Housing professionals don’t live round here

I’m a social housing tenant and very pleased to be one. I am always amazed that others do not wish to join me and badger politicians to provide more and extend their availability to make it a proper lifestyle choice. I realize, that since Michael Heseltine set out to destroy Council Housing in 1980 with the Housing Act of that year, social housing has had a bad press and a rough time with even the New Labour Party running away from the taint of association. But you would have thought that now it is time for a revival, not just in numbers, but also in public perception. But it may be a hard job to win people over.

I recently butted into a twitter exchange between some ‘housing professionals’ – lawyers, HA exec directors/officers and the like. We were batting some questions to and fro in a friendly manner even though it seemed they did not entirely agree with my perspective. So , finger in cheek so to speak, I asked if they were actually social housing tenants or whether they just relied on housing benefit to pay their wages. Reply came there none. Friendly communication terminated.block of flats

 The problem with a lot of the self proclaimed housing professionals that run Social Housing Providers and Housing Associations as well as their associated lobby groups and various consultant hangers-on is that none of them actually live in or would like to live in social housing.

Social housing is for the poor, disabled or elderly and those that have never made a success of their lives. ‘Professionals’ can talk about them, regulate how they live, make a tidy living off of them, but well frankly they wouldn’t like to live where I live. The distress they would have if they were forced to live in the homes they provide would be great fun to watch I reckon, in a reality TV sort of way.

It is the lack of ambition of social housing professionals that really winds me up. Despite all the claims of professionalism the majority are just policy conveyors. Why are they not campaigning to provide National Housing for everyone who wants a home. Is it just that they like looking after the poor so they can feel good about themselves. Is it just that they need to pretend to be charities just to avoid paying Corporation Tax on their ‘profits’ (sorry obviously not that, just surpluses). Perhaps as self proclaimed professionals they fear failing to meet the standards required by an articulate middle class tenantry and getting sacked for poor performance.

Another time I will talk about the finances of housing, but I have tried it all. I was mainly raised in a Council home by my mum and dad. They had spells of private renting as well in occupations with tied housing and variable job security. We were happy in our Council home and always felt it belonged to us, not the Council. The need to get ‘on the housing ladder’ never crossed our minds. The only requirement was to have a nice place to live. For lots of people that was provided by the local Council.

Having to get on my bike for a job has meant that at various times and locations I have been a private tenant, a mobile home owner renting a plot of land, a building society debtor ( classed funnily enough as ‘owner/occupier’ with freehold possession) , a notional ‘shared’ ownership leaseholder and finally a Council tenant compulsorily made into a Housing Association tenant via the votes of folks that were told it was the only way to get a new bathroom.

If we set aside notions of property and location comparisons and just focus on comparing tenure I have to say the best status in my opinion was as a Council tenant. It is really hard to beat it. As I said at the outset it always amazes me that our so called ‘housing ladder aspirants’ and middle class freeholders aren’t beating up our politicians to make it the main sort of housing tenure in the country.

Before I get to the terrific advantages of Council tenancy let’s just comment briefly on the other forms. I will cover them more extensively at another time.

Private landlords are not necessarily bad and given the total failure of our political classes to promote public tenancies probably do fulfil a need. Of course there are a whole range of provisions within this sector. The one that disturbs me the most is the ‘buy to let’ landlords. Fed by a desire for capital growth and income greed they are really just credit worthy parasites. In the main they are driven by a need to make money out of need, rarely by philanthropic virtues. In my humble opinion they ought to be banned.

Owners of land or indeed rivers ought to be an obsolete species, as I believe they should just be leaseholders of National assets. However they do exist and if regulated properly can provide a limited amount of accommodation in a timely fashion, whether mobile home or houseboat or the latest in ‘prefabs’. Why they are not part of public housing provision in time of urgent need is just down to a lack of imagination by politicians and housing/planning professionals. Of course timely provision of this sort will require placating the Nimby’s , but that’s what you call a variant of ‘localism’ which I am told is apparently good for everyone.

Then of course you have the option of becoming a massive debtor to live in a home. This a still a raging fashion in the UK and other parts of the world where banks carry on ‘business as usual’.

Quite why this is still a fashion my mind totally fails to see. I thought this was the cause of the economic crisis we have had since 2007/8, but all our housing experts and many politicians are busy pretending that either it did not happen or will not again. Paying interest on a substantial loan for 25 or 30 years is of course a risky business and it seems we have learned nothing from the disasters of the past. To be honest I cannot see why people are so in love with the notion. ‘ A home of your own’ sounds very romantic, but in what way are Council and social homes not ‘homes of your own’. To me its all in the mind.

Social homes operated by Regulated Providers are fine and, given the shortage of options, I don’t wish to disparage them. It’s just they suffer from surfeits of aspiring housing professionals and lack of democratic accountability. The Green Party (no I am not a member) policy document puts it rather well :

Housing associations are potentially effective providers of housing to rent. However, in their present forms they are deeply flawed. In particular in financial decisions which affect rent increases they are answerable to private investors. They must be democratised, with a fundamental shift of power in favour of tenants and increased accountability to the local community, aided by reduction in size.

But really what is not to like about a Council House.

Let’s set aside the nonsense of recent years and give these silly short term tenancies, bed room taxes and the rest the elbow. Give tenancies the status provided to our parents, that is a secure permanent tenancy where families and others can build a secure, stable life cycle.

Once you have paid your rent and taxes you can get on with your life. You get your repairs looked after by proper contractors. No more DIY bodges because you cannot afford to fix the toilet. You can harass your local councillors to moderate local officials and build policy that addresses your needs. Of course you can get permission to make changes, just put it back to the previous state when you go.

But the biggest and best part of renting a Council House for your life is that when you are finished with it you will have bought in part or totally a home to pass onto others. They can be either your kids or someone else’s kids. But you will have provided a National Asset for those that come later.

Truly you will have created a National Monument to your own life, by providing a secure home for the next generation. Surely that is something, of which to be massively proud.