An independent Social Affairs magazine www.viewdigital.org Issue 35, 2016
CRYING OUT FOR SOCIAL HOUSING
See story on pages 14-15 Report: Ciara Lawn Image: Hannah Mitchell
THIS ISSUE IS SUPPORTED BY THE NORTHERN IRELAND HOUSING EXECUTIVE
VIEW, Issue 35, 2016
VIEW puts housing on the agenda
By Brian Pelan co-founder, VIEWdigital
ur 35th issue of VIEW is dedicated to housing issues. Itâ€™s also the seventh publication of VIEW that has been centred around key social issues. The other six looked at: Standing Up To Racism; Community Food Initiatives; How the Community is using Digital Technology; Child Poverty, Disability and Homelessness. I hope you enjoy our housing magazine. The support from guest editor Professor Paddy Gray and the
Northern Ireland Housing Executive was invaluable in putting it together. Two main areas of housing in Northern Ireland need to be urgently addressed: the chronic shortage of social housing, and homelessness. We must also move beyond segregated housing. A number of comment pieces from respected experts are included in the publication. I was particularly glad to hear from the Irish Housing Network (story on pages 26-27). Itâ€™s an excellent example of people in communities in Dublin who came together to campaign for social housing and against homelessness
VIEW, Issue 35, 2016
grew up in was in an aluminium bungalow in a place called Daire’s Willows in Armagh. There were 20 such bungalows erected by the old NI Housing Trust then transferred to the NIHE when it took over responsibilities for housing in 1971. Like similar estates across Northern Ireland it was known as Tin Town. In those days public housing (or social housing as it became known in the 1990s) was for all, and indeed we had a mixture of professional people in our small estate. I grew up in a one parent family in an area where a strong neighbourhood and lifelong friendships developed. My mum had a great word about the ‘Trust’ and the NIHE, citing rapid responses to repairs as a strong point at that time. How things have changed since then. Two policies led to public housing becoming more marginalised: subsidies were transferred from the house to the person with the introduction of housing benefit, and rents were increased well above inflation. The net effect was that the better off moved out to buy elsewhere as this became more attractive, which in turn led to areas with high concentrations of low income families. Then we had the right to buy, introduced in the early 1980s by Margaret Thatcher. Generous discounts were offered at up to 70 per cent of market value and many of the better homes in the more settled areas were bought. So why did I end up working in housing? It was by accident, really, as many of my peers who are now in senior positions will agree. I become prominent in the then Ulster Polytechnic Students’ Union having been elected VP Welfare in 1979-80, then President 1980-1981 (a difficult year in particular as it was the year of the hunger strikes). But one of the main issues that I had encountered was the poor quality of
VIEW, an independent social magazine in Northern Ireland
By guest editor Paddy Gray Professor of Housing Ulster University
I have been privileged to play a small part in the housing movement
housing in the private rented sector – particularly for students. This led to my first job with the NIHE as a housing officer in Rathcoole and I witnessed at first-hand the better areas, such as Rushpark, being sold off through the right to buy. I was lucky to be sent on a course at Coleraine to study for my professional housing qualification with the Chartered Institute of Housing. As part of my studies I spent time in the London Borough of Camden in the early 1980s and witnessed at first-hand the serious housing problems which existed there. Since the 1990s we have had a major shift in housing tenures with the private rented sector now accounting for one in five houses from around 40,000 in 1999 to nearly 130,000 today. Many of the right to buy houses are now being rented privately. We had the frenzy to buy particularly between 2003 and 2007. Indeed, this was the conversation around many dinner tables with little or no thought as to the responsibilities attached to owning and renting property. In 1987 I joined the University of Ulster at Magee running undergraduate and
postgraduate courses in housing management accredited by the Chartered Institute of Housing. Since then we have had a return of local government in NI, with the DSDNI responsible for housing. The NIHE has stopped building new dwelling as housing associations are now tasked with this role borrowing half the costs from the private sector. In 2007 we had the major financial crash, which was particularly felt in Northern Ireland with property prices falling below 50 per cent of their values, leaving many in negative equity, a term that people had to become accustomed to. The effects of the crash are still being felt by many. Today we have 40,000 households on waiting lists, 20,000 declaring themselves as homeless and a construction industry that has gone into freefall with output having reduced by nearly two-thirds, producing a negative effect on a range of jobs associated with housebuilding. Thankfully we have the NIHE and a number of housing associations working flat-out not only to build new social housing, but to make the housing experience for many a pleasant experience. We have advice agencies and organisations such as Supporting Communities NI working with our local residents to improve lives. Many of these organisations are featured in this housing edition of VIEW. I have been lucky in my career not only because I have had the privilege of educating over 700 undergraduate and 300 postgraduate housing students, many of whom are now working across the UK and Ireland in housing positions, but also the people I have worked with nationally and internationally all striving to make a difference to the most vulnerable in our society. To all of them housing matters, and I have been privileged to play a small part in the housing movement.
VIEW, Issue 35, 2016
In the wake of shocking suicide figures which revealed that more people in Northern Ireland have taken their lives in comparison to those killed during the Troubles, VIEW editor Brian Pelan spoke to Professor Siobhan O’Neill, right, about the links between mental health and housing
VIEW, Issue 35, 2016
VIEW, Issue 35, 2016
Deprivation explains the rate. Social deprivation, poverty, economic deprivation . . .
recent report in the news which stated that more people have died by suicide in the past 17 years than were killed during 30 years of conflict in Northern Ireland led me to meeting Professor Siobhan O'Neill from the Ulster University. I wanted to ask Siobhan, who is the professor of mental health services at the university, what lies behind this grim statistic and what is the connection between mental health and housing. We spoke over coffee in the Mac in Belfast. Amidst the hustle and bustle of coffees and food being served, Siobhan, who speaks softly but forcibly, said: “It is not just a mental health issue. All the conditions in which a person lives – their social environment – all of those things will impact on this behavior. Suicide is an outcome of a behavior – it’s not an illness. Suicide is something that people do. When suicidal behaviour is related to mental illness, the death by suicide is a factor of not only a person’s thoughts, but whether or not they have the capacity and the means to enact the suicidal behaviour. “We can design houses that are suicide safer. We can make sure that windows can’t be opened far enough, or there aren’t any ledges high enough. In prisons and schools and university accommodation… they are actually identifying this. We can remove ligature points, we can make sure there are no beams that the person can hang themselves from. “Also, owning a home and your housing circumstances are so tied in to our sense of self and our pride in this culture, then losing your house or being forced to take a regressive house and move back with your family can be seen as a failure. We can see that men for whom that happens to… it hurts them very, very deeply.” Siobhan went on to add that “insecurity generally is a factor in suicides,
and if there was economic insecurity about the living circumstances of the person then certainly it would be. It would very rarely be recorded in the police witness statement… it’s more about social relationships, but the housing is a symbol of that”. “I think the cultural sense of home ownership is crucial. I think we need to move away from that. The idea that in order to be a successful human being, you need to be a family unit with your own house with your partner and your kids, because that is very very damaging, because that model very rarely applies. “The traditional model of the family in the home that’s owned and paid for by the man… that doesn’t apply, but yet men still feel like a failure if their lives don’t match that model. Seventy-five per cent of suicides are men, and most of the people who die by suicide are living alone. The highest proportion are living alone and a high proportion are unemployed.” With her hands firmly placed on the table, Siobhan, with anger in her voice now, goes on to say: “I’m talking about social justice – I did a TED talk on this. I’m talking about how we value people in different circumstances and how people are valued and how people feel that their lives have meaning, and part of that really is mental illness. Most people with mental health problems don’t die of suicide. And if you’ve got somebody who feels that their life’s gone to pot, medication’s not going to help that. If the wife’s left them, they’ve had to move back to the family home, they can’t access their children – there are live event factors that are clearly critically important, and financial factors. “We see in the Republic that there’s been an increase in the deaths by suicide … 500 extra deaths as a result of the recession. “Deprivation explains the rate. Social deprivation, poverty, economic deprivation.”
