The benefits of social housing
I am more than fed up to the back teeth (not yet wisdom, that comes from within) with the media and government constantly rambling on about the housing crisis and benefit claimants, as if the two are mutually exclusive and if they are not very nuanced topics which deserve detailed consideration.
Benefit claimants cannot afford to pay private market rents. More than that, many working people cannot afford to pay private market rents either. So they are left with the options of:
(a) staying with family and/or friends if they have any willing and/or able to help them out.
(b) sharing with many other people in homes which are not suitable for them due to size.
(c) applying for the rapidly-reducing number of social housing properties (formerly council houses, although due to cuts many boroughs are now giving over control of these properties to arms-length management organisations or not-for-profit social housing management agencies).
(d) being homeless.
When people pay private rent, they tend to pay a very high rate to cover the mortgage of the landlord, or if the landlord owns outright, to pay what the landlord considers a ‘fair rent’. This means generally an amount that is the market-rent equivalent to like properties in the area. Rent on properties will therefore vary massively depending upon where you are in the country, in your county, in your town or even in your local borough.
Council housing stock has been sold off under the Right to Buy scheme for many years now, continued and promoted by various Conservative and Labour governments. The sold-off stock has not been replaced, and the crisis in availability is not new. It is, in my opinion, now beyond critical levels.
Where I live, in one of the poorest boroughs in the country, there are no council houses. We are all social housing. I am in a property run by an ALMO, which is tied to providing council housing equivalent rents and rights for tenants. I am very lucky. My disabilities put me high on the waiting list and my experience working in housing law (legal aid funded work since stopped but that’s a different blog…) gives me a slightly better-than-most understanding of the system. I repeat, though, I was VERY lucky.
The introduction of the bedroom tax means that people who once thought they had security of tenure now face eviction should their children have the temerity to actually want to move out at any point (not that they can now afford to). This security is seldom available in our culture of Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreements, the private housing rental agreement which means the tenant only has a six-month tenancy and there need be no grounds for eviction at the end of this period.
It’s a landlord’s market, and don’t we know it. But there is so much more to housing, to homes, than rent. Social housing provides a security of tenure which means people can afford their home, can afford to take pride in it, can afford to remain in a locality for some time and can put down roots into a community. The long-term benefits of this should be plain to see for everyone, but apparently they aren’t.
Being able to settle in a community, to put down roots, means you can commit to the locality. You can volunteer, work, do part-time jobs, your children are safe in schools they will attend and be familiar with for their entire lives, your family may be nearby and you will be able to develop long-standing relationships with your neighbours. You will be able to develop a relationship with your environment; being a part of your community is essential to developing a responsibility towards it. If you are only ever likely to be somewhere for a short period of time, why on earth would you put down roots?
Roots, when constantly uprooted and moved, kill the plant. So too, the love of community and relationship with people around you dies.
Very few people can afford to buy their own homes. Very few people can afford to rent long-term. The housing crisis will only be exacerbated by continuing rises in rent, the idea that ‘market rent’ is fair – a mistake made by those who believe fair only relates to those charging rent, not those paying it. Social housing used to provide security and safety for those in the lower wage bracket and those caught in the unemployment trap. It also provided a means of escape for those in abusive homes. Not any longer.
We need to invest in social housing. By doing so, we are investing in our communities. Surely I am not the only person who sees this connection?