Look out your window. What do you see? I'll tell you: a housing crisis. Unless you're in the countryside, in which case you're probably looking at a nice field that will shortly become a site for shale gas exploration. As this blog is pretty metropolitan, I’ll assume that you're looking at houses.
Crucially, you are not looking at not enough houses. Not enough to meet the demand for accommodation. An Englishman's home is his castle, or so the saying goes. For this to be true castles would need to be redefined as mouldy bedsits that cost £700 a month to rent. We have a housing crisis, or a castle crisis if the saying is to be believed.
Whatever you call where you live (I go for Place de la Ball, but it's not catching on) it is becoming increasingly true that people with decent wages and money cannot afford to live in London or other big cities. We are, quite simply, not building enough houses.
Calls to tackle the problem of unaffordable homes have been getting louder for a while. Even the Daily Mail, the staunch defender of the property owner, is getting in on the act. However, we also have a crisis in social housing and this is less talked about. If you're struggling to pay for a bedsit in Tooting with your job as scrum manager and your landlord just raised the rent, then I feel for you mate. I really do. That's shit. However, we don't spend enough time talking about the housing that is supposed to be safety net for the less fortunate.
Since Margaret Thatcher's Right To Buy scheme in 1980, the social housing stock (mainly council housing, the homes owned directly by the government) has been run down. There is a massive shortage in housing generally but this more acutely felt in the social housing sector, which is supposed to provide for the poor, the disabled or those whose basic needs will not be met by the private rental market.
Houses prices are rising faster than my enthusiasm for a pub that just expanded its craft beer range, which means that the social housing stock is being run down. This is pushing more and more people into the private rental market and a lot of these people have basic needs that cannot be met at the price that the private rental market sets for accommodation. This is turn ultimately leads to the vulnerable being exploited.
A new film from director Paul Sng called Dispossession: the Great Social Housing Swindle, aims to shine a light on the current state of social housing. It is a powerful documentary that covers more than 30 years of history, politics and urbanism. Now, more than ever, this a topic that we need a public discussion about, so I urge you all to go and see this film.
The film examines the problems caused by the lack of social housing. It covers how the social housing stock has been run down as houses prices have grown. It looks at how people have lost of their homes or being priced out of accommodation that was supposed to provide for them for life. No one can claim to be human and not be moved by the plight of Beverley Robinson, who is refusing to leave her flat in the Aylesbury Estate in Walworth, London until the council offer her enough money to buy a home in the area. People like Beverley are the victims of the housing crisis.
The film shows specific examples of social housing, which was supposed to be set aside for the less well off, being taken away from the people who need in it. Not just Beverley in the Aylesbury Estate, but also residents of Balfron Tower, a brutalist marvel built by Erno Goldfinger, a Hungarian socialist who wanted to make housing for people with “deep roots in the immediate neighbourhood”. Sadly, middle class architecture enthusiasts who move to London to work, and live in East London (like me), are making Balfron Tower a fashionable place to live. This is leading to the people who should be living there; the people Goldfinger designed the building for, losing their homes.
When we talk about the housing crisis it is easy to focus on London, where price rises and austerity have taken a huge toll. However, we are in a grip of a national housing crisis with people in Birmingham, Liverpool and Newcastle unable to afford a place to live, while their neighbourhoods are colonised by people selling up in London. There is a social housing crisis across the land and Dispossession looks at estates such as St Ann’s in Nottingham, where residents have had to deal with the stigma associated with council housing for years. A stigma that is entirely false.
The film also looks at Glasgow and the huge privatisation of social housing that took place there. Between those exploited by rogue landlords and those who cannot afford to live in their home town, it is clear that the housing crisis is just as toxic in East Glasgow as it is in East London.
Dispossession talks to real people whose lives are affected by the social housing crisis and lets them tell their stories. This brings home the human side of an issue that can too often be dominated by discussion of policy on brown field land or relative house price inflation. Not that these things aren't important, but once you see the squalor that residents of Govanhill in Glasgow live in, you will feel compelled to act to help your fellow human beings.
Dispossession show the same pattern, being repeated across the country. Loss of social housing, through selling it off and bad deals that do not provide for the people who need it, and not enough new social housing being built. Across the country, people who want to stay in their homes cannot and vulnerable people are not having their basic needs met.
The conclusion from this is straightforward: the market mechanism for social housing cannot keep people in their homes meet their needs. We need more social housing. We need to stop the sale of the social housing that we have and we need to build more. Everyone has the right to a safe and secure home and should not lose it due a redevelopment deal or because rising house prices makes their central London plot incredibly desirable.
We cannot afford to overlook the problems of social housing when we tackle the housing crisis. The scrum manager struggling to make rent on his private rented bedsit in Tooting and Beverley, who risk being driven out of the Walworth area, are both victims of the same travesty. We need to know about each other's plight and work together to solve this problem so that everyone can have a safe and affordable home for life. This film is a critical step towards that.
If you want to see Dispossession: the Great Social Housing Swindle film screens across the country can be found here: