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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23:56 PM, 2nd December 2011, About 13 years ago

An attachment of earnings order may work if the tenant has a job and is an employee. If he or she is self-employed, you've had it. There are myriad ways for tenants to hide capital assets and income. I'm owed £6000 by a self-employed tenant who was supposedly on £80K a year according to his accountant (last set of accounts), was putting his two kids through private school, and had a non-working wife, yet he kept renaging on his rent payments until I finally got him out of my property. It is *impossible* to get any money off him, despite all appearances of a high income, because he always rents, has no apparent assets, and if you threaten bankruptcy, he promptly thanks you because this will mean all his other debts and CCJs, including mine, will be wiped out for free after a year, at my expense.

Ben Reeve-Lewis

11:00 AM, 3rd December 2011, About 13 years ago

I used to be one of those expensive housing consultants Paul and I would be more than happy if they took me on again on that basis haha I am on staff now and being subsumed into the new team which is set to go live the same day as the Localism Act, oh joy.

But I have got my eye on a managers job in the new team where the role is firmly in building relationships between all parties. If I get it I will be able to achieve something positive on a bigger scale.

The main problem with a council mindset is the different teams and roles dont join up. I know from outside everyone thinks we are simply the 'Council' but on the inside it is really a set of loads of teams who dont share information and dont step over the boundaries of their job descriptions. I've never held that mndset and try to sort things out regardless of whether its my job to or not. This is why they never make me a manager haha

22:34 PM, 3rd December 2011, About 13 years ago

Surely a holistic approach to delivering council services is what should be the case; if that is what localism does then so much the better.
I think you will be up against the proverbial jobsworths and those wishing to retain their 'empires'!!?
These circumstances have alweays been perrenial problems.
How you overcome vested interests I have no idea.
Perhaps encouraging ALL depts to work together on the basis that if you don't you might find other 'stakeholders' taking over and delivering the services that you could have done had ALL depts got their act together.
ALL your depts HAVE to put themselves in an unassailable position; essentially to make sure that that nobody else can present a better service than your 'combined' business case.
It is a bit much having to justify your existence but as I think you have alluded to ALL means will be used for solutions etc and that might mean NOT using council depts to deliver council services.
I think therefore scare tactics are required to break down entrenched walls on the basis that if you don't ALL start singing from the same hymn book none of you will be singing from anything at all in future.
Here's hoping that doesn't happen; but I think as you have intimated that this govt isn't bothered how these services are delivered; just that they are delivered and as cheaply as possible.
I think there are bound to be companies offering such services like that have done for schools; so perhaps as you indicated you might find it worthwhile with all your increased experience to look at other 'opportunities' and perhaps become one of those dreaded 'consultants again' !!!!!?
I think this localism situation is going to put quite a few noses out of joint!
I for one am glad I'm out of my public service with my pension; just in time actually to prevent them putting another 10 years on my service before I could have my pension;skin of the teeth springs to mind!!

22:47 PM, 3rd December 2011, About 13 years ago

And I think I have just breached the off topic premise of this thread; time to take it elsewhere or to create another specific comment!?

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