Why are Social Housing Tenants Seen As Second Class Citizens?

Why are Social Housing Tenants Seen As Second Class Citizens?

12:11 PM, 29th November 2011, About 13 years ago 44

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As I read my way through developments in the housing world on a daily basis I see increasing reference to perceptions about social housing tenants which seems to be becoming a source of more concern for many landlords.

People have often had negative opinions about that world, but not as serious as the direction it seems to be going. I thought it might follow on from last summer’s riots, I don’t know, but 3 things happened on the same day last week to make me ponder on this more seriously

  • I read Grant Shapps’ intention to challenge people’s perception that social housing is what he termed a ‘Dead end option’ .
  • I defended a hard working African couple from mortgage repossession.
  • Observing 2 broken windows whilst waiting for a bus to take me home from the African couple’s court case.

I was irked when I read Shapps’ proclamation about social housing. It didn’t fit my experience growing up in that sector.

Back in the day

Probably like many Property118 readers, I was raised in council houses. I was what used to be called a “latch-key kid“, letting myself in after school before my parents finished work, my Dad being a steel erector and making steel furniture on the side and my Mum being a factory worker. We never felt disadvantaged by our housing and never held the view that in being council tenants we were in any way second class citizens.

And a culture apart, my partner Frazzles, was similarly born and brought up, like me, in Deptford, bottom of the Old Kent Road. Her Mum, Midge, a nurse and her Dad, Fred, a bus conductor who like my Dad used his skills to make hand-made wooden furniture to supplement his wages. They arrived in the UK from Barbados in the early 1960s and grew up in property supplied by Lewisham Council without shame or apology. Hard working, decent people.

I think both our sets of parents would be horrified to think that people thought they were a dead end option. I don’t ever remember anyone I knew or their families thinking they were failures or that there was something lacking aspiration about them, simply for being council tenants.

We had family friends in the 1960s who owned their own homes and I can remember my parents thinking that would be a great idea but they didn’t stress themselves out by it, or think less of themselves for not owning property. There was no stigma involved. It was just something they would like to do one day if things worked out for them. They subsequently did but I don’t remember them looking down on where they came from. Homeownership was just a different option.

All a question of attitude

Cut to my African couple who I represented in court. A hard working family thrown into mortgage arrears by redundancy. Contrary to popular opinion they weren’t sponging off the state. Far from it. Part of the reason for their mortgage arrears came about because they weren’t claiming benefits they were entitled to. Home owners, but old school, hardworking people doing their best to support their families who took the view that their financial problems were their affair and they would deal with it.

Now cut to me, later in the afternoon. Standing at a bus stop by Woolwich Arsenal station, having just persuaded the judge that my African couple could come good on the debt if given a few months (The mum starting full time employment again in February).

I looked up at a low-ish rise set of flats, all looks normal but there is a flat on the third floor whose living room window had a massive hole in it boarded up from the inside with a lump of chipboard. The bedroom window a few feet away also had a broken window with a double sized duvet wedged into the glass blocking out the autumn weather while the TV flickered away.

This is no right to buy property. You can tell this from the building. So the council could fix the windows if called. Why is it like that? I cannot remember a single property in my life growing up on council estates where the occupants would let that be seen without shame or embarrassment. Is this what so many people fear about social housing tenants?

But is it that easy to explain?

So where did that working class pride go? A pride that wasn’t simply cultural, I see it in my adoptive West Indian family, who have a work ethic that would put Ian Paisley to shame; I see it in the pride of my African family working hard to get by. Who are the people who drive the popular perception that social housing tenants bring trouble with them?

Is it them or does it come from the perception of the cultural values of a nation obsessed with homeownership?

I ponder these changes in values but I am also loathed to fall into a mind-set of ‘people today just don’t care’. I think that’s just lazy stereotyping. There have always been people in communities who didn’t give a toss. Drunks and nutters but when did that perception transfer to all social housing tenants?

