Focal Point

Room temperature: Housing in crisis

7 articles

There are many ways to think about the housing crisis. Here’s one: in 1960 the average worker would have had to set aside three years’ wages to afford a house in London; by 2014 they would have needed twelve years. Here’s another: in Berlin, where the vast majority rent their homes, average prices have doubled over the past decade, leading the city to declare a five-year rent freeze. Over the same period, homelessness has also more than doubled in both Germany and the UK, with the rest of Europe not far behind. Everywhere you look, somebody is losing out.

Housing is part of the foundation upon which all other human social relations are built. Like sustenance and sex, society can’t be reproduced without shelter. That is why the crisis is so central. The cost of housing makes the difference between who can walk to work in minutes and who has to commute, sometimes for hours. During the corona pandemic, it determines one’s ability to reconcile the demands of Zoom with those of family members or roommates – assuming one even has the choice to stay at home.

If, during the pandemic, leaving one’s home carries with it considerable risk, staying in can be risky too – as many denizens of Parisian chambres de bonne tragically discovered during the 2003 heatwave, and as those struggling with ‘sick building syndrome’ know from daily experience. As housing becomes an attractive investment for private-equity firms catering to the ultra-wealthy, some are making a killing, while others are quite literally being killed.

In collaboration with the Austrian urbanist magazine dérive and the Estonian cultural monthly Vikerkaar, Eurozine has launched the focal point Room temperature: Housing in crisis. Contributions will look at both the winners and the losers: the people profiting from the financialization of housing; and those constructing alternatives to ‘the market’ in the form of tenants’ movements, reimagining the right to the city.

Understanding the housing crisis also requires knowledge over time. It is a crisis contained in the transformation of working-class housing from the turn of the last century into gentrified apartments for start-up entrepreneurs in the 2010s. It is contained in the twenty-five year mortgage, the standard length in most of Europe. And it is contained in the decade or so that it has taken for rents to double in major European cities.

The focal point is curated by Christoph Laimer, editor-in-chief of dérive, and Aro Velmet, editor of Vikerkaar. Brian Haman is the editor of the project. Contributions will be added on an ongoing basis: to keep track of new content, subscribe to the Eurozine Newsletter – and turn on notifications on our homepage!

Illustration by Ismail Berkel

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