I asked Siobhan, as a possible solution to the rise in suicides, does she support the concept of more decent social housing? “Absolutely,” she replied. “We know that ghettos have effectively been created, and you have areas where there are lots of social disadvantage, and yet you still have to marry that with the desire of people wanting to live in their own communities, close to their families, so we need to find a solution for that. I’m not a housing expert so I don’t know, but you need to give people a sense of purpose and hope for the future, and give them a place to live that reflects that. And that means believing in young people and actually giving them the resources themselves. “I think that welfare reform and the implementation of welfare reform is going to lead to more suicides in Ireland. “Anything that helps to create meaningful lives for people who feel like their lives have no meaning is needed. It could be affordable decent housing that allows people to live in dignity.” “Housing policy is a key part of it. In the context of economic policy and social policy, it fits within all of those areas, but culturally we need to look at home ownership and what that means and start moving away from that. “In other European countries it’s completely socially acceptable to rent a house. In my peer group, if you didn’t own a house in the middle of the boom then there was something wrong with you and you failed… you know, all that carry on has led to the high suicide rates we’ve got now.” I firmly believe that more people and organisations need to listen to what Siobhan is saying. We all could start by watching her recent TED talk in Omagh, 'Suicide Prevention is a Social Justice Issue' – http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/SuicidePrevention-is-a-Social;search%3AOmagh
VIEW, Issue 35, 2016
Anything that helps to create meaningful lives for people who feel like their lives have no meaning is needed
VIEW, Issue 35, 2016
the BIG interview C
Journalist Paul Gosling, left, talks to Cameron Watt, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations
ameron Watt is earnest, passionate and knowledgeable as he argues the case for social housing. The chief executive of the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations has cast aside his past as a once rising star in Britain’s Conservative Party. Today Watt’s role is to advance the interests of our housing associations – and if that means criticising the Prime Minister, leader of his former party, then so be it. But more of that later. A pressing consideration for many housing associations in Northern Ireland at present is whether to merge and how large to become. The creation of the Choice housing association, Northern Ireland’s largest, from the merger of the OakleeTrinity and Ulidia associations is merely the most dramatic example. In recent times the number of housing associations here has fallen from nearly 50 to 23, while the sector’s annual turnover rose to £214m in the last financial year. “Mergers have been primarily driven by housing association boards keen to improve their capacity to borrow commercially,” explains Cameron . “Lenders expect more from us. Over the last three or four years, since I arrived, housing association boards have been driving the reform of our sector. Boards have to take a long view about what structures will be required for delivery in years to come. “One of the big changes has been around sector funding; since the crash UK housing associations have switched very largely from bank debt to bond finance, using low cost private finance over the long-term. Bond finance is cheaper and you get it over the longer term. “Capital markets will lend for 25 or 30-year terms, whereas most banks won’t lend for longer than 10 years. Although the banks are very keen to do business with us – and we have very good relationships with banks such as Danske and Barclays – associations here also want to take advantage of the lower interest rates and longer terms they can get from accessing the bond markets. The capital markets want scale. They don’t want to lend £10 million, they want to lend £150m or £200m. “The changing nature of development
is also a driver. We are being asked to deliver 2,000 new homes a year. In relative terms that is the most ambitious development programme of all four of the UK regions. We need to do things differently to sustain that: for example, by accessing land on a different scale and being able to do joint ventures with private developers, being involved in more holistic regeneration schemes. If you are going to get involved in those sorts of projects you have to have a certain scale.
I think Housing Executive rents will have to increase significantly . . .
“I think also welfare reform and the potential threat to housing association businesses (are factors). If housing associations are bigger they may be more resilient to the revenue threats posed by welfare reform. With bigger scale they can invest more in systems to manage their businesses properly and also provide support to tenants, for example through money advisers and financial inclusion projects. I don’t think consolidation is a magic bullet, but I think scale probably will be important for much of the sector to deliver what is needed.” Watt plays down the idea that the prospect of a large scale transfer of Housing Executive housing stock to individual housing associations is a primary factor behind recent mergers. This is despite the Housing Executive specifying that associations would need to become larger to absorb large scale transfers. While some housing associations have expressed interest in Housing Executive stock, “I think that is more of a hope than an expectation” says Watt. He explains:
“There seems to be an increasing appetite among politicians that the Housing Executive housing stock be retained as a single entity, which might be some sort of spun off public sector quango, like the arm’s-length management organisation in England where councils have outsourced management of housing stock to a still-public body, or perhaps the creation of a new mega housing association to take over the stock. That may preclude opportunities for our members to grow through inheriting that stock. “I think Housing Executive rents will have to increase significantly whether the stock is retained in the public sector or spun out to a new or existing housing association. Clearly the rents have been set at a sub-economic level for too long for reasons of political expediency. The stock has deteriorated, making up a multi-billion pound shortfall.” But it is also inevitable, says Watt, that housing association rents will remain higher than the Housing Executive’s. “We have not enjoyed any deficit grant funding from government on rents, so we have had to charge economic rents. The other aspect is that we have borrowed about £700m to date in bonds and that private borrowing does need to be recouped through rental income over 25 to 30 years. So we are expecting the rents of a relatively small proportion of the social housing stock to support all the new social housing supply.” Welfare reform is a major concern for housing associations. Housing associations and their tenants in Northern Ireland are “fairly well protected over the next two to three years” before the squeeze hits. In particular, the cap on social rents to restrict them to local housing allowance levels “could have a catastrophic impact on supported housing: sheltered accommodation for older people, hostels and foyers for young people, supported living for people with learning difficulties – where rents are higher because the costs are higher.” NIFHA is lobbying for exemptions to the new rules to enable associations to continue to provide social care services and support the Northern Ireland Executive’s social care strategy, ‘Transforming Your Care’. Several associations here also provide
VIEW, Issue 35, 2016