A good friend of mine owns a 3 bed house in Newham, not far from the Olympic site. She rented it to a GP, a woman in her 40s with a 16 year old son. My mate breathed a sigh of relief when she heard the tenant was a working GP, thinking it a perfect and trouble free letting. It turned out that the Doctor’s son was a drug dealer who she had no control over and who, well let’s just say, ‘Got intimate’ with girlfriends in the back garden. My mate got them out and it took a group of us a whole weekend to clean up the mess of a damaged kitchen and condoms in the garden. And this was from a GP, everyone’s ideal tenant. This wasn’t social housing.

For the past 6 months, Frazzles and my neighbours in the upstairs flat (now thankfully gone) were 3 women in their 30s who worked for a city bank. They once put a black bin liner out without putting it into the wheelie bin, the foxes got it and rubbish was strewn all over the front garden and path. It wasn’t the first time, Frazz and I refused to clean it up for them despite the fact that the contents included women’s feminine discards – shall we politely say. For 3 days we saw them leave the house and just step over the detritus without bothering to clear it up, until we were forced to raise it with them. Like it needed mentioning. And THIS isn’t social housing.

Why do 3 professional women working in investment banking care so little about what their neighbours and passers-by think of their personal hygiene? Why do people have boards and duvets up at their broken windows not care enough to get them fixed? How can a middle aged GP live in a way that would shame a Hogarth Print?

It isn’t a class thing; it isn’t about social housing tenants. Something is amiss in the way British citizens go about their lives. But Shapps, and popular misconceptions, would lay it all at the feet of social housing tenants.

On a training course I did once a council tenant showed me loads of pictures he had taken on his mobile of jobs he had done around the house without ever once calling the council to fix it for him. It was a matter of pride. He told me that the fact that it was his home meant it was his responsibility not the council’s, who he simply saw as a home provider.

Why should social housing be seen as the poor relation of other types of tenure? Why should home-owners presume that council tenants lack aspiration? A person can have aspiration but lack the resources to realise it. My dad, a dyed in the wool working class Bermondsey Tory supported Ted Heath in his election campaign in the 60s and got a letter from him thanking him for the work he gave in support, but he was never invited to have dinner with the guy because he was just a steel erector. He had aspirations, he just couldn’t afford the tux.

The problem as I see it that is at the heart of the attitudes between different types of home occupancy. Britain is obsessed with home-ownership as a bottom line. The government’s housing strategy still promotes this as the thing everyone wants but social housing grew out of the depression of the 1930s and was the reward for a nation’s citizens who fought and died in World War 2. People were thankful of a safe home that they could afford.

I hate the fact that the negative state of the nation is being laid at the feet of social housing tenants who are in some people’s minds automatically equated with rioters.

There is certainly something wrong with British culture. It is a lack of respect and self-responsibility but it is across the board. It isn’t confined to working class, social housing tenants, immigrants or even chavs.

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12:18 PM, 1st December 2011, About 13 years ago

Quite so, I mean if I was walking down Rye Lane at 1am and saw you walking towards me I'd dive down a side street too! 🙂 🙂

Ben Reeve-Lewis

13:41 PM, 1st December 2011, About 13 years ago

You've been looking at Mark's picture of me again havent you?

Ian Ringrose

13:59 PM, 1st December 2011, About 13 years ago

A lot of “social housing tenants” (LHA claimants) have nothing to lose therefore you can’t sue them when there is a problem, so they know that they can just mess up your property if you every do something they don’t like. (A section 21 notice to leave is like telling some people to destroy your property.)

The police have no willingness to step in when a tenant does criminal damage to your property, even if they did, the tenants knows courts would only give them a token fine that they could avoid paying.

I once lived next to someone on housing benefit, her son broke a window – the social landlord said she must pay for it to be fixed. But as she had no money in the bank, I had to put up with living next to a house with a broken window for a long time. So even a LHA claimants that is trying to behave still has more issues then someone with money.

At least with the GP’s son, you know the GP is likely to be worth going after for the cost of damages, therefore you have the option of passing the problem on to another landlord after the first 6 months.

If the state wishes more landlords to house social tenants, then the state must compensate the landlords for any damages and be willing to jail the tenants if the tenant does not behave. (No civil legal system can cope with people that believe they got nothing to lose.)

