Guardian: House prices aren’t the issue – land prices are

House prices aren’t the issue – land prices are

Timely revisit of what will for many be an old cookie

There’s a simple solution that will give us cheaper homes – if only the chancellor would listen Winston Churchill in 1910. He promoted the ‘people’s budget’ and lamented landowners’ profits.

Patrick Collinson Saturday 18 November 2017 07.00 GMT

While reporting on the recent court case where controversial landlord Fergus Wilson defended (but lost) his right to refuse to let to Indians and Pakistanis, I learned something about how he’s now making money. He is now far from being Britain’s biggest buy-to-let landlord. He’s down to 350 homes, from a peak of 1,000. And what’s he doing with the cash made from sales? Buying agricultural land close to Kent’s biggest towns. One plot he bought for £45,000 is now worth, he boasted, £3m with development permission. And therein lies the reason why we have a housing crisis.

As long ago as 1909, Winston Churchill, then promoting Lloyd George’s “people’s budget” and its controversial measures to tax land, told an audience in Edinburgh that the landowner “sits still and does nothing” while reaping vast gains from land improvements by the municipality, such as roads, railways, power from generators and water from reservoirs far away. “Every one of those improvements is effected by the labour and the cost of other people … To not one of those improvements does the land monopolist contribute, and yet by every one of them the value of his land is sensibly enhanced … he contributes nothing even to the process from which his own enrichment is derived.”

Landowners pocketed £9bn in profit from land they sold for new housing in 2014-15

When Britain’s post-war housebuilding boom began, it was based on cheap land. As a timely new book, The Land Question by Daniel Bentley of thinktank Civitas, sets out, the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act under Clement Attlee’s government allowed local authorities to acquire land for development at “existing use value”. There was no premium because it was earmarked for development. The New Towns Act 1946 was similar, giving public corporation powers to compulsorily purchase land at current-use value. The unserviced land cost component for homes in Harlow and Milton Keynes was just 1% of housing costs at the time. Today, the price of land can easily be half the cost of buying a home: £439,999 is the cost of land with planning permission for one terraced home in a less salubrious part of London such as Peckham.

What happened? Landowners rebelled and Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government introduced the 1961 Land Compensation Act. Henceforth, landowners were to be paid the value of the land, including any “hope value”, when developed. Today a hectare of land is worth 100 times more when used for housing rather than farming. Yet when a bureaucratic pen grants permission, all the value goes to the landowner, not the public. Bentley says landowners pocketed £9bn in profit from land they sold for new housing in 2014-15. For each new home built that year, £60,000 went as profit to the landowner. Major infrastructure projects such as Crossrail 2 and the Bakerloo tube line extension are estimated to cost the public purse £36bn. Landowners, meanwhile, will pocket £87bn from increased land values nearby.

In the Netherlands, the only sizeable country in Europe more densely populated than England, the Expropriation Act allows local authorities to buy land at current-use value. They prepare it for development, use part for social housing and sell the rest for commercial use, often at a large profit.

Think of it. Councils take all the financial uplift from planning permission, using potentially huge profits from land sales to build social housing almost at no cost to the public purse. Developers focus on making profits from building high-quality homes, not from hoarding plots. Land speculation is killed off almost overnight.

Instead, the chancellor will tell us in this week’s budget that the solution is billions more for help to buy. All that does is raise property prices and landowner profits. If only Philip Hammond could be more like Churchill.

Dukes of Westminster pumped millions into secretive offshore firms and avoided billions of pounds in tax

Duke of Westminster’s five main estates: 11,500 acre Eaton Estate in rural Cheshire; 23,500 acre Abbeystead Estate in rural Lancashire; 96,000 acre Reay Forest estate in rural Sutherland, the La Garganta Estate in rural Spain and 300 acres of prime central London land in Mayfair and Belgravia worth c. £10bn.

Hugh Grosvenor became Britain’s youngest billionaire following his father’s death in 2016. Most of the father-of-four’s personal estate was left in trust with the income going to his widow Natalia but trustees were given the power to transfer all or any of the capital to her. The UK’s inheritance tax of 40 per cent of any assets worth over £325,000 is not payable on anything left to a spouse or on charitable donations. If it had been applied to the late Duke’s entire wealth, the liability would have been around £3.4 billion.

Paradise Papers bring to light key parts of structure used to manage £9.5bn fortune inherited last year by Hugh Grosvenor, 26

Juliette Garside @JulietteGarside Tuesday 7 November 2017

The international property empire of the dukes of Westminster pumped dividends worth millions of pounds into secretive companies in Bermuda and Panama, the Paradise Papers reveal.