Cameron Watt is strongly opposed to the privatisation of housing associations Image: Kevin Cooper at a discount. So we will be encouraging welfare support services, some providing our politicians to consider suspending the money advice and benefits maximisation house sale scheme. I think that is services, working with Citizens Advice and something DSD (Department for Social Advice NI. Apex Housing Association Development) is seriously going to works with Derry Credit Union to provide consider now.” loan guarantees so tenants can avoid using This puts Watt directly at odds with loan sharks. Clanmil provides skills training David Cameron, who recently irritated for women in construction. And Bryson housing associations when he told charity is working with several associations Parliament that associations are “part of to assist with skills training and tenants’ the public sector that haven’t been through bulk buying of oil. efficiencies, haven’t improved their perIn England, associations have a new formance and I think it’s about time that challenge, with their borrowings recently they did”. Like most of the sector, Watt replaced onto the public sector balance jects the characterisation and stresses he sheet after the Office for National no longer has any links to the Tory Party, Statistics reclassified associations as public where he was once a researcher and was bodies. This is the result of greater also a Conservative Home blogger. “I think interference from the last three The most recent example of David Cameron was very much mistaken,” governments in the running of English government intervention in the operations associations. While the ruling so far only of housing associations in England has been says Watt. He adds that he also strongly applies to England, it seems inevitable that with the extension of tenants’ ‘right to buy’ a similar conclusion would be reached social housing, providing large discounts on opposes those in his old party who advocated the privatisation of housing if the sector in Northern Ireland is their market value. That policy already associations. “We are independent social also reviewed. applies to Northern Ireland, but provides businesses, we are independent charities, “There is the potential for ONS, less generous discounts than in providing a major public service. We want should they so wish, to conduct a similar England. Watt hopes that the existing to remain charitable, non-profit, re-examination of Scottish, Welsh and policy in Northern Ireland will organisations… I think politicians across Northern Irish housing associations,” conbe curtailed. the UK have tended to think of housing ascedes Watt. “I imagine they would have to “I think the loss of stock through this sociations as merely delivery agents and do each separately, because separate is relatively manageable, but having said not as independent bodies. We have to regimes apply… that could mean that that I would like to see Northern Ireland every loan taken out by a housing associafollow the Scottish example to suspend the fight hard for our complete independence if we are to deliver what is required.” tion had to be approved by DFP (the house sale scheme. With 22,000 Department of Finance and Personnel). It households in housing stress and with it • Paul Gosling is a freelance could conceivably really impact on the costing £110,000 to build a social home journalist who specialises in amount of private borrowing the sector half of which is coming from government finance, accountancy and the could access and ultimately the number of I think social housing in Northern Ireland public sector. He lives in Derry. new homes.” is too scarce a resource to be selling it off
We have to fight hard for our complete independence
COMMENT VIEW, Issue 35, 2016
A proud record
Clark Bailie, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, wants the organisation to play its part in creating a peaceful, inclusive, prosperous and fair society
his year marks the 45th anniversary of the setting up of the Housing Executive as the strategic housing authority for Northern Ireland. Since 1971 we have had a crucial role in transforming homes and neighbourhoods and, importantly, people’s lives. We have always recognised that our housing strategies and policies are about ‘more than bricks and mortar’ and we are committed to developing those as we enter our fifth decade in existence. Community and tenant involvement is at the heart of everything we do and has been described as “one of the jewels in the Housing Executive’s crown” by the Customer Service Excellence Assessor. This is complemented by the organisation’s commitment to deliver top class services that make a positive difference to people’s lives. We operate tenant scrutiny panels, participate in residents and interagency partnerships and engage with a wide range of sectors, including disability forums, rural residents, young people, as well as black, ethnic and minority groups. We also work with over 600 community groups through the Housing Community Network Our Community Involvement Strategy is unique to Northern Ireland and the UK. The work of our Community Cohesion Unit is award-winning and in 2016 we are set to embark on rejuvenating and empowering our communities through the facilitation and funding of social economy. We have a proud record of supporting our local housing communities’ development and in assisting them to build safe, stable and cohesive neighbourhoods. To this end, the Housing Executive has progressively developed three strategies to deliver key services and address social issues within those neighbourhoods: these are the Community Cohesion Strategy, the Community Safety Strategy and the Community Involvement Strategy.
We have always recognised that our housing strategies and policies are about more than bricks and mortar
We are mindful that, despite continued work by ourselves and other statutory and public sector bodies, many of our neighbourhoods continue to be socially and economically disadvantaged, and excluded from the wider economy. In response, we have developed the Landlord Services’ Social Housing Enterprise Strategy to help our neighbourhoods become more self-sustaining and economically vibrant. Social Housing Enterprises will lead to real and sustainable changes within those communities, and in the lives of the individuals and families within them by increasing inward investment, creating new and innovative self-sustaining development opportunities and improving life chances. They will also create employment opportunities for those who might otherwise remain unemployed, invest in community-based projects, act to protect or improve the local environment, and provide services which are important and accessible for those who might not otherwise get them. Our Regional Services are focused on influencing and shaping the strategic direction of housing and housing-led regeneration within Northern Ireland. We continue to address the important issues impacting on the lives of many citizens and help vulnerable people, through tackling homelessness, delivering the Supporting People programme, social and affordable housing, including co-ownership, tackling fuel poverty and administering private sector grants. My vision, our vision, is one in which housing plays its part in creating a peaceful, inclusive, prosperous and fair society. We will continue to work in partnership to ensure that everyone has access to a good affordable home in a safe and healthy community. And all of our work will be underpinned by our core values of making a difference through fairness, passion and expertise.
Social housing in Northern Ireland
have been Housing Executive tenants for
new social homes started by housing associations
15 years or more
spent maintaining Housing Executive homes
179,000 347,584 people living in Housing Executive homes
estates developed good relations
people visited local Housing Executive offices
shared commmunities developed
involved in the Housing Community Network
completed in 2014/15
new social homes
administered by the Housing Executive in Northern Ireland
£350m Housing Executive investment in local economy (2014/15)
housing in Northern Ireland
14.6% social housing
39,338 22,097 on the waiting list
of 19,621 people presented to the Housing Executive in 2014/15
were accepted as
Sources: Housing Executive 44th Annual Report & Tenant Survey 2014
in housing stress allocations made by the Housing Executive and housing associations in 2014/15
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Housing Executive committed to challenging our segregated society T
he Housing Executive was established at the height of the Troubles to bring an impartial, fair and unbiased approach to dealing with housing. Throughout the conflict, the organisation has continued to deliver housing services based on need to all sections of the community regardless of religion, political belief, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability or race. But, 17 years after the Good Friday Agreement was signed social housing in Northern Ireland remains deeply segregated. Over 90 per cent of social housing areas remain segregated into predominantly single communities, with the highest in urban areas in Belfast, Derry-Londonderry and Craigavon. This increases to 94 per cent in Belfast. However, despite that reality of physical separation, 80 per cent of people aspire to live in mixed neighbourhoods (Life and Times survey) but are unaware of how to go about creating a shared atmosphere. The Housing Executive has a duty to ensure that housing is provided in the basis of need and undoubtedly segregation places pressure on the best use of existing housing and land. It is within this context that good relations has become a key objective of the organisation.
