Tuesday, 24 February 2009

My housing journey, Or: Around London in 80 sub-standard, private, rented dwellings

Other bloggers have covered the story that Mike Freer wants to build fewer 'affordable housing' units in Barnet than even Boris Johnson. Read the story here and Rog T's comment here.

It is interesting to see Tory councillor Lynne Hillan, cabinet member for community services, admit that the free market cannot deliver a fundamental, human need*:

“...we rely solely on private developers to provide affordable housing and all across the country development plans have come to a full-stop. They can’t borrow money and there is no guarantee they will be able to sell the properties at the end.”
As a member of the public I attended the Barnet council Cabinet meeting last night, which took less than 20 minutes to agree next year's Budget and the Corporate plan for 2009/10 to 2012/13. They are ruthlessly efficient these Tory councillors!

Thankfully, the Cabinet Overview and Scrutiny Committee afterwards went through the same documents in more detail. For fully an hour and a half, Labour and Liberal councillors questioned Barnet council leader Mike Freer about details of the budget and corporate plan.

Some good points were made; I hope to cover them in future posts. Commenting on the affordable housing issue, Mike Freer said that was all covered by the regeneration projects. Labour's Alison Moore, who is Freer's adversary in the battle to replace Rudi Vis as MP for Finchley and Golders Green, pointed out that the number of new homes built would barely replace the number of homes lost when the old estates were pulled down.

Mike Freer used some jargon during the debate, which I think he has picked up at a conference, about a 'housing journey'.

The vision this phrase conjures is of a struggling but hopeful young couple in their 20s, able only to rent a small but cosy flat in a nice street, but who progress, steadily, over the years, thanks to the inevitable professional advancement and accompanying salary rises, and with the addition of one or two beautiful children, to owning a detached house in Monken Hadley (or some other smart part of Barnet - I'm not au fait with these things).

Of course, the reality is nothing like this for most people. I reflected on my own 'housing journey'. I started out in London as an impoverished student, albeit on a full grant and able to claim housing benefit in the holidays, moving from Kent, and found myself over the years in various sub-standard, private, rented dwellings, or at best, housing association accommodation. Currently I live in a nice, big house in Burnt Oak, on which my other half pays a nice, big mortgage. But I feel that my 'housing journey' is far from over, and that I could easily find myself sliding back down the housing ladder (snakes and ladders is an apt metaphor here). On my journey, I have never attained that holy grail, a council flat/house, and it is still, in many ways, my fantasy!

Most people's housing journey is similarly tortuous, and often leads to a dead-end. Is it seriously beyond us, in a developed economy, to provide a decent, affordable, secure roof over everyone's head? From that so much else would flow: less debt, less stress, less illness, less waste, more stability, more neighbourliness... The savings would be enormous (if you're determined to reckon everything in pounds and pence).

Check out the excellent Defend Council Housing campaign. They have a meeting in Parliament this Wedneday 25 February from 6-8pm.

*Thanks to a socialist friend in Finchley for spelling it out in this way.


Rog T said...

For 90% of people, their housing journey through life is pretty much defined by who their Mum and Dad are.

My Parents started their married life in a council house until 1960. At the time it was seen as the normal form of housing for working people. As their business grew they moved into their own home.

In this day and age, young people are faced with the stress of private landlords or the stress of huge debt. I can't remember the last time someone I know moved into a proper council house from another sector (My Brother in 1972?) because it was a reasonable option (ie not dire need).

We used to have a great system of affordable social housing. Like everything else it has been shamefully underfunded. The decisions have been made by people who have climbed the social ladder and so are unaffected.

I have a theory that there is a deliberate policy of disengaging the working classes from the poitical process so that these things can happen.

Such organisations as Barnet Homes are one little part of this mosaic. I'd be interested to know the last time that a politician of any mainstream party said "affordable council housing".

What I find rather strange is that we could afford this when the country was nearly bankrupt in the 1940's but we can't now?

Rog T said...

I've just noticed that Barnet Council are asking for comments on their new Budget. I don't know how long the link has been there, but I'm the only person in Barnet who has so far bothered to leave a comment. The closing date is 1st March.

If you can't be bothered to, then don't leave comments here moaning when they cut services !

Cut & paste this link & send it to all your friends. Click on it to leave a comment yourself.