Hugh Grosvenor became Britain’s youngest billionaire after his father’s death last year. Thanks to careful planning by his predecessors, the 26-year-old inherited the sprawling Grosvenor Group without having to pay the 40% death duties imposed on most British taxpayers.

A leak of 13.4m files, including documents from the archives of the offshore law firm Appleby, combined with public information from the UK companies register, has brought to light key parts of the structure used to manage the seventh duke’s fortune – estimated at £9.5bn in the Sunday Times rich list.

What are the Paradise Papers?

The Paradise Papers is a special investigation by the Guardian and 95 media partners worldwide into a leak of 13.4m files from two offshore service providers and 19 tax havens’ company registries. The files reveal the offshore financial affairs of some of the world’s biggest multinational companies and richest individuals, and set out the myriad ways in which tax can be avoided using artificial structures

They reveal for the first time the names, settlors and creation dates of the five UK trusts that have been used, for generations, to keep in the hands of a single family an estate that includes much of Belgravia and Mayfair in London, 165,000 acres of British countryside, hundreds of developments in North America, Australia and Hong Kong, and an island in Vancouver.

The trusts established by successive dukes to control Grosvenor are UK resident and subject to British tax – they pay a 6% charge on the value of many of their assets every 10 years. Assets worth £600m belonging directly to the 6th Duke, which were not held in trust, were inherited by his wife exempt from tax, as is normal for married couples. Death duties will be payable in the UK when her children inherit.

But the papers show that not all the family’s wealth was managed onshore. Until 1999, about half of the shares in a subsidiary that ran Grosvenor’s North American and Australian operations were controlled by tax haven companies.

Managed from Canada, the international wing of Grosvenor was created in 1953 when the estate made its first big expansion outside Britain by acquiring the 485-hectare Annacis Island in the middle of the Fraser river in Vancouver.

By the turn of the century, Grosvenor International Holdings Ltd (GIHL) had assets worth more than C$1bn (£600m), with 42% of its shares held by screen companies in Bermuda and Panama.

Vesta Ltd, incorporated in Bermuda in 1964, controlled Trumpet Company Ltd, another Bermuda company, which in turn held shares in GIHL. Alongside it was a parallel Panama structure: Nakar Holding SA, incorporated in 1977, owned shares in Compact International Inc, which in turn held part of GIHL.

The identities of the owners of these four companies have never been publicly disclosed by Grosvenor. However, Appleby’s internal database listed Vesta and Trumpet as belonging to the “Grosvenor Family Trust”.

Grosvenor’s annual reports show millions in payments collected in Panama and Bermuda: a combined £1m in 1999, direct from GIHL, and a similar sum the year before. Eventually, the offshore companies swapped their shares in GIHL for a 6.5% holding in the overall Grosvenor Group, collecting £3.7m over a seven-year period.

In March 2007, Grosvenor announced it was buying out Vesta and Nakar for £40m. The reason given was to “better align the shareholders’ interests with the group’s activities”. The companies were dissolved later that year.

A spokesman for the Grosvenor estate said: “Two small overseas trusts were established over 50 years ago, when it was accepted common practice to facilitate the acquisitions of some non-UK assets. No family member has received any benefit derived from these but, as UK residents, if they ever did then they would be fully liable to tax in this country.

“Our policy is to uphold the highest standards of business practice. We are careful to ensure that our ownership of overseas property is through vehicles incorporated in the same country as the asset. Where the group occasionally has entities in offshore locations, it is typically as a result of the requirements of joint-venture partners.”

The papers reveal a number of other offshore entities, some of which held investments in Asia. By 2009, the sixth duke’s trustees appear to have become wary of transacting too much of his business via tax havens.

That year, a member of the Appleby marketing team visited Jeremy Moore, the head of tax at Grosvenor Group, and another colleague. He took a few notes on their conversation. Grosvenor liked working with the firm but was wary of giving it too much to do. Appleby’s officer noted: “They do not have too many offshore holdings as they have to be very careful reputationally, as the property group is owned by trusts for the Duke of Westminster’s family.”

Documents from 2012 show Grosvenor’s shares were held by five trusts and by the sixth Duke of Westminster in his name. The oldest trust, simply referred to as ADWSLF in the data, was settled, or created, in 1953 by the second duke upon his death. The family’s enthusiasm for trusts may be explained by the fact that death duties of £17m swallowed much of the second duke’s £25m fortune.

The next oldest was the Fourth Duke of Westminster’s Settlement, which dates from 1964, three years before his death.

