2016

Source: data set by Alex Turner (based on Freedom Of Information requests).

53 Boundary House in Welwyn Garden City was nominally “emergency temporary accommodation.” However, at the time of the interviews, the 14 residents and ex-residents had lived there for periods ranging from two months to four years; six had been there for over two years. Their housing histories reveal protracted and tortuous routes through London’s temporary accommodation network, often involving multiple logics of expulsion, as in the case of Sade, a middle-aged, Black British lone parent from Waltham Forest. After leaving her violent partner, Sade applied to Ascham Homes as homeless. Initially she was moved to a hostel for several weeks before she and her daughter were relocated to a 1-bed temporary flat in an adjacent borough where they spent nearly a year. However, although Sade paid her share of the rent, the Housing Benefit for the remainder was not paid and as a result she was told she owed money and was evicted. She was then rehoused to temporary accommodation in a different north London borough while Ascham Homes looked into her case.


“I was there for less than three months and then they said I made myself intentionally homeless. I went to the housing, I said to them ‘I’ve got nowhere to go,’ because they said I had to come out of the property. They didn’t care. I stayed there till late in the night, they called the police on me. They told me that I have to leave and if I don’t leave they’d take my daughter away.” (Sade)

55 Having been expelled from the official homeless support system (LE6), Sade and her daughter went to live with her adult son in his 1-bedroom flat in Waltham Forest, along with his girlfriend and their child. Despite her son’s supportive aims, tensions emerged: “sometimes I sleep on the sofa, sometimes I sleep on the floor, because there ain’t no space, this is what I am trying to say, but they didn’t care.” After six months, Sade’s son asked his mother to leave – a de facto informal eviction — because of overcrowding concerns. Sade left her daughter with her son while she “ended up in a homelessness shelter for about a month” in a third borough, indicative both of recurrent displacement (LE4) and the geographical widening of displacement (LE5). The shelter helped Sade negotiate with Ascham Homes over her previous rent arrears (which were not her fault), and eventually she was offered temporary housing, albeit at Boundary House outside London.

56 As Sade’s account and many of the other housing histories suggest, offers of temporary housing accommodation by housing officials were conditional on immediate acceptance. Those who were either living in temporary housing outside the city or had been ‘offered’ such housing described the either/or logics of expulsion they were faced with: either be displaced outside the city by taking temporary accommodation under the auspices of the council (LE5), or remain within the city but be expelled from the homelessness support function of the welfare state (LE6). Given that most of them were in priority need as a result of some vulnerability (having children, being pregnant, a fire victim, etc.), how could these either/or logics of expulsion operate? The legal underpinning of the homeless not having a right to refuse an offer of temporary housing was that they would be deemed to have made themselves ‘intentionally homeless’ whereby the council could thereby discharge its duties to provide housing for them; this clause dates back to the 1977 Housing Act. Adriana (Black British) had been evicted from a private flat in Newham because her landlady wanted to move back into the house because she had mortgage arrears on her other property. Adriana was then told she would have to go to a temporary flat on the South Coast by the housing office: “they said if you don’t take it, you will have made yourself intentionally homeless”.

57 The coercive and even punitive nature of their out-of-London displacements was a common feature of the interviews. Adele (Black British) describes how she was eventually offered Boundary House following months of being bounced between various housing agencies.


“I was desperate, I was almost homeless. I was living, sharing with friends, sleeping on my friend’s beanbag when I was about eight months pregnant, yeah, I got pictures to prove it! I said to them [housing officials] ‘come see where I am living!’ My caseworker did not even care, just left it at it is. So, I literally had to keep going there until I talked to one of the managers and he was the one that helped a bit more, he was the one that finally got me a place. It was 4.45 [p.m.] almost closing, when the man came and said ‘you have to sign this quickly’ — before I can even see the address and how to get there, they’re like ‘you can’t refuse it because there’s nothing much we can do’. So, we just took it! (laughs). They just said ‘we can’t do much for you if you refuse, we don’t have any properties available in London’.” (Adele)

59 Jade (Black British), another lone mother, also found the homeless application process coercive. For her, this involved recurrent displacement via shifting between a series of short-term residences which only ceased once she sought legal support: “I had to get a lawyer and that’s how I got out of there, and then I went to Boundary House… I moved about four times.” Reports of stress, depression and anxiety were commonplace at Boundary House (see also Hardy, Gillespie, 2016). For example, Ashley (White British) was a lone parent with a young child and was suffering from depression brought on by the isolation of being located far away from relatives and support networks combined with cramped, poor living conditions. Their children were also affected, not only by the lack of domestic space, but also by the family’s recurrent displacement: “they get stressed, they never settle” (Jade).

60 Most Boundary House residents were desperate to return to east London where their family and support networks resided and where they had a better chance of obtaining and retaining paid work. Many had small children and few were currently in employment although they all had work experience. Some made the journey back into London for work, but this was expensive – one woman described how her husband had to give up his restaurant job because of transport costs. Being rehoused back in London via the councils’ own housing was seen as unlikely and there was also a sense that the officials wanted them off the stretched homelessness system: “they [council] want us to go into private renting, they want us out of their responsibility” (Michael, Black British). After being recurrently displaced (including being evicted) during four years’ living in temporary housing, Adriana eventually moved into a private flat with her boyfriend in order to return to London and escape from Boundary House. Rather than displacement anxiety, there was an overwhelming sense of abandonment — both social and spatial: “they [council] forced us to move here and now we’re trapped here” (Rhianna, Black British). This sense of being trapped in temporary housing outside of London was also reflected and reproduced via official discourse. One housing official said to the Boundary House women at a meeting I attended: “You are nowhere near the people who’ve been in temporary accommodation the longest — we have people in temporary accommodation who have been there for ten years” (cited in Minton, 2017, p. 83).

61 Newham Council ceased using Boundary House in 2016 and its residents were all rehoused, but not necessarily back in London; two families I spoke to were moved to temporary housing in Essex. Jade had spent two years in Welwyn Garden City before being moved into a temporary flat in east London, albeit not in her home borough of Waltham Forest. Following a protest action by Boundary House residents alongside Focus E15 housing campaigners, some of the other Waltham Forest residents were rehoused back in London in a mixture of temporary and social housing (Watt, 2017).


62 The above offers an empirically-grounded development of Sassen’s (2014) “logics of expulsion” with reference to the housing histories of the homeless living in temporary accommodation in London. It has done so by tracing six distinctive logics of expulsion. The first is the greatly reduced capacity of low-income Londoners to enter social rental housing (LE1). Interviewees were constantly rebuffed in their efforts to get into social renting and this position notably worsened, for example at the Hostel, as austerity cuts began to bite. As entry to social renting has shrunk, so periods spent in temporary housing have lengthened (LE2). Twenty-five out of the overall sample of 44 interviewees had lived in temporary housing for two years or more, while six (from Barnet) had lived in such accommodation for over five years. Unlike council tenants in the 1980s-1990s who had to go through periods of living in temporary accommodation before obtaining a secure council tenancy (Watt, 2001), there was an only a dim light at the end of the housing precarity tunnel for the interviewees who faced the prospect of remaining in such housing for years.

63 One way out of this frustrating limbo was to rent privately. However, threading deep throughout the housing histories is people’s negative experiences — and dread — of the private rental sector. It was well-known to be insecure, eviction prone and unaffordable, and there was a strong, entirely realistic sense that such affordability was getting worse, especially in Post-Olympics’ east London due to a combination of gentrification and austerity benefit cuts. This private rental exclusionary logic (LE3) is most similar to Desmond’s (2016) findings, even if the private rental sector is more regulated and financially supported in London compared to the US. In fact, it was evictions from private renting which had brought several interviewees to apply as homeless in the first place, an increasing London trend.

64 Despite their various social and geographical differences, what emerges strongly from the above housing histories is an overwhelming sense of chronic housing precarity. This is particularly manifested through “moving, moving, moving” — recurrent displacement involving forced relocations (LE4). Nowhere is home and displacement anxiety is ever-present. Such displacements are furthermore geographically extended (LE5). Removals out-of-borough are routine while there is the prospect — and for some the reality — of being shipped out of London altogether. The Boundary House residents experienced displacement expulsion from the city per se involving a profound sense of spatial and social abandonment. And if the offers of temporary accommodation — no matter where they might be — are refused, then the applicant is erased from the homeless support element of the welfare system since they are classified as “intentionally homeless” (LE6).

65 The above six logics of expulsion are not, of course, monopolised by the homeless. Being unable to gain entry to social renting affects hundreds of thousands of working-class Londoners languishing for years on waiting lists, while private rental evictions are increasingly commonplace (Watt and Minton, 2016). Being displaced out-of-borough and even outside of the city is also a routine consequence of estate regeneration programmes (Flynn, 2016). Furthermore, private rental evictions and being unable to access social housing have long histories in London, while being unable to receive adequate assistance though the homelessness system is well-documented (Evans, 1999). Lengthening stays in temporary accommodation are however more novel, as is the extensive and now routine relocation of the homeless into temporary housing out-of-borough and even outside of the city. As all the other logics have deepened and broadened, so recurrent displacement (LE4) has become normalised for London’s precariat.