Timely: Jennifer Hawthorne
In 2004, the first Community Relations Strategy was published, making explicit commitment within the functions of the Housing Executive’s business to promote good relations and incorporate race relations. This month the organisation will launch its Community Cohesion Strategy 2015-2020, underpinning its overarching aims and objectives and building upon its achievements of the last 10 years. The Housing Executive’s Community Cohesion Unit is charged with translating the community relations objectives into actions on the ground through its latest
strategy, which will be delivered across five themes: • Residential segregation/Integration • Flags, emblems, sectional symbols • Race Relations • Interfaces • Communities in Transition All work undertaken through the strategy will reflect the overall aims of OFMDFM’s Together: Building a United Community (TBUC) strategy. The Housing Executive’s Head of Communities, Jennifer Hawthorne, said: “Good relations is not a new concept to the Housing Executive and we have a wealth of experience dealing with these issues. It is timely to reflect on the cohesion work we have undertaken and ensure our strategy is fit for purpose in the coming years. “We will deliver this strategy and continue to build on our strong track record and strive for excellence within the fields of statutory provision and promotion of community cohesion. “This strategy demonstrates our commitment to challenging a segregated society and promotes an ethos of respect, equity and trust for everyone.” • Visit the Northern Ireland Housing Executive website at www.nihe.gov.uk/index.htm
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The Community Cohesion team at the Housing Executive
CASE STUDY: Cuba Walk, East Belfast
The Housing Executive was approached by community representatives in east Belfast to reimage a paramilitary mural in order to build good relations and good race relations. The former UFF mural has been replaced by imagery depicting the Titanic and its enduring connections to the area
Image: The new mural, which replaced a paramilitary one
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Catherine McDaid with her two-year-old toddler TĂŠagan
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In March 2015 the social housing waiting list in Northern Ireland amounted to 39,338 households (according to NI Housing Executive figures). Journalist Ciara Lawn talks to two women in Belfast about their ongoing housing issues Image: Hannah Mitchell
I have anxiety, depression, I go to counselling. I can’t sleep
istressing living conditions have left Catherine McDaid, 19, mother of two-year-old toddler Téagan, suffering from depression and anxiety. Discarded heroin needles litter the street outside the Belfast apartment where she currently shares a bed with her mother, two feet from Téagan’s cot. It is also home to Catherine’s brother, her mother’s carer. “I have anxiety, depression, I go to counselling. I can’t sleep. My doctor wrote a letter to the Housing Executive saying he was worried about my mental wellbeing. “I would take a house anywhere that’s secure, safe and where my child will be happy, so give me a decent house, and if it’s suitable I’ll take it.” Sean Brady, a development worker with Participation and Practice of Rights (PPR), a Belfast-based group set up by the late trade unionist and human rights activist Inez McCormack, said housing was an “equality issue”. PPR has successfully campaigned to rehouse families from rundown tower blocks and in 2012 launched the ‘Equality Can’t Wait’ campaign with north
Equality issue: PPR worker Sean Brady
Belfast residents. He said Catholic areas were “rife with wastelands that were zoned for housing 10 years ago”, and while Protestant areas had more available housing, “many Protestant families have been placed in extremely poor living conditions”. “It is the entire system that needs an overhaul,” he said Another woman with two children, 37-year old ‘Nuala’ (who did not want her
real name used) had been homeless and was rehoused by a housing association in Belfast, but said it was a mixed blessing as she claimed the property was riddled with damp. Nuala got visibly upset when she told this reporter: “It got to a point where we had to choose between food, heating and electricity.” She has made the house a home for her children but damp lingered in the air and the bathroom walls had cracks due to water damage. Several thousand people are on the waiting list for houses in Belfast. Sean said: “There is no one person to blame; there is money to build, there is land to build on, demand is high.” The ‘Equality Can’t Wait’ campaign, made up of homeless families living in hostels and substandard accommodation in Belfast, has delivered research on available land and money to tackle the housing crisis to elected representatives. The question is how long will mothers like Catherine and ‘Nuala’ have to wait for politicians to take action? Twitter: @PPR_Org
COMMENT VIEW, Issue 35, 2016
Providing a helping hand
Janet Hunter, Director of Housing Rights, says issues around affordability continue to be a problem for clients in NI regardless of which sector of the housing market they live in
or over 50 years Housing Rights has been providing advice, advocacy and representation services to people across Northern Ireland to people who are homeless or in housing need. Last year we provided direct help which prevented homelessness and improved the housing situation of around 10,000 families and individuals. In 2016 concern around affordability continues to be a huge issue for our clients regardless of which sector of the housing market they live in. Around one in five households in Northern Ireland now lives in the private rented sector and issues relating to affordability in this sector are actually the fastest growing area of enquiry to our advice line. For many of our clients this is not their tenure of choice but the default; either because they cannot afford to own their own home or because the social rented sector does not have the capacity to meet their housing need. Whilst welcome first steps have been taken to regulate the private rented sector, the 13,000 calls our advisers took last year from people living in this sector remind us that there is much still to be done. Between April and December of last year for example, just over half (52 per cent) of those tenants who contacted us had unprotected deposits, despite the regulations which currently exist. Unregulated letting agent fees and difficulties faced by people struggling to make up the shortfall in local housing allowance and their rent are also common in this sector. Housing Rights is hopeful that the current review of the sector will address some of these issues in this sector, especially since it is being increasingly relied upon to mitigate problems in other sections of the housing market.
There remains a lack of clarity around the actual administration of the mitigation package recommended by the Evason Working Group
Within the social housing sector, concerns around the impact of the implementation of welfare reform, including the social sector size criteria, continue to dominate the policy landscape. At writing, there remains a lack of clarity around the actual administration of the mitigation package recommended by the Evason Working Group. Housing Rights is also mindful that if the NI regulations mirror those elsewhere in the UK, it is likely that only certain service charges will be eligible to be covered in the new housing payment element of Universal Credit. This could lead to claimants having to make an increased contribution on their own part towards their housing costs, with the risk of making it more difficult for certain people to sustain their tenancies. Housing Rights believes this will have a disproportionate impact on people currently living in supported housing, many of whom are already vulnerable. For homeowners contacting us for mortgage debt advice, early access to Support for Mortgage Interest payments, alongside specialist support and advice, are critical in keeping people in their homes. We are therefore strongly opposed to the current proposal to increase the waiting time for access to this benefit from 13 weeks to 39 weeks. In practical terms, this triples the time people will have to wait for assistance, and for many this help will come too late. Housing Rights has encouraged government to look again at this proposal and to consider options, particularly given the bleak prognosis contained in the Housing Repossession Taskforce report, to ameliorate the impact for the many local people who it predicts will be struggling to keep up mortgage repayments on their home.