There is a Fifth Duke of Westminster’s Settlement, created in 1965, and the sixth duke, who died last year, created two more. The first was settled in 1971, the second in 1974. His will, published recently, suggests he created yet more trusts before his death.

The tax advantages of UK trusts such as these have been gradually whittled away. Since 1984, they have been subject to a 10-yearly tax charge, although there are exemptions for agricultural land and trading businesses.

Nimesh Shah, a partner at the accountants Blick Rothenberg, said: “Nowadays, trusts are used for a variety of reasons and tax is only one of those reasons. These trusts are about trying to keep control of the assets within the family unit.”

There is no public register listing the names, beneficiaries or holdings of any UK trusts, despite the fact such vehicles control vast tracts of land and property in Britain. HMRC has a register of trusts that pay tax, but this is not available to the public. In Europe, MEPs have been pushing for each member state to improve transparency by introducing public registers of trusts. The papers reveal how reluctant Grosvenor employees were to share trust details.

On one occasion, when tasked with setting up a Bermuda company in 1999, Grosvenor representatives asked Appleby to “seek dispensation” from the normal rules for declaring who the trust beneficiaries were.

The information was required by the Bermuda Monetary Authority (BMA) before the company could be incorporated. Because the Bermuda company was to be controlled by trusts, Appleby would need to follow standard procedure and disclose the names of their beneficiaries and other basic information to the regulator.

Grosvenor did not want to share this data. In a fax dated 9 November, Appleby promised to “revert to the BMA to determine what they will give in on”, saying it had already obtained from the BMA that “they have indicated they will not require a personal declaration from the duke”.

The Bermuda entity, eventually called Grosvenor Land Property Fund Ltd, would go on to invest $30m in developing luxury homes in some of Hong Kong’s most desirable neighbourhoods, in a joint venture with another wealthy family, the Keswicks, through their Jardine Matheson Group.

The man from Appleby warned that “it raises ‘alarm bells’ when persons decline to disclose such information fully” and disclosure of ownership was a longstanding policy “designed to preserve Bermuda’s relatively clean image in the offshore world”.

He then proposed an unusual arrangement: “Would it make a difference if the information requested was placed in a sealed envelope and marked for the eyes of the CEO of the BMA only so that such information does not pass through the hands of intermediaries such as ourselves?”

The Grosvenor spokesman said, after checking the records, no evidence had been found “to suggest that the trustees asked for any such dispensation from the Bermuda Monetary Authority in 1999”. He said investors in the property fund would have paid tax in their own countries and the use of jurisdictions such as Bermuda was common for these types of funds, in order to avoid investors being taxed twice.

The information supplied, whatever it was, appears to have satisfied the Bermuda authorities, because the company was successfully incorporated on 16 December.

The seven dukes

First duke: 1825-1899. Hugh Lupus Grosvenor was MP for Chester and died the richest man in Britain.

Second duke: 1879-1953. Hugh Richard Arthur Grosvenor, grandson of the first duke, was known to family and friends as Bendor and was a lover of Coco Chanel. He left no son.

Third duke: 1894-1963. William Grosvenor was brain damaged at birth, and died unmarried and childless.

Fourth duke: 1907-1967. Gerald Hugh Grosvenor, cousin of the second duke, left no son.

Fifth duke: 1910-1979. Robert George Grosvenor, brother of the fourth Duke, lived in Northern Ireland at Ely Lodge on an island in the middle of Lough Erne.

Sixth duke: 1951 to 9 August 2016. Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor, son of the fifth duke, mentor to Prince William, served in the Territorial Army for 40 years.

Seventh duke: born 1991. Hugh Richard Louis Grosvenor is Britain’s youngest billionaire.

From a dowry of swamp land to a multi-BILLION pound property portfolio: How Duke of Westminster’s family business started with a 17th century marriage and turned 300 acres of bog into an empire 

Marion Shoard – Power In The Land (1987) – LWT production for Channel 4


Marion Shoard was born in the west of Cornwall in 1949 and spent most of her childhood in Ramsgate, East Kent. She read zoology at Oxford University and, in order to work in countryside conservation, spent two years at the then Kingston-upon-Thames Polytechnic, studying town and country planning.

She then worked for four years at the national office of the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE), campaigning in topics ranging from national parks to forestry, and rural public transport to wildlife conservation. However, she had become more and more convinced that the main threat to the beauty and diversity of England’s countryside was the expansion and intensification of agriculture and, with the help of a grant from the Sidney Perry Foundation, she left CPRE to research and write The Theft of the Countryside (1980).