66 What is novel, therefore, is the vicious intertwining of the six expulsionary logics under decades’ long neoliberal policies coupled with short-term austerity cuts. Such expulsionary intertwining has resulted in parallel processes of housing precarity to the employment precarity that Wacquant (2008, 2016) has identified. It’s not only that London’s urban precariat experiences insecure wage labour — it’s also that its members live nomadic lives propelled by worsening housing insecurity. As identified above, this enhanced housing precarity also falls heaviest on the most socially marginalised: black and minority ethnic groups, youth, the sick and disabled, and female lone parents.

67 To return to the issue of policy drivers, it’s the combination of central state austerity cutbacks with local state regeneration policies (the 2012 Olympics and estate renewal) which have rendered areas such as Barnet, Waltham Forest and especially Newham such inhospitable places for the homeless. Wacquant’s zones of urban marginality — in this case east London and social housing estates — have been regenerated and subject to state-led gentrification and so expulsions have magnified, including being displaced from the city itself. Such largely subliminal spatial mobility flows mean that ROSE towns such as Welwyn Garden City become dotted with new mini-enclaves of “sub/urban marginality” such as Boundary House. Millington (2011) has identified such new suburban spaces as indicative of the formation of an “outer-inner city” whereby the hyper-gentrifying inner city physically expels its “underserving poor.” As Angelica said, “we just have to up and leave regardless of whether we want to or not.”


  • [1]
    The research project at the Hostel (2010-2013) was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and Jacqueline Kennelly was Principal Investigator. The research projects in Barnet, Newham (2014-2017) and Welwyn Garden City were funded by the School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy, Birkbeck, University of London. I am grateful to the following for their helpful comments on previous drafts of this paper: the Editors and reviewers, Tom Gillespie, Tony Manzi and Andrew Wallace. Thanks also to Marcus Saraiva (Birkbeck) for producing Map 1, to Alex Turner for allowing me to use the data for Figure 5, and to all the research participants who gave so generously of their time.
  • [2]
    The ROSE area is “equivalent to the Government Office South East region plus Essex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire” (Barker, 2004, p. 24).

Cet article propose de développer et de préciser empiriquement ce que Saskia Sassen a récemment nommé les « logiques d’expulsion ». Dans un contexte de crise du logement et de croissance de la population des sans-abri à Londres, l’article s’appuie sur des recherches approfondies menées sur les expulsions de logements et les déplacements de population vers des centres d’hébergement temporaire dans trois quartiers de Londres et de sa périphérie. Le premier est un lotissement public du nord de Londres en cours de régénération et impliquant la démolition de logements. Le second, à l’Est de Londres, a subi d’importantes transformations après les Jeux olympiques de 2012. Le troisième est à l’extérieur de Londres : on y étudiera plus précisément un immeuble d’appartements qui accueille temporairement les Londoniens qui ont été déplacés de la capitale. L’article apporte deux idées principales. Tout d’abord, il approfondit et enrichit les travaux portant sur l’expulsion en distinguant six logiques d’expulsion et en traçant leurs effets sur les ménages. Ensuite, il montre comment le déplacement récurrent des populations produit de l’angoisse, et démontre qu’il existe un lien fort entre le sans-abrisme et le logement social.


  • Expulsions 
  • Déplacement 
  • Logiques d’expulsion 
  • Sans-abrisme 
  • Logement social 
  • Rénovation urbaine 
  • Gentrification 
  • Habitat précaire

This paper provides an empirically-grounded, sociological reworking of Saskia Sassen’s “logics of expulsion” with reference to London’s housing crisis and burgeoning homeless population. It does so by drawing on in-depth research on evictions and displacement undertaken with residents of temporary accommodation at three locations in and around London. The first is a north London public housing estate undergoing regeneration involving demolition. The second is post 2012 Olympic Games’ east London, while the third location is a town outside London and specifically a block of flats which is temporarily housing Londoners who have been displaced from the city. The paper offers three main conceptual insights: first it sociologically deepens and enriches works on displacement and evictions by classifying six distinctive logics of expulsion and tracing their effects on households; second it shows the importance of “recurrent displacement” in relation to multiple forced moves; and thirdly it adds the notion of “displacement anxiety” to the displacement conceptual repertoire.


  • Evictions
  • Displacement
  • Logics of Expulsion
  • Homelessness
  • Social Housing
  • Regeneration
  • Gentrification
  • Housing Precarity


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Paul Watt [1]
Department of Geography, Birkbeck, University of London
  • [1]
    The research project at the Hostel (2010-2013) was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and Jacqueline Kennelly was Principal Investigator. The research projects in Barnet, Newham (2014-2017) and Welwyn Garden City were funded by the School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy, Birkbeck, University of London. I am grateful to the following for their helpful comments on previous drafts of this paper: the Editors and reviewers, Tom Gillespie, Tony Manzi and Andrew Wallace. Thanks also to Marcus Saraiva (Birkbeck) for producing Map 1, to Alex Turner for allowing me to use the data for Figure 5, and to all the research participants who gave so generously of their time.
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