So I will have to put up with low yields and leave the rich pickings of LHA claimants to people that are happy to take the risks in that area. And the LHA claimants will therefore have fewer options when they are looking to rent. BOTH sides loose out badly with the current “softly, softly” legal system with the few bad tenants.

Mark Alexander - Founder of Property118

14:07 PM, 1st December 2011, About 13 years ago

You made me promise not to share it Ben 😉

Ben Reeve-Lewis

14:55 PM, 1st December 2011, About 13 years ago

Now that argument I get Ian, a sound reason for not taking on LHA tenants, liabilities would be impossible and pointless to pursue if there were a breach. That is a valid point based on financial expediency not just on the basis that they are rat bags

I dont think bad tenants should be jailed. Thats going too far, as annoying as it is, it is only that....Annoying. Next you'l be calling to jail people driving at 50mph in the middle lane of the motorway 🙂

The police, as several of you complain, cite the problem of police telling combatants that landlord tenant matters are civil offences when they arent. this is the bane of a TROs life, clueless cops. The thing is the criminal breaches come from the landlord end, not the tenant side of things. Criminal breaches are mainly held under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 and there is nothing in that legislation that says a tenant can committ a criminal act against a landlrod in a housing setting, only the other way around.

You might well say this is an imbalance, you are probably right but it is what it is.

Ian Ringrose

15:24 PM, 1st December 2011, About 13 years ago

Ben you said:

"I dont think bad tenants should be jailed. Thats going too far, as annoying as it is, it is only that….Annoying. Next you’l be calling to jail people driving at 50mph in the middle lane of the motorway"

But if you drive like that the police can give you points for inconsiderate driving, once you get enough points you are not allowed to drive anymore, and then if you keep driving the judge can send you to jail. So “driving at 50mph in the middle lane of the motorway” can put someone in jail, they just get lots of warnings first – why can’t the same be done for tenants that CHOOSE to damage someone’s property (or CHOOSE not to pay rent on time when they could if they had any self-control) and then does it to lots of other landlords?

Without having the option of jail as the “end of the line” there is no meaning to any warnings or fines etc.

(Also how can someone destroying someone else’s kitchen and a bathroom be anything other then criminal damage, but there is no fair from the VERY FEW tenants doing it that the police will take meaningful action)

15:33 PM, 1st December 2011, About 13 years ago

You mean that poster sized picture on the outside of the building.....? 🙂

15:40 PM, 1st December 2011, About 13 years ago

Ian, if you look at re-offending rates you would realise that imprisonment does very little to alter behaviours. For those who believe they have nothing to lose, taking away their liberty for a brief time is simply a further cost to the tax-payer and exacerbates the problem in terms of placing people even further outside 'mainstream' society. Seeking ways to integrate people into our society, giving people a sense of self-worth by removing stigma, building communities and employment opportunities is surely a far better option?

Ben Reeve-Lewis

15:41 PM, 1st December 2011, About 13 years ago

Ah but criminal damage is certainly criminal but it isn't criminal in a housing sense if you get me. The same with assault. A tenant could t**t a landlord and that would be criminal assault but not a breach of a housing statute. a landlord t***ting a tenant would be assault but also harassment under the Protection from eviction Act. The landlord couldn't be done twice, that is double jeopardy so the cops and council would have to argue about who has to prosecute. The police for assault or the council for a PFEA breach. trust me, if the cops think we can they will step away and we would be pushing back the same way.

I take your point about the driving Ian. I think things might go that way in a sense. The London Landlords Accreditation scheme is getting behind plans to database tenants and there are already some agents looking for tenant lifestyle CVs in addition to standard referencing and as I always explain to tenants not paying their rent, they are knackering themselves for future lettings with bad references. I think tenants should be referenced, maybe even with a points system. I also think landlords should be similarly covered.

the main difference is that if a driver loses 12 points they cant drive again, whereas if a tenant loses 12 points they cant live anywhere and have to be picked up be the homelessness unit or sleep on the street. it isn't a neat analogy to driving

Ben Reeve-Lewis

15:44 PM, 1st December 2011, About 13 years ago

Like Gail Porter's arse on the houses of parliament? 🙂

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