This book struck a chord with the public and sparked off a lively debate, with thirty letters published in The Times, for example. During the following few years she wrote articles and gave talks on the book’s theme, lobbied on rural issues in Parliament and helped set up countryside action groups. The Theft of the Countryside included proposals to establish new national parks in lowland England.

A second book, This Land is Our Land (1987), examined the history of the relationship between landowners and the landless, and suggested it should be placed on a new footing. This book also attracted attention. Channel 4 Documentary: Power In Land I presented a one-hour documentary on its subject matter made by London Weekend Television for Channel 4 and called Power in the Land. During the next few years, she wrote numerous articles and gave many talks about a wide range of rural issues. She also taught countryside planning and land management to students at universities, including Reading and University College London. Gaia Books reissued This Land is Our Land, expanded and updated, as a Gaia Classic in 1997.

One element of the arrangements she had put forward in This Land is Our Land was the replacement of the UK’s trespass régime with a general right of public access to the countryside, providing much greater freedom to roam.

With the help of grants from the Nuffield Foundation and The Leverhulme Trust, she set to work out how such a right could operate on the ground, after making trips to Scandinavia, France and Germany to see for myself the very different access systems operating in those countries. Her conclusions on access were published in A Right to Roam (1999), which was acclaimed as Environment Book of the Year in 2000 by the Outdoor Writers Guild.

She has recently supported Jean Perraton’s call for a right to swim in inland waters in the UK, through penning the foreword to her book Swimming against the Stream: Reclaiming Lakes and Rivers for People to Enjoy Swimming against the Stream: Reclaiming Lakes and Rivers for People to Enjoy.

Her activities in the environment sphere were profiled in two articles which you can read here: The Essential Marion Shoard The Essential Marion Shoard by travel writer Jim Perrin Accessing All Areas Countryside Access by environment journalist Caron Lipman.

What next for young people in Zimbabwe’s land reform areas?

What next for young people in Zimbabwe’s land reform areas?

As discussed in the blog series earlier this year, we have been investigating inter-generational questions in land reform areas. 17 years on, young people born after the land reform are leaving school, and thinking about what next? Will this be farming, or other occupations? In the context of a declining economy what prospects are there?

We wanted to hear from those currently in secondary school (Form IV, mostly aged between 16 and 18) and undertook an exercise with school students asking two questions in sequence: What do you think you will be doing in 20 years’ time? And, what are the constraints to getting there?

It was a fascinating set of interactions held in three schools in our study areas – in high potential Mvurwi, in dryland Wondedzo near Masvingo and in the deep Lowveld in Chikombedzi. We used the Q sort methodology, which analyses subjective viewpoints using both qualitative and quantitative methods. A first step is to decide on the statements that are going to be sorted. We did this in a separate exercise with a number of young people and ended up with 49 statements (a list of envisaged occupations) related to the first question and 36 statements (on constraints) for the second question. You can have a look at what young people chose as the full set for sorting, here and here.

In the Q sort sessions,  participants are asked to rank their opinions along a continuum from agree to disagree against a set of statements about a subject. In the end we had 61 valid responses across the sites, with 39 males and 22 females. The Q sort method has been used in several other studies on youth and agriculture in Ghana, including exploring perspectives on desirable work and on young people’s perspectives on farming. We wanted to see if the setting of land reform areas in Zimbabwe threw up different results.

The statistical analysis of the sorts (using the PQMethod software – thanks to Jim Sumberg for helping navigate this) revealed a number of factors for both questions, differentiated by gender but combining all the schools. The qualitative interpretation exploring what these factors mean is the interesting part of the analysis, and is hugely revealing on how young people imagine their futures, and what constraints they perceive as being in the way. This blog focuses on the question: “what do you think you’ll be doing in 20 years’ time?”, preliminary results of which were discussed before. The next blog focuses on the constraints.

Imagined futures

The analysis of the statements linked to the factors highlighted some potential narratives around each, including the role of agriculture. Some very brief summaries of these narratives are presented below. For male students, three factors emerge from the statistical analysis:

  • Factor 1 focuses on a future life in professional jobs, with mentions of being a lawyer, doctor, teacher, solider and nurse characterising this group. Some saw this happening outside Zimbabwe, including ‘working in the UK’. Imagined futures focused on agriculture were in management and business roles, such as being an irrigation dealer or an owner of an agricultural-related business, with less emphasis on actually producing.
  • Factor 2 focuses on being self-employed and owning a business. Being a bottle store owner was characteristic of this clustering. Commercial farming and agricultural marketing/input supply jobs were identified as important.
  • Factor 3 relates to wage work, and a number relatively low-skilled jobs, including being a conductor, driver, working in a factory. Given the employment situation in Zimbabwe currently, some in this group envisaged themselves working in South Africa. Agriculture was more prominent in characterising this factor, and involved a number of business ‘projects’, including vegetable gardening, poultry production, combining with off-farm wage work.

