It’s hard to sustain anger at the housing state we’re in. Every time you think you’ve heard the worst example of corporate greed and policy failure, you hear something else.
The following ad is for a home currently being built opposite the council estate where I work. Just in case you think you’re seeing things, yes, the ‘guide price’ is £1.2 million and yes, the seller is a housing association.
This particular outrage doesn’t stop there. This is one of 16 homes within the development for sale at over £1 million. The most expensive is on offer for £1,670,000. The land Southern Housing Group (SHG) is building on used to be publicly owned (occupied by a school). The site sat vacant for at least three years, while the local housing waiting list got longer. The development – “The Featherstone” – is being marketed by arch gentrification agents Savills, as “the definition of urbanity”. According to the planning permission, of the total of 65 homes, 19 (30%) should be for social rent, although we can no longer take such figures or definitions for granted. According to its 2016/17 annual report, last year the number of homes SHG let for social rent fell, while the number for misnamed Affordable Rent (up to 80% of market level) increased. During the year, SHG built 393 new homes, made up as follows:
Shared Ownership 169 (43% of total)
Affordable Rent 87 (22% of total)
Open Market Sale 49 (12% of total)
Private Rent 48 (12% of total)
Social Rent 40 (10% of total)
During the year, they made a “surplus” (i.e. profit) of £62 million. Over the last three years, SHG has received £2.3 million in government grants.
In other words, despite significant public funding and amidst an acute housing crisis, only 1 in 10 of the homes built by this so-called social landlord last year, would have any chance of helping those in most housing need.
Like, for example, the family I know living immediately opposite The Featherstone who will be evicted by their private landlord any day now. They’re desperately looking for another home in the area where the three young children have spent their whole lives. They’ve tried everything, including leafleting the local neighbourhood (see below). Needless to say, they’ve got no chance of living at The Featherstone, which stands as a mocking reminder of the prospect of homelessness and their uncertain future.
This is the housing state we’re in. This story is only one of thousands like it, but it could have been different. When the school was demolished in 2012, the land could have been kept in public ownership. The local authority could then have built council homes on it. They could have used section 106/”planning gain” money from the numerous private property developments in the area to help pay for them. Even after the site had been privatised, the council could have insisted on more genuinely affordable homes for social rent. But no local politician (nor the local MP) has raised a peep about this scandalous situation. Even now, with the spectre of Grenfell in mind, they could demand to know how this scheme they authorised has become so detached from the lives and needs of local people – where there are almost as many homes for sale for over £1 million as there are for social rent!