Historic Welsh Village Becomes Investment Opportunity, Residents Become Collateral Damage

Housing prices have been skyrocketing all over the so-called “developed world”, and while various other excuses have been made, the primary problem seems to be rentier capitalism – buying something that other people need, for the sole purpose of denying access to anyone who doesn’t pay. I don’t think there’s much question that we could stand to build more housing, especially in some areas, but owning other people’s homes as a profit-generating investment is, by default, going to increase the cost of housing. Not only do landlords have an incentive to keep raising rents, they also have an incentive to keep buying up more homes, driving up the prices, and moving home ownership ever farther out of the reach of people who work for a living.

And on the subject of work, collecting rent is what’s known as “passive income” – you are paid for doing no work at all, simply because you control access to a necessity, because the government will enforce your claim. Some landlords will also do things like maintenance work, but most hire others to do that, using the money given to them by their tenants. Landlords do not work for the money tenants give them. This is an inherently exploitative business model, and yet another aspect of capitalism that can only exist because the government participates on behalf of the landlord. Absent that power, the landlord would need to take care of their own enforcement, and at that point we’re basically back to feudalism.

When we talk about corporate home ownership, and rising rents, I tend to think about cities, where a single entity can own whole blocks of flats, or one rich asshole can own dozens of multi-family houses, but the reality is that this is happening everywhere, and it seems unlikely that it will stop until nobody owns their own home anymore. Case in point, a Welsh village built in the 1500s, to house workers in a slate quarry.

Sixteen homes in a historic Welsh hamlet built for workers at a 16th century slate mine are up for grabs for £1million after the asking price was slashed by £250,000.

Estate agents have been looking to sell the historic slate mining village of Aberllefenni since 2016, but uncertainty over Brexit meant a deal has never materialised.

Having originally put it up for sale for £1.5million, the asking price dropped to £1.25million in November 2019, only to lower it once more in the hope of securing deal.

Estate agent Dafydd Hardy previously said it would be ‘an excellent investment opportunity.’

Work in the nearby slate quarries apparently stopped in 2003, and it seems like the people who live there have never actually owned their homes. There’s no question that the people whose homes this places in danger have done nothing to deserve having their lives turned upside down for someone’s “excellent investment opportunity”, but under capitalism, poverty itself is deemed worthy of punishment. If you get steamrolled by some corporation or an individual rich asshole, that’s your fault for not being rich enough to defend yourself. And yes, in case you were wondering, we have heard from one of the people affected, whose rent has been raised since the village was bought:

Sara Lewis, 55, who has a lung disease, has to use her oxygen bottle on the bench at Aberllefenni, Gwynedd.

Her rent has increased from £435 to £550 after her new landlord bought the property and 15 others in the village.

Walsh Investment Properties said the original rental amount – under a previous landlord – was “not sustainable”.

“My home is my haven,” said Ms Lewis, who has lived in the property, Glanyrafon, for 22 years.

“The furthest I’m going is the bench. If I belong anywhere, it’s Glanyrafon.

Ms Lewis receives £300 as part of her Universal Credit payment towards her monthly rent, and has recently heard that Gwynedd council will provide £100 of discretionary funding, which leaves her to find an extra £150 each month.

“I’m protesting about the [UK] government to begin with for this standard £300 a month rent, which is ridiculous, and against Gwynedd council.

“It’s so stressful. It’s just a horrible situation to be in.”

Ms Lewis, who cannot work because of her emphysema, has spent six hours each day sitting on the bench between last Monday and Friday.

She said that being out in the wind and the rain is affecting her health but she is prepared to continue next week.Walsh Investment Properties director Chris Walsh has previously said that most of the properties had been paying “a low rent for a number of years”, adding that was “not sustainable in the current economy [and] we feel it is fair and reasonable to charge a market rent”.

Fair and reasonable, because profit for the rich is more important than life for the poor.

Oh, did I say earlier that she’d done nothing wrong? I’m so sorry I lied to you about that – she committed the absolutely heinous act of being unable to work due to illness. This, of course, means that she must be turned out of her home, because only people who WORK deserve to live with dignity. You know, like the millionaire couple who bought her home and raised the rent:

Now, a report by the Daily Mail has depicted the lifestyle of the Chris and Lisa Walsh.

It claims that they enjoy a lavish life of travelling across the world, including Mrs Walsh posing for photos outside the five-star Bellagio in Las Vegas in 2019 and her Facebook cover photo backdrop being a stunning view of the Greek island of Santorini, reports NorthWalesLive.

Now, one should not trust the Daily Mail, in general, and maybe this is my bias speaking, but I’m inclined to believe them. Like I said at the top, being a landlord does not involve actual work, It’s just a way to profit off of the fact that an awful lot of us can’t afford to own our own homes, but if we don’t get shelter, we’ll probably die from exposure. To me, this story highlights the lie that anyone can get ahead under capitalism. The village was built, apparently as a sort of company town, in the 1500s, and its most recent owner was a slate company that was established in 1861. It seems unlikely that the people living in that village ever had a real opportunity to build wealth from their own labor, or own their homes. The jobs “created” by the wealthy only ever really benefit the wealthy, or those jobs wouldn’t exist. This is what it looks like when everything is built around money and those who hold the most of it- nobody has a right to live in dignity and security, unless they’re rich enough to profit off the labor and suffering of others.