A rather different set of factors emerged amongst female students. Again, three are identified. These are:

  • Factor 1 highlights business ownership and entrepreneurship. The factor included mention of butchery, grocery, grinding mill ownership for example. This factor was also associated with professional jobs (but few cases), including mention of careers as lawyers and in the police service. Where agriculture was mentioned, if focused on a job, as an input supply dealer or an irrigation dealer, but also production for the market, with agriculture as a business, including commercial vegetable and tobacco production.
  • Factor 2 focuses on piecework – the casual sale of labour – as well as the trading of vegetables, food and clothes. By contrast to Factor 1, these are very low income options, but maybe a realistic vision for many. Some in this cluster combined these choices with a hope of escape, where fortunes would be made, and there were mentions of ‘working in the UK’ and ‘politician’ (in the Zimbabwe context perhaps seen as a route to patronage and the spoils of corruption). Engagement in agriculture was through markets and trading, selling vegetables and food, for example, but less focused on direct production.
  • Factor 3 by contrast emphasised service jobs (including hairdressing and tourism) and care (nurse, being a preacher, looking after kids). For this factor, agriculture was not part of an imagined future at all it seemed.

Future trajectories

As previous blogs have shown, young people’s imagined futures do not always pan out. The option of becoming a lawyer or doctor or migrating to the UK, for example, are available to very few. The conditions of schooling in the land reform areas are poor, and the opportunities for upward mobility constrained, perhaps especially so given the declining economic conditions in Zimbabwe more generally. Escape is an option, and migration to South Africa, the UK and elsewhere have been significant in the past, but again options are limited, and xenophobia and violence a concern in South Africa.

So it is not surprising that many young people imagine getting on through self-employment, piecework and small-scale businesses at home. Where agriculture is seen as central to future livelihoods, it is as a business, or through engagement with markets. Some saw themselves as focused commercial producers (vegetables and tobacco, mostly), but this was not a dominant theme in any factor. While in practice many young people end up focusing on agriculture ‘projects’ at home, on their parents’ or in-laws’ fields, this is not central to their future imaginaries.

The factors also differed by gender. While both male and female students mentioned professional careers, owning businesses and so on, it was noticeable that the male sorters were more aspirational, imagining futures in the professions or owning lucrative businesses. The female students by contrast had generally set lower targets, with self-employment and entrepreneurship being associated with piecework and trading, as well as owning a stores or grinding mills. Engaging with agriculture is also much less emphasised among women compared to men, who saw some options of commercial agricultural production, as well as engaging in agriculture-related businesses. Significantly both male and female sorters highlighted what Henry Bernstein would call the ‘fragmented classes of labour’, the array of informal, fragile and low paid jobs, some including wage work, but many simply casual piecework, perhaps combined with some part-time agriculture. For many this is, even now, envisaged as the future.

In the discussions that followed the sorts, the participants were very sanguine about the constraints, and these certainly affected their choices. The question was purposely focused on an ‘imagined self’ – what do you think you will doing in 20 years? – rather than simply open-ended aspirations, where the usual list of footballers, pop stars, astronauts and so on get added.

Constraints impinging on futures are very real for young people in Zimbabwe, creating stress and anxiety and a resort to drink and drugs for some. The post-land reform intergenerational question is simply not being addressed by policy, development programming or government services. The next blog, focuses on the array of constraints young people identified, and explores the implications.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland

​Prince Charles has millions in off-shore tax havens: Royal is latest to be dragged into Paradise Papers cash scandal

Prince Charles has millions in off-shore tax havens: Royal is latest to be dragged into Paradise Papers cash scandal

It is claimed the royal campaigned to change two climate change agreements even though he could benefit from rule change