Board Members Wanted With 3,000 staff, turnover of ÂŁ214 million and a ÂŁ3.4 billion asset base, housing associations are Northern Irelandâ€™s largest charities and social enterprises. Our housing associations manage 47,000 homes, provide care & support and a rangeof community services.
At a time of unprecedented change, housing associations rely on voluntary board members to provide effective strategic leadership, oversight and challenge to their increasingly complex businesses. It is a substantial role, but one that brings benefits including developing new skills and networks, as well as making a social impact.
We are looking for high-calibre individuals who are interested in serving on housing association boards. As well as strong generalists, people with skills in developing new homes, care & support, procurement, law, governance and communications are particularly needed.
Contact the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations on 028 9023 0446 to discuss this opportunity or to learn more and register your interest (with no obligation), please visit nifha.org/join-a-board/
VIEW, Issue 35, 2016
Brid Ruddy in one of the picturesque alleyways, off College Park Avenue, in south Belfast
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Standing up for residents
he Wildflower Alley in south Belfast has been one of the Holylands’ most successful regeneration projects. In an area blighted with a number of social and housing problems, the transformation of some of its alleyways into a feast of colour, hanging baskets and benches has been praised by many people. The group behind it, the College Park Avenue Residents Association, has now embarked on a campaign, in conjunction with Queen’s University Students’ Union to get landlords who have properties in the area to be registered on the Landlord Registration Scheme. According to Brid Ruddy, chairperson of the residents association, “many of the landlords can remain anonymous, unlike in England, Scotland and Wales”. Ms Ruddy said that her group had taken a survey of the surrounding area and found that many of the properties were not linked to any particular landlord when
they carried out a search on the registration scheme. “There is massive under-registration of landlords in this area,” she claimed. “Large parts of this area have been taken over by private landlords. We are the remaining hub of the community and we want to maintain and develop a community.” Ms Ruddy has lived in the area for 25 years. Queen’s Students’ Union community officer Paul Loughran said: “With the help of two local south Belfast residents, I’ve researched 1,500 houses in the Holylands area and worryingly found that 52.6 per cent of relevant properties were not registered on the Landlord Registration Scheme (a legal requirement). “I have submitted research to Belfast City Council who have committed to going through the 600 ‘offending houses’ and ensuring, through their own research and home visits, that all these houses will be pursued.”
COMMENT VIEW, Issue 35, 2016
Vision of hope
Colette Moore, Group Director of Housing at Clanmil Housing, explains why shared housing in Northern Ireland can make a real, meaningful and lasting difference to people’s lives
ighteen years after the Good Friday Agreement, social housing in Northern Ireland is segregated on sectarian lines as a consequence of the conflict. Despite millions in peace money pumped into the state, this is normalised. In stark contrast, the owner occupied and private rented sectors are mixed. Over the past number of years Clanmil has worked with the Housing Executive to develop social housing that offers a choice for people who wish to live in shared housing. In setting out on this work, nearly 10 years ago now, it seemed right to begin within existing shared neighbourhoods and two of our housing developments – The Curzon on Belfast's Ormeau Road and Causeway Meadows in Lisburn – were among the first shared housing schemes. The Together: Building a United Community Strategy, launched in 2013, set a new challenge from OFMDFM to extend the work on shared housing, shared space and shared education as platforms to help build a lasting peace. Ten new developments have now been identified as potential shared future schemes including our development at Felden in Newtownabbey. The housing association movement in Northern Ireland is responding to the challenge. Our critics castigate such efforts as “social engineering”. However, was it not the worst kind of social engineering that resulted in the forced migration of the population of Northern Ireland into single identity communities in the early Seventies? Clanmil offers a choice to those who need a home and provides a safe space to live and raise families. There are no quotas to achieve a mixed community. We allocate homes based on housing need.
We accept that it may well take generations to achieve the desired impact from peace building, good relations work and sharing our spaces
And what is striking is the huge need for social housing, especially in the greater Belfast area. This human need, and the resulting competition for homes, in itself results in pressure on the allocation of scarce resources. Our experience is that the people moving into our shared future developments welcome the opportunity to live in a mixed community. Their priority is a home in a safe environment and they welcome shared spaces. The key consideration here is that society is changing. The number of people from ethnic groups living in Northern Ireland has doubled since the Good Friday Agreement, adding a further dynamic to our community. People in mixed relationships need a safe and shared space to live and raise their families. We have seen heartening examples of how these changes are developing new and progressive perspectives on our future. Local young people responded to sectarian graffiti at Felden by voicing their wholehearted support for a shared neighbourhood in a video they made. Shared space and life is a good thing and the housing association movement is pioneering shared housing in Northern Ireland. This is not easy and not without challenges, and we accept that it may well take generations to achieve the desired impact from peace building, good relations work and sharing our spaces. However, we have a duty to do all we can to support those who aspire to live in a safe and shared space that is welcoming to all. We believe that shared housing can make a real, meaningful and lasting difference and this is what Clanmil is about. Twitter: @ClanmilHousing
VIEW, Issue 35, 2016
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COMMENT VIEW, Issue 35, 2016
Demand and supply
We must make sure that we are building enough houses, argues Justin Cartwright, Policy and Public Affairs Manager for the Chartered Institute of Housing Northern Ireland
omeless man Jonathan Corrie died in a Dublin city doorway, metres from the Dail where politicians had been grappling with the growing homelessness and housing crisis. This tragedy on the first day of winter in 2014 sparked a national outcry as well as a short-term response from the government as it sought to deal with the wider issue of housing supply. Not enough homes had been built in the years since the housing market crash to keep up with demand, leading to rises in private rents, house prices and ultimately homelessness. Of course, Mr Corrie’s tragic circumstances highlight how homelessness is not just about a lack of bricks and mortar. In the days following his death, his family and charities told his story including of accommodation that was offered as he battled a substance addiction. In many cases people who are homeless have complex needs and require support to maintain their housing. So while it’s not the whole picture, housing does and should come first. Homelessness is the most acute symptom of too few homes built and it’s a visible one in cases of street homelessness (though more often homelessness is hidden). Rapidly rising house prices are another visible symptom, putting buying a home out of reach for many people as well as having knock-on effects on the housing market and our economic health. Housing in Ireland is generally affordable for two-earner couples on average incomes, but for those living in Dublin it’s a different story. Northern Ireland has so far avoided the distressing effects seen in Dublin, or indeed in London. It claims the lowest average first-time buyers’ deposit in the
More than 11,000 new homes are needed every year, while only around half that number have been built for some time
UK and the lowest typical price for a starter home. Social and private rents are low compared with many major cities, and there are low levels of street homelessness in Belfast compared with Dublin. Nevertheless, complacency should be avoided – more than 11,000 new homes are needed every year, while only around half that number have been built for some time. A ministerial ‘housing supply forum’ was launched to help find ways of increasing the amount of housing built in Northern Ireland, and I was invited to participate. Land supply, capacity and planning issues are the main barriers to development and we need government-led initiatives to break these barriers down. Published in January 2016, the forum’s report recommend 10 practical measures for the short-term which, if introduced, could help unblock house-building. One of the biggest barriers to new housing is land supply. Publicly-held land should play a greater role in housing delivery, and one of the report’s major recommendations promotes the idea of setting targets for the release of public land. A recommendation with more teeth would involve compulsory purchase orders or even a land tax to disincentivise land-banking, but if the current recommendation is introduced effectively we could see more land released for much-needed housing. Ultimately, the goal for housing professionals and policy makers alike must be to make sure we’re building enough homes to keep up with our growing population – to avoid damaging social and economic consequences for all our citizens. Twitter: @JustinCIH