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  1. lochaber says

    This seems wrong in so many ways, but right now, the basic math is bothering me.

    $1 million for 16 houses does not seem like a lot, that’s a bit over ~60K per building. That seems remarkably cheap for houses (but then, I live in the San Francisco Bay Area where real estate/housing prices are patently absurd)

    And the person in question has paid nearly double that in rent over her tenancy.

    Anybody want to start building guillotines?

  2. another stewart says

    I don’t know how to cost the overheads (and is there a deferred maintenance bill to come due? perhaps not – they look like decent enough terraced houses in images), but it strikes me that one could make a decent return on £1m with considerably lower rents.

    The other threat would be the temptation to repurpose them as holiday lets (the village is nestled in a valley in the middle of Dyfi Forest), or sell them as second homes. As primary homes I don’t expect there to much demand as they’re remote for work opportunities (except perhaps forestry) and services (25 miles to the supermarkets in Aberystwyth).

  3. sonofrojblake says

    Some civilised countries recognise affordable housing as a public good and place limits on rents. It would seem to me that lashing out your money on a property entitles you to do as you wish with it, including renting it out to someone else. You are on the hook for the mortgage and maintenance, after all. The issue is rentiers who are unregulated.

    one should not trust the Daily Mail

    One should not ever be put in the position of wondering whether one should, because if one is sensible, one should never, ever, under any circumstances, READ the Daily Mail or click on anything that links to its website. And one should certainly never be so gauche as to PROVIDE a link to their website, and I’m disappointed you have. In all the world of scum-shit media, the Mail is by some margin the worst. I’d sooner watch fucking Fox News.

    being a landlord does not involve actual work

    An ex’s brother is a landlord. His business model was buy a house that’s run down, spend several weeks of 18 hour days making it livable (he’s a joiner by trade but can do most stuff), then rent it out, usually to someone he knows. Before he’d finished doing the first, he’d bought the second. Rinse and repeat a number of times. He does all maintenance himself.
    When I moved into my last house, the owner was moving out, as she’d just moved in with her boyfriend. I spent 17 years living there, next to a lovely family who rented from her, and who in all that time never had a rent increase.
    Greedy lazy landlords exist, for sure, but it’s not the existence of landlords that’s the problem.

    It seems unlikely that the people living in that village ever had a real opportunity to build wealth from their own labor, or own their homes

    True. Not if they stayed in that village. People who build wealth from their labour rarely do so in picturesque rural potential holiday destinations. Wozniak and Jobs were working out of Jobs’ family garage in Los Altos, and arguably simply wouldn’t have been able to do what they did if they’d been out in the back of beyond. Is that bad? Maybe.

    I’ve often seen it said that home ownership is a peculiar obsession in the UK (US too?). In Europe, where rents are more tightly controlled and tenants have enforced rights, people care much less about it, because they don’t need to. I blame Thatcher – it was she that dreamt of a share-owner/home-owner democracy, and sold a pig in a poke to a generation of working class people too short sighted to see what she was up to.

  4. billseymour says

    I totally agree with your opinion of “rentier capitalism”, and I note that that’s just what Adam Smith was railing against in The Wealth of Nations.  I’m pretty sure that most liberals need to reclaim Smith and pry him from the hands of Australian Liberals and their ilk. 😎

    I confess that my eyes would often glaze over at the eighteenth century prose*, but my main takeaway from The Wealth of Nations is that there are basically two things that are proper functions of government:

    1. Pass laws and regulations that keep competition open, fair, and available to all.  Things like mergers that create near monopolies and restricting educational opportunities to some segments of the population are the opposite of that.

    2. Provide common goods in those cases where competition doesn’t work well.  I would argue that things like transportation, education, affordable housing, and health care are such common goods.

    *Smith would probably find my prose ugly and unlearned, so there’s that.

  5. sonofrojblake says

    I’d add clean water, a basic postal service, fire/rescue services, police/security services, law courts and prisons and a reliable electricity supply to that list in (2). None of those things should have any element of market forces in them.

    I’m tempted to add “an internet connection” too, but in the UK at least the current competitive marketplace has worked pretty well for me for as long as I’ve needed internet.

  6. billseymour says

    sonofrojblake, yes, I would include what you listed as well; and, IIRC, Smith already included all that you mentioned except for electricity.  I was just giving examples, and I imagine that there are lots of such common goods that I’d find obvious once they were pointed out to me.

  7. says

    Yeah, I’ll avoid the Daily Mail going forward – it was a case of “first article I encountered and this cold is lingering but I’ll do better going forward.

    As to #3 and the village being “picturesque”, I suppose it is, but it would be silly to assign that much of anything. I wasn’t talking about becoming billionaires, I was talking about being able to just own your own damned home, and you know damned well that there were thousands of other people in their garages – worse ones that what Wozniak and Jobs had – who got absolutely nowhere, because that’s not how capitalism works.