Andrew Gregory Political Editor 23:27, 7 NOV 2017

Prince Charles has become embroiled in the tax scandal as leaked documents revealed he has millions of pounds stashed offshore.
And the royal was tonight accused of a “serious conflict” of interest over a secret investment he made in a Bermuda-registered firm run by a pal.
It came to light in the Paradise Papers, which also showed MPs have millions of pounds offshore.
And it followed claims that £10million of the Queen’s own fortune was invested in a tax haven . There is no suggestion those involved acted illegally.
The Prince of Wales faced accusations that he campaigned to change two climate change agreements while his private estate had an offshore interest that would benefit from the rule change.
The Paradise Papers show that in 2007 the Duchy of Cornwall, which provides Charles with an income and which he is said to be “actively involved” in running, bought shares worth £58,000 in Sustainable Forestry Management Ltd. He was a close friend of Hugh van Cutsem, a millionaire banker, the firm’s director.
SFM traded in carbon credits, a market created by international treaties to tackle global warming. It was hampered by the two agreements.
Mr Van Cutsem had lobbying documents sent to the prince’s office. Charles later made a speech criticising the agreements. In 2008, the Duchy sold its stake in SFM, which almost tripled in value. Despite Charles’ campaign, the environmental agreements were not changed. SFM is no longer in existence, and Mr Van Cutsem died in 2013.
The Duchy of Cornwall said the prince has no direct involvement in its investments. Clarence House said Charles had “never chosen to speak out on a topic simply because of a company that it may have invested in”.
But Sir Alistair Graham, ex-chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said: “There’s a conflict of interest between his own investments of the Duchy of Cornwall and what he’s trying to achieve publicly. I think it’s unfortunate somebody of his importance, of his influence, becomes involved in such a serious conflict.”
The 13.4 million leaked papers, held by law firm Appleby, show the Duchy also made investments worth £3million in the Cayman Islands in 2007. This is legal, there is no suggestion of tax avoidance. It came as Duchy of Lancaster chairman, Sir Mark Hudson was knighted by the Queen days after it emerged the Duchy inv­ested about £10million of the £500million estate offshore.
He joined the Duchy Council in 2006, a year after an initial £5.7million investment was made in a Cayman Islands-based fund.
The papers also show the late Duke of Westminster’s estimated £9.35billion Grosvenor Estate has included offshore holdings. There is no suggestion rules were broken. A spokesman said: “No family member has received any benefit derived from these but if they ever did, they’d be fully liable to tax [here].”
And it emerged the Parliamentary Contributory Pension Fund, worth £621million last March, has £6.6million invested in Jersey-based BlackRock UK Property Fund and another £6million in firms accused of tax avoidance.
The 2015/16 annual report lists Google, Apple and Amazon among its 20 biggest individual shareholdings.
A Commons spokesman said: “Some funds are domiciled offshore to enable investors from different countries to invest in the same fund, and also to prevent double taxation.”
Dame Margaret Hodge blasted a scheme Formula 1 ace Lewis Hamilton used to avoid paying VAT on a jet and said he should not be knighted. She added: “[He] should hold his head in shame at his contrived refusal to pay the British taxes he should.”

Brazil: Unemployment, rent drive housing occupations

Brazil: Unemployment, rent drive housing occupations

It is here where squatters have built a teeming tent city, named the People without Fear Occupation, in the industrial city of Sao Bernardo do Campo, next to Sao Paulo.

The occupation sits on a fenced-off 70 square-kilometre lot – roughly the size of eight soccer pitches – and is overlooked by middle class condominium blocks.

The squatters say they are driven by expensive rents and Brazil’s current economic crisis. Unemployment is the highest in decades at 12.4 percent. More than 13 million are unemployed.

Almost all of those living here survive precariously day to day from odd jobs. Many have racked up debts.

They are occupying the land to pressure the government to build more low-income housing.

Hundreds of similar occupations have sprung up in recent years, on the edges of Sao Paulo, South America’s wealthiest city, and across Brazil.

“I used to reject jobs if the money or the conditions weren’t right. Now I’ll take anything,” Helio da Conceicao dos Santos, a 25-year-old professional bricklayer, told Al Jazeera.

Adelino de Lima Silva, a 34-year-old construction worker unemployed since 2015, said that sometimes only manages two or three odd jobs a month.

Douglas Souza Ferreira, a 27-year-old father of one, lost his job at a soft drinks factory three years ago.“Jobs which used to pay BRL$150 [$47] now pay BRL$100 [$31] or BRL$80 [$25] it’s really competitive. We used to live well employed full time, now it’s barely enough to eat,” he added.

“You chase after jobs, spending your own money. Then when things don’t work out, you come home upset because you can’t provide for your family,” he said.

More than 7,500 families lived int he occupation by early October [Tommaso Protti/Al Jazeera]

Organisers say on the first day of the occupation in early September, 500 families occupied the empty land. But within a week, that number grew to 5,000 families, and by early October more than 7,500 families were set up there.

“This shows the worsening social crisis in Brazil and the deepening housing deficit,” Guilherme Boulos, national coordinator for the Homeless Workers Movement (MTST) that organised the occupation and commands dozens of others across Sao Paulo state and more nationwide, told Al Jazeera.