VIEW, Issue 35, 2016
Care in the community
BCM housing support users and staff
Joanne McCourt, Project Manager for the BCM Housing Support for Young People and Parent Support at Sunny Side House in Dungannon, Co.Tyrone, tells VIEW readers, about the project
elfast Central Mission (also known as BCM) celebrates its 127th year in 2016. We were set up in 1889 by the Methodist Church in a response to inner city poverty and deprivation in Belfast. At the time BCM provided hot meals to the homeless, refuge, and respite holidays to children living in poverty. Its aim was to “support those who need it most” regardless of class, colour or creed. Over 125 years on, BCM has developed a programme of diverse social care projects and today offers services in Belfast, North Down, Newtownards and the Armagh/Dungannon and the surrounding areas. We believe that each individual should have the opportunity to reach their full potential whatever their age or circumstance and in keeping with BCM’s ethos we work for the development of the whole person, body, mind and spirit. Current projects support over 800 people a year and include: support for older people in our communities such as residential accommodation and Housing Support, befriending and tea dances; support for families including Parent Support and the Christmas Support Programme and support for young people including supported accommodation for
Our service users can become homeless for many reasons care leavers, and Housing Support services. I am the Project Manager of BCM’s Housing Support and Parent Support services in Dungannon. Since its opening in 2006 I have worked with many 16 to 25-year-olds to help them secure accommodation and learn the skills they need to live independently in the community. With Housing Support we can work
with 67 service users at any one time offering a ‘floating support’ service. Each service user has a dedicated support worker to help develop independent living skills and focus on finding safe, secure, affordable accommodation. It’s so important to help them furnish and decorate their accommodation to make it into a welcoming home. We also encourage young people into work or to attend educational courses as well as learning practical skills such as budgeting, cooking and cleaning routines, and how to be a good neighbour. Our service users can become homeless for many reasons such as family breakdown, domestic violence, leaving care, addiction issues, debt and anti-social behaviour, but support is tailored to every individual’s needs. • For more information please contact Joanne McCourt, Project Manager on 028 8775 0175 or email@example.com Please also see our website for more information on how to receive support or become a volunteer – www.belfastcentralmission.org
COMMENT VIEW, Issue 35, 2016
Protecting our tenants
ith homelessness in the Republic of Ireland now reaching unprecedented levels and rents approaching rates not seen since the height of the Celtic Tiger, the introduction of a new national strategy for the private rented sector is now an absolute requirement and should be a priority for whatever government is elected in the forthcoming general election. There can be no return to ‘business as usual’ when it comes to meeting the needs of the increasing number of people who have homes in the private rented sector. Threshold has welcomed a number of initiatives announced by the government in November 2015, including what is in effect a rent freeze for two years and the introduction of a Deposit Protection Scheme under which deposits will be held by the Private Residential Tenancies Board. These measures will offer a welcome level of relief for hard-pressed tenants, but they will also provide space to develop a comprehensive strategy for the private rented sector. More Irish people are renting today than at any time since the 1950s. These family homes need a level of protection and stability that is sorely lacking at the moment. A shift is needed from reliance on amateur landlords, with just one or two properties, who are focused on short-term gains if we are to achieve a stable and wellmanaged private rented sector. While traditional landlords will continue to play a valuable role, we need a sector with more professional, well-resourced landlords who are interested in long-term income returns. A comprehensive strategy for the private rented sector is needed to tackle such issues as security of tenure, long-term “
The introduction of a new national strategy for the private rented sector in the Republic is now an absolute requirement, argues Aideen Hayden, Chairperson of Irish housing charity Threshold
One in five Irish families lives in private rented housing and it is long past time we introduced a framework that supports that
rent certainty, quality of rented housing, promoting the supply of affordable rented accommodation and dealing with difficulties in the buy-to-let sector. Also, as most (75,000) of the new social housing units will be sourced in the private rented sector, the success of the government’s Social Housing Strategy 2020 depends on modernising the private rented sector. The essential elements of such a strategy would address issues like long-term rent certainty beyond the current ‘rent freeze’, increasing affordable supply, improving the quality of rented housing, promoting affordable supply and dealing with the difficulties in the buy-tolet sector. Without rent certainty, for example, tenants still face a risk of homelessness and landlords will still face uncertainty with regard to their rental income. Without realistic limits of Rent Supplement and Housing Assistance Payment (state supports for tenants in rented accommodation) which reflect current market rents, families will be unable to pay for housing. Tenants’ rights are often ignored when receivers are appointed or when lenders seek to repossess a mortgaged property that is being rented. To address this issue a change to the law is needed to protect tenants and ensure their rights are respected. Moreover the current four-year model of security of tenure must be reviewed to ensure indefinite tenancies become the norm. One in five Irish families lives in private rented housing and it is long past time we introduced a framework that supports that. Twitter: @Aideen_Hayden
Remembrance of Things Past
Paddy McIntyre, ex-chief executive of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, and (inset) in his younger days
ome people that I interview are tense and others are extremely relaxed. Paddy McIntyre, the former chief executive of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE), easily fell into the latter category. It also helped that we are both ardent supporters of Manchester United, despite the club’s recent tribulations. Over cups of coffee and as the time drifted by, Paddy reflected on his time in the NIHE, from his early involvement in the 1970s to later taking over at the helm of the organisation. “I can remember when I applied for a trainee job in the organisation, I was told by a teacher friend of my parents that I’d never get a job in there because I’m a Catholic, but it was one of the most neutral places you could have worked in. “I started off working in Derry in 1971. I collected the rent and can remember at times also being robbed of the rent.” Paddy was employed during a period of major civil unrest in Northern Ireland. “I worked for the Housing Executive during the rent and rate strike, the outbreak of the troubles, Bloody Sunday happened outside our office when I was working there, and also Operation Motorman (a large-scale operation carried
By Brian Pelan, VIEW editor
out by the British Army in Northern Ireland in 1972 with the aim of retaking ‘no-go areas’).These are just some of the major events that I can recall.” He also talked about the nature of the Housing Executive in its early days. “We probably would have been seen as a nationalist-orientated organisation by some people, so we had political difficulties. We were also taking on board something like 60 local authorities’ housing departments, so there would have been a lot of tension between those who were coming from a local authority and those people who had come from the Housing Trust, which would have viewed itself as a more professional type of housing organisation. There was a lot of tension just about assimilating people into this one body. “I was appointed as a district manager in Derry. I was 24 years of age at the time and I had to manage 25 people. I had no managerial experience. “A lot of that was to do with the fact it was quite hard to get people to come and work in Derry at the time as it was
seen as the ‘wild west’, I guess. “I love the city and still go back to it quite a bit. I also played a lot of soccer, which was a good way of making connections if you had come in from the outside. By 1978 or 1979, the Housing Executive, once it got over its initial teething problems, settled down and started to deliver loads of new housing. “I moved to Belfast in 1979 to work in the Housing Executive’s main office and started a diploma in Social Policy and Planning in the Ulster Polytechic in Jordanstown, Co Antrim.” Paddy was eventually to lead the Housing Executive from 1999 to 2010. “We put an awful lot of effort into improving the quality of service.” Since his ‘retirement’, Paddy has kept himself active by working with a number of charities and indulging his love of football. He has attended several World Cup tournaments and has made plans to attend this year’s European Championships in France. We parted company outside a cafe in Belfast. As the light fell, I watched as Paddy ambled his way into the distance. He is a genial man with many housing stories and I had only heard a few of them.