    I would also point out that as a place that’s been a mining town for literal centuries, I feel like you’re mistaking “Welsh mining town” for “picturesque location”. It is, by some definitions, to some people, but clearly that hasn’t been a driving force un the town’s history until the last couple decades.

    And again, the Jobs comparison just doesn’t fly IMO.

    The reason I focus on owning one’s own home is precisely what we’re seeing in this story. Under the capitalist system of the US and the UK, if you don’t own your home, it’s someone else’s investment, and they can legally do all sorts of things to make it not your home anymore, simply because they have lots of money, and you don’t.

    Social housing is a very, very different thing, and even that, I would argue, confers more rights on the person living in the unit than paying to squat on someone else’s “investment”.

  8. sonofrojblake says

    the capitalist system of the US and the UK

    That’s the key though – it doesn’t just require capitalism, it specifically requires unregulated capitalism. Mainland Europe’s pretty capitalist, but as I understand it renting is less onerous there because the government (wherever) generally sees affordable housing as a public good, so while it doesn’t mind landlords making a living, it restricts what they can do to protect their tenants. Rents and rises are limited, maintenance is required, tenancies and notice periods are long and evictions without cause difficult. I find it hard to hate landlords somewhere like Germany, based on what friends who live(d) there told me. I find it much easier to dislike landlords here, because they’re far freer to e.g. impose huge rises and evict at short notice for spurious reasons having done no maintenance.

    the village being “picturesque”, I suppose it is, but it would be silly to assign that much of anything

    It’s worth saying it’s only picturesque because it’s not actually a mining town any more. And “picturesque” is very definitely a selling point. What are those three things estate agents always say are important? Location, location, location. And people with money will pay big for picturesque locations probably in large part because in order to accumulate the wealth they have they had to live for longer than they’d have liked somewhere way less picturesque and more “vibrant”, i.e. a city. That was all the Jobs comparison was about – if his garage had been 30 miles outside Aberystwyth, he and Woz could have been capable of inventing HAL 9000 – it wouldn’t have done them any good, they’d have been in the wrong place. Location matters.

  9. says

    I feel like calling that “unregulated” is misleading. There are a great many regulations and laws in place to support landlords and their business.

    And as to location mattering, I suppose it does, within capitalism. Specifically, location and timing, but that doesn’t change my overall point – that simply being able to be secure in their own homes was never within their reach.

  10. sonofrojblake says

    Para 1 – reasonable point. But I’m using “unregulated” in the same sense you’d say banking had been “deregulated”, which led to 2008. It wasn’t that there were no regulations, just that the regs there were protected the bankers, not customers or society.

    But location matters even absent capitalism. There’s a limited supply of e.g. beachfront property. I would like a house overlooking Derwent Water – should I be allowed to just build one? If not, how do I go about turfing out one of the people who already has one of the houses that does? If I’m born and brought up in such a house, do I have a right to expect to have one of my own? If I’m born and brought up in a flat in a block in the middle of Sheffield, is that all I’ve got a right to expect? What’s the minimum standard, and how do you dole out the homes that beat it, without some element of capitalism?

  11. another stewart says

    On a different issue related to housing, a developer is reported to have failed to carry out a planning condition of decontaminating land before building houses.


    It’s not clear what the nature of the contamination is, but it looks as if the estate was built on part of the Crewe Locomotive Works site, which suggests cumulative spills of oil products as a potential source of contamination.

  12. says

    @sonofrojblake – fair enough on regulation.

    In terms of how to manage housing, the short answer is “however we collectively decide”. I’m saying everyone is guaranteed to have good quality housing if they want it, not that everyone gets to live wherever they want. There are a lot of ways it could be managed. I’d say step one would be making places like the block of flats in Sheffield much more pleasant to live in. “15 Minute Cities” represent an effort to redesign cities to improve the base standard of living. Blocks of flats could be rebuilt to have more amenities and green space integrated into them. Maybe you don’t get a lake view, but there’s a grocery store across the street, a communal greenhouse built into your building, a gym, and maybe a pool, as well as other amenities nearby. Basically, make the block of flats a nicer place to live, and spending your whole life in that kind of home – as many people already do right now, in far worse conditions – is not such a bleak fate.

    Beyond that, I don’t know how we could manage people wanting better homes. The way it’s managed now, most people don’t have a shot at even half the standard of living I described above, so while my approach might not be perfect, it’s sure as fuck better than what capitalism has given us. There’s also the fact that capitalism depends on endless growth, including population growth. If we developed a steady-state economy, there wouldn’t be the same need to endlessly build more and more housing. This is sort of the point at which “how do we fix housing” merges with “how do we fix everything”, because as with crime, poverty, war, and other issues, the causes are systemic.

    I guess the other answer is – stop looking for how you can get yours and leave some other sucker stuck in that block of flats in Sheffield, and start looking for how you can make that block of flats a nice place to live. The whole point is to improve things for everyone.

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