‘The perfect storm’

Brazil’s housing deficit stood at 6.2 million homes according to a study by Joao Pinheiro Foundation using the last available data from 2015.

Sao Paulo state, Brazil’s most populous, was the most affected, with a total deficit of 1.3 million homes.

Even in Sao Paulo’s far-flung neighbourhoods, which lack infrastructure, are often crime ridden and can require two hour commutes downtown, apartment rentals usually cost between $150 and $240. Minimum wage is about $285 a month.

Boulos said the housing deficit worsened since 2015 as Brazil plunged deeper into recession, the result of falling commodity prices, economic mismanagement and political crisis. The economy contracted 3.8 percent in 2016.

In 2016, 37,000 housing units for low-income families were built [Tommaso Protti/Al Jazeera]

The Sao Paulo ABC region where the occupation is located was once the country’s booming industrial hub. It has lost 80,000 jobs since 2015 according to data by the Brazil Institute of Geography and Statistics.

“The majority of workers on the urban peripheries don’t own their house; they rent and are totally vulnerable – if family members lose their jobs and income falls drastically, they lose their home,” Boulos said.

“This is the drama being lived by millions of families across Brazil today and is causing occupations to increase across the country.”

He added that cuts to the federal social housing programme “Minha Casa, Minha Vida” have exacerbated the crisis.

“It’s a perfect storm – increased demand and reduced supply of low-income housing,” Boulos said.

Data given to Al Jazeera by Brazil’s Ministry of Cities confirmed that the number of low-income housing units built to attend families with a monthly income is less than $550 dropped from 537,000 units in 2013 to just 17,000 units in 2015 and 37,000 units in 2016.

The Sao Bernardo occupation has community kitchens, bathrooms and meeting rooms where tasks are allocated such as cleaning and cooking. Many spend their time divided between the camp and friends or relatives houses.

‘We’re not looking for handouts’

Heloha dos Santos Silva,17, and her husband Marlon, 19, live at the occupation full time with their nine-month-old daughter Helena. Marlon does odd jobs working at a car wash, but rarely gets work.

“It’s a squeeze and sometimes water gets inside when it rains. What we dream of is our own home,” said Heloha.

Organisers say they want the land disappropriated and used to build low-income housing. This is legal in Brazil if the property has remained vacant and unproductive for some time.

In 2014 ahead of Brazil’s football world cup, squatters won the right to remain and build low-income housing on an abandoned lot in Sao Paulo’s East Zone, an occupation dubbed “Cup of the People”.

Brazil occupation [Tommaso Protti/Al Jazeera]

“We’re not looking for handouts, we want what we have the right to in the constitution: housing, decent healthcare, education,” said Andreia Barbosa, a single mother of five and one of the camp coordinators.

Organisers and local media say the Sao Bernardo lot belongs to construction company MZM Construtora and has been vacant for 40 years. They also allege the company owes hundreds of thousands of Brazilian real in back taxes to the local government.

Al Jazeera contacted MZM Construtora for comment but received no response by the time of publication.

Eviction ordered

Local government and a neighbourhood petition group say the occupation affronts property rights.

“It’s ridiculous, you can’t just invade someone else’s property, the land has an owner,” said Eneas Moreira, 54, a consultant for the automotive industry whose apartment overlooks the camp. He said he feared that the occupation would bring down the value of his apartment.

“It’s terrible to see each day, the conditions are appalling, there is no infrastructure there,” he said.

Brazilian media reported that one of the squatters was shot with an air-gun on the day of the protest.Moreira and about 2,000 others recently took part in a street protest against the occupation.

Sao Bernardo City Hall said in an official comment to Al Jazeera: “The administration is against any form of invasion, be it public or private land.”

It added that it has its own housing programme with “1,980 people on the waiting list”.

The eviction of the occupation has been ordered by a local judge.

The squatters, the judiciary, the owner of the land and local security chiefs are expected to meet on December 11 to negotiate the eviction.

Sao Bernardo Mayor Orlando Morando posted a video on his Facebook, welcoming the eviction but said he hoped it would be peaceful.

Evictions from similar occupations have been rough in the past.

In 2012, an eviction of a similar housing occupation Pinheirinho on the outskirts of Sao Jose dos Campos in Sao Paulo state ended in a pitched battle between military police and occupiers that lasted two days with scores injured.

On October 31, 10,000 housing movement activists marched 20km from the Sao Bernardo occupation to Sao Paulo’s governor’s palace to demand the disappropriation of the land.