VIEW, Issue 35, 2016
VIEWdigital asks Irish Housing Network spokesperson Seamus Farrell about the housing crisis in the Republic of Ireland and what they are doing to tackle it
How did you get involved in the Irish Housing Network?
I suppose I was as much a founder as I got involved in the Irish Housing Network. I got involved in housing organising as part of the campaign Housing Action Now in autumn 2014. Housing Action Now began a process of pulling together a fragmented but growing grassroots housing campaign.Voluntary soup kitchens, mothers on social housing waiting lists, radical social workers and community activists had all begun a housing fightback and we together formed the Irish Housing Network. What are your main objectives?
Simply the provision of decent housing for all, regardless of income. This seems like a simple and almost common sense demand, but in the face of an economic crisis in the Republic and a housing ideology which puts profit before need, this is a radical objective. Can you tell me something about
your campaign around Bolt Hostel in Dublin?
After the Irish Housing Network was established in May 2015 we were seeing a flood of desperate housing cases, the homeless services were basically at breaking point. We were involved in a number of occupations. These â€˜occupationsâ€™ were followed by a big action at the Bolt Hostel. It was a former Dublin City Council homeless shelter left empty for three years. We took it over, asked for help from volunteers to restore it and began housing homeless people. It was an extraordinary grassroots effort and received praise and support from wide ranging quarters. It was ended by High Court action taken by Dublin City Council which forced us out. How would you describe the housing situation in the Republic?
Terrible, multiple interlinked crises have hit almost simultaneously. The most recent child homeless figure is 1,571, it has trebled in two years. Forty families a week
are being made homeless. Rents have massively risen and there is an ongoing mortgage debt problem. The government have compounded this crisis or even has been a key cause of this crisis with their decision to effectively eliminate the social housing budget and a range of community supports. The Irish state has the capacity to provide housing. It has instead pushed the most drastic Right-wing shift in housing policy in the history of the state and a time of unprecedented need The network itself is seeing on average 100 cases a week, from evictions, to rent increases, to overcrowding and poor living conditions, to homelessness. We are doing what we can to keep many people in their homes, but we are a small (but growing) barrier against a flood.
What are the main steps that you would like to see happen? A ban on economic evictions, rent control and rent regulation, handing over and putting to use state land, assets and capital to renovation vacant buildings and a large scale social building program to go with it.
VIEW, Issue 35, 2016
An Irish Housing Network protest in Dublin and (below) spokesperson Seamus Farrell
The Irish state has the capacity to provide housing. It has instead pushed the most drastic Right-wing shift in housing policy in the history of the state and at a time of unprecedented need Community resources and supports to match the provision of housing.
making our demands heard through our actions to help those in housing crisis and we be asking parties and candidates to publically support our actions from our support groups and food provision to our direct action.
No, as mentioned already, they have deeply compounded the existing problems, and are in fact driving up homelessness with their policy decisions. They are pushing full privatisation of the housing sector. Even if we were not ideologically opposed, this simply cannot pragmatically work. The market cannot provide enough well planned and supported housing to meet need.
What type of supply is needed – private housing, social housing or both?
Has the current coalition government done enough to address the issue of homelessness?
Will you be making any demands of political parties in the February 26 general election?
We are hoping to ask candidates and parties to sign up to an election pledge based on our demands. Otherwise we will
We fundamentally have an affordability crisis, which is being spun as a general supply crisis. We need affordable supply. So predominately social housing is what is needed.
What sort of support are you getting from the public?
Massive support from the public. The Bolt Hostel support was wide ranging, our anti-poverty soup runs and support groups get huge support too. There is a certain class divide in how active the support is.
Large parts of Ireland have been scared by the austerity and housing issues are very immediate, these are predominantly working class communities. They very actively support us. More comfortable sectors, who are seeing some stability in the last year, their support is more passive. Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of housing needs?
I don’t think the housing crisis is going away; in many ways it is a permanent crisis for large sways of Irish society. The government and establishment are aggressively moving the opposite way from what’s needed: stable, affordable housing based on need. It is going to be a long struggle, but we are ever increasingly ready for it. www.facebook.com/irishhousingnetwork
COMMENT VIEW, Issue 35, 2016
Is going Deutsch worth it?
