The housing crisis should make us all concerned – seriously though

The housing crisis has had a devastating impact on us all. Even the comfortably housed can be homeless if the slightest thing goes wrong.With rocketing prices and high unemployment, a new policy direction must be taken to tackle the socially crippling British housing problem. 

(BSMGLiban Obsiye) I have a very strong stomach and can deal with most things. I have worked with many of the most vulnerable people and groups in society in some capacity or other. However, the homelessness plight of thousands of individuals and families, painfully displayed for all to see by BBC’s Panorama programme this week, saddened me enormously. It was the most heartbreaking thing I had watched in recent times.

Homelessness to those comfortably housed can seem a distant issue but one missed mortgage payment or an eviction notice can bring it close. So close it makes your heart beat a little faster and your palms sweat. This is just an initial reaction. Then these anxieties are joined by anger, despair, and helplessness. In most of these cases an unsympathetic banks and local authorities, instead of assisting, just hope you disappear. The Panorama programme featured 4 people from different walks of life who all faced homelessness for different reasons. One was even a banker who lost everything in the recession and was sleeping in a park he used to play in as a child before finally getting a room in a hared accommodation. One family who Croydon council claimed intentionally made themselves homeless by not paying rent or proving their income and refusing to engage with them were evicted from a hostel while the night bus driver father was at the council housing office because his oldest daughter broke a window in a cramped room not fit for human habitation and which they lawfully should not have been housed in for overcrowding reasons. A recovering cancer patient and a family were also made homeless as their homes were repossessed by the banks that lent one of them a 100% mortgage at the height of the credit boom. The fate of these four groups are a glimpse of the difficulties ahead for home owners, renters and even developers in the future as the benefit cuts bite even harder. 

No body deserves to be homeless, even a former banker. Everybody should be provided with shelter, food and education. Safe, warm and secure accommodation paves the way for active citizenship and a better future for all. The humiliation and desperation the Panorama participants showed is one no human should endure. My heart was slowly ripping itself apart as the show progressed but when it totally broke was when a child who was been evicted with his working father, mother and other siblings from a cramped hostel told his younger sister, in order to comfort her, that they won’t be homeless because they are a family and not single people. Instead of brothers Grimm and Disney fairy tales, this child who was not attending school because of his unstable housing situation, cited the Homelessness legislation to comfort his sister. He properly knew it better than most of the housing officers employed by the borough from his families horrendous experiences. The humiliation of the forced eviction that followed was truly unbearable.  But this is not just Croydon at that time but Britain everyday today.

The government has made very few promises on social home building and has continually encouraged the right to buy which has partly contributed to the current housing shortage. The gentrification policies that plaque most of the western capitalist world and which fuelled easy mortgages and the notion that you should have a home to make your castle has now made its earlier perceived winners into total losers. The lady with cancer who owned the home that Barclay’s bank repossessed was 52 years of age. The other family with two children, one doing her GCSE‘s and the other just 10 years of age, only lived in their home for 10 years before the bank threw them on to the streets.

Every borough, council and housing provider has a homelessness strategy but the way to tackle homelessness is to build more homes and not create more priority groups for which there are no dwellings. The political allergy to home building is a cross party issue and this needs to change. If the politicians want to get Britain moving, economically prosperous and less divided, they need to provide the people with a secure base from which to wake up daily and manage their affairs. This is common sense and it will save this “poor” government desperately needed cash on special advisers whose salaries it should be putting towards building dwellings. The key challenges of Community cohesion, education attainment, economic competitiveness and strong families which this coalition claims to care about can all be addressed with better, affordable and more readily available homes.

The law is the law and there is very little local housing managers can do to help families jump the housing priority and waiting lists. However, no urgency can be attached to anything unless those working in the service understand the issues properly. I suggest housing managers on six figure salaries, special advisers and housing Ministers, as part of their employment contracts, should sleep rough for a few nights and then progress to hostels and night shelters. They should also for this period live on the same benefit allowances as those they serve and always claim to understand. This may inject some urgency into tackling Britain’s housing crisis and introducing rent control to curb the greed of lenders, developers and landlords which is causing a national misery and destroying our communities.

Liban Obsiye

@LibanObsiye (twitter).

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