Local media reported that authorities will meet with the squatters again next week to review their demands.

“Our rights won’t fall out of the sky, that’s why it’s important that we continue to mobilise,” said Boulos.

Occupying Brazil


Occupying Brazil


 2017 Al Jazeera Media Network


Taxpayers contribute millions to maintain Royal Palaces and Castles in Britain – some are barely used


Royal Palaces and Castles

The Queen’s Homes

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace is the Queen’s official and main royal London home, although the Queen regularly spends time at Windsor Castle and Balmoral in Scotland.

Buckingham Palace

We have now created a special page with photographas and information on Buckingham Palace. Click here to go there

Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle is an official residence of The Queen and the largest occupied castle in the world. The castle was the inspiration for the Royal family’s surname.

image: Windsor Castle

William the Conqueror built the castle in 1080 and it has remained a royal palace and fortress for over 900 years. Windsor is the oldest royal home in Britain and, covering 13 acres, it’s the largest castle in the world that is still lived in.

Each year, the Order of the Garter ceremony is held at Windsor Castle, and the Queen occasionally hosts a “dine and sleeps” for politicians and public figures.

Balmoral Castle

Balmoral Castle is the private residence of The Queen. It has remained a favourite residence for The Queen and her family during the summer holiday period in August and September. The Castle is located on the large Balmoral Estate in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.


Some 85,000 people visit Balmoral each year, and the estate maintains and restores footpaths throughout the property for visiting hikers.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse

Founded as a monastery in 1128, the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh is The Queen’s official residence in Scotland. It was also the home of many Scottish royals.


The Queen holds receptions, state functions, and investitures within its walls, and each year during Holyrood Week Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip invite 8,000 Scottish guests to the Garden Party.

Sandringham House

The Royal family’s private country retreat in Norfolk. Every Christmas is spent at Sandringham House, which has been the private home of four generations of sovereigns since 1862.

imag: Sandringham

Other Royal Family Homes

Kensington Palace

Kensington Palace was the favourite residence of successive sovereigns until the death of George II in 1760.


When William III bought the Jacobean mansion in 1689 it was known as the Nottingham House.

Kensington Palace was the birthplace and childhood home of Queen Victoria and her primary residence until she moved into Buckingham Palace.

Kensington Palace was the London residence of the late Princess Diana.

St. James Palace

St. James’s Palace was built between 1531 and 1536 and was home of kings and queens of England for over 300 years. The palace was built by Henry VIII on the site of the Hospital of St. James, Westminster.

St James

After the destruction by fire of the Palace of Whitehall in 1698, all monarchs until William IV lived at St. James’s for part of the time.

William IV was the last Sovereign to use St. James’s Palace as a residence. Since the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837, the Sovereign has lived at Buckingham Palace.

St James’s Palace is the most senior royal palace in the United Kingdom. Located in the City of Westminster, although no longer the principal residence of the monarch, it is the ceremonial meeting place of the Accession Council and the London residence of several members of the royal family.

Clarence House

Clarence House, stands beside St James’s Palace. It is The Prince of Wales’s current official London residence and former London residence of the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

image: Clarence House

Past Royal Homes

Houses of Parliament (Palace of Westminster)

Edward the Confessor made the Palace of Westminster the first official London residence. It is now the seat of British democracy. It is where the UK government is. The Palace contains over 1,000 rooms, the most important of which are the Chambers of the House of Lords and of the House of Commons.

image: Palace of Westminster

The Banqueting House (Whitehall Palace)

In 1529, Henry Vlll got fed up with Westminster Palace and built himself another one which he called Whitehall Palace. It covered 23 acres and it was the official royal residence until it burned down in 1698. It was rebuilt as government offices.

image: Banqueting House

Hampton Court Palace

Residence of King Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey.

Tower of London

The palace was a residence for Mary I and Elizabeth I, Charles I, William III and Mary II.
Find out more about the Tower of London

Lambeth Palace

Residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Non-royal palaces

Blenheim Palace  is a monumental English country house situated in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom. It is the principal residence of the Dukes of Marlborough, and the only non-royal non-episcopal country house in England to hold the title of palace. The palace, one of England’s largest houses, was built between 1705 and circa 1722.


The official London residences of the English Sovereigns, from Henry VIII to the present day, have been:

  • the Palace of Whitehall (to 1699)
  • St James’s Palace (to 1837) and
  • Buckingham Palace (1837 +), originally known as Buckingham House.

Interesting fact:
The only access to St James’s and Buckingham Palace before 1841 was through Horse Guards: The Mall was closed at both ends until the opening of Trafalgar Square in that year.