Kath Scanlon, research fellow at the London School of Economics, examines whether the German private rental model would work in the United Kingdom and what are the downsides
he private rented sector in the UK has more than doubled in size over the last 20 years and now houses a fifth of the population, more than live in the social sector. There are some households for whom private renting has clear advantages — young people moving on from university, mobile professionals who don’t know how long they’ll stay, house hunters trying a neighbourhood on for size. But many other types of household, including families with children and those wanting long-term homes, have no option but to live in the PRS. So is the growth of the sector a success story for private renting, or a failure of home ownership and social renting? Are there lessons we can learn from other countries about how to make the sector work better? Private renting in Germany is often regarded as a model: about half of German households rent privately, and in Berlin the proportion is close to 90 per cent. Tenancies are indefinite (and in some circumstances can even be inherited) and are unaffected by sale of the dwelling. Except in a few cities, there is no limit on the initial rent, but for existing tenants rents can only be raised in line with average rents in the local area. So in fact private renting has some of the key benefits of owner-occupation in this country: security of tenure and certainty about expenditure. Because of that many tenants, including those with children, regard their rented apartments as permanent homes. But while this may be attractive for those looking for stability, the German model has downsides for the types of
It’s not enough to know how policies work in other countries; the difficult part is predicting how they will work in our own
household who are well-served by our current system. Because tenancies are indefinite, landlords (like here mostly private individuals) are extremely selective about who they rent to: the search process can take months. Tenants are responsible not only for small repairs but also for furnishing and equipping their homes — rented apartments often come without light fixtures or kitchens. The German system has worked well for decades not only because of what it offers tenants, but also because of what it offers landlords. Here is another crucial difference: in the UK, especially in high-cost areas, small private landlords look for return in the form of capital appreciation rather than rental income. But in much of Germany real house prices haven’t risen for many years, so landlords look for long-term rental yield. Having stable tenants and low voids suits them. This sort of system works very well in Germany, but we have a different housing market, mortgage system and legal framework. Even so, there is growing momentum behind calls for longer tenancies and some controls on rent increases within the tenancy (this is already happening in Scotland with the new Private Rented Tenancies Bill). This would improve the lot of tenants looking for long-term stable homes but wouldn’t help those looking for short-term housing, and landlords will be unenthusiastic. It’s not enough to know how policies work in other countries; the difficult part is predicting how they will work in our own. Twitter: @KathJScanlon
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COMMENT VIEW, Issue 35, 2016
Sinking in contradictions
oncrete slabs dropped from on high, brutal high-rise towers and dark alleyways that are a gift to criminals and drug dealers.” That was how David Cameron characterised the 100 English “sink estates” that he plans to transform with £140 million of public money. According to Cameron, almost 75 per cent of the 2,138 people convicted after the 2011 riots came from these estates. He intends to “transform” them either by “knocking them down and starting again” or by making “changes to layout, upgrading facilities and improving local road and transport links”. Not surprisingly his plan has been greeted with a degree of scepticism. The first obstacle is the right to buy. Up to 30 per cent of homes on these estates have been sold and owners will need to be compensated. On a typical estate of 500 homes in London around 100 will have been sold, so that will mean finding at least £25m before any demolition takes place. Given that social rents in England will be cut for the next four years, any regeneration will not be funded by income from social rented homes alone. That means a huge “cross subsidy” will be required from new homes for market sale and rent, leading to a significant reduction in social rented homes. This will worsen the hollowing out process in inner London as people on low incomes are forced outwards. Cameron suggests that many “sink estates” create crime, but this is a determinist view of human behaviour, viewing people like laboratory rats whose habits and prospects will be changed by knocking down walkways or changing layouts. Past experience shows that this is a simplistic approach. Many commentators take the view “
David Cameron’s £140m plan to transform ‘poor’ housing estates throughout England has been greeted with a degree of scepticism, says housing consultant Colin Wiles
This is a determinist view of human behaviour, viewing people like laboratory rats whose habits and prospects will be changed by knocking down walkways or changing layouts
that social problems and poverty are not caused by design but by deeper structural problems such as education and employment opportunities. What’s more, housing policy over the past 40 years has tended to concentrate poverty into a shrinking stock of social housing, a process that is akin to distilling an increasingly powerful alcohol. The “sink estates” initiative has been driven by pressure group Create Streets, who want to reconnect estates with their surrounding network of streets, and by Alex Morton, the former think tank policy wonk who is Downing Street’s housing and planning adviser. Morton believes not only that there is too much social housing but that it creates welfare dependency, as you can tell from this quote by David Cameron. “Some of (our housing estates), especially those built just after the war, are actually entrenching poverty in Britain – isolating and entrapping many of our families and communities.” The notion of rebuilding estates sounds simple but all over London there are examples of major estate redevelopments that have hit problems, beset by public protest and active opposition, mainly due to forced decanting and the loss of genuinely affordable housing. Ominously, David Cameron says that many past schemes stalled because of “local politics and tenants’ concerns about whether regeneration would be done fairly”. That suggests a new set of rules to speed up the process and a lesser role for community engagement. You can be sure that the process of regenerating “sink estates” is unlikely to proceed smoothly. Twitter: @colinwiles
VIEW, Issue 35, 2016
I am an educated fighting feminist, ready for most challenges. I try to stay angry and keep battling. But truthfully, beneath that anger I am terrified of spending my old age without security of tenure, with my savings gone, in an area where I know nobody
ay to Stay proposes social housing tenants who earn over £30,000 per household (£40,000 in London) pay rent reflecting market rates. In parts of the UK rental prices are now so inflated that council rents and some housing association ones will double. It’s a steel-toothed poverty trap that seems designed to force us all into buying, but cruelly ignores the fact we older working tenants can’t. Hundreds of thousands of us have steadily paid rent for decades while raising families in mixed tenure neighbourhoods. We are the people keeping everything going as nurses, cleaners, teaching assistants, working in manual trades, in retail, childcare, health and social care, transport and the manufacturing industries. It is not our fault private rents are now at insane levels. In 2013 I founded a social enterprise where low income women design and sell high quality goods. It is up and ready for the participants to run it themselves, and I’m returning to full-time community work. Our household will tip into pay to stay territory. My rent could
rise to £400 a week.I first moved to west London in 1975 when I was 21. This area was a notorious slum, the houses were damp, cold and shabby but it was a wonderful, creative, raffish place to be. Now the gentrification has crept up the hill from Kensington. Our library is going, to be leased to a private school. The launderette’s turned into an estate agent, the pubs into “luxury flats”. Property is seen as an investment and the poorer residents are in the way. Clearly, at 62, I cannot get a mortgage anywhere in the UK. Should I give up work and live on my tiny retirement savings, to retain my tenancy? My young adult son lives with me. He has his first
permanent job since graduating, earning £19k a year. He cannot yet afford a private rent or deposit. Pay to stay will scupper his attempts to save. In 1987 I lived in a housing co-op. I was a mental health support worker and an interim foster carer for a fragile, adorable little girl whose mum sometimes struggled to cope. When I was asked to foster fulltime I asked the nearest housing trust for a two-bed place; within six weeks I became a tenant. The social contract was clear. I would work in useful jobs for average wages and rent affordable housing for life. This was normal and carried no stigma. I have paid out far more for my housing than the home-owning neighbours who also arrived in the area in the 1970s. But unlike them I cannot benefit from the exorbitant rise in house prices and move. I am an educated fighting feminist, ready for most challenges. I try to stay angry and keep battling. But truthfully, beneath that anger I am terrified of spending my old age without security of tenure, with my savings gone, in an area where I know nobody. Where are we expected to go?
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