photo by Emma Swan

It’s not just a Housing Crisis if you want a home for good, it’s a crisis for us all.

We’re led to believe we all have the right to own a place we can call home. That it’s achievable, not just a dream. A home for good; an affordable home, but the reality is, it’s a nightmare and we’re being led down the garden path.

It’s time for reform. This affects us all.

After my 13th house move in 10 years. Life constantly moving as a ‘renty-something’ has been hell. The saddest part of moving home? For me, it’s not only loving and leaving behind a home, a neighborhood; a community with each move, but countless gardens I loved and lost too. Gardens for me are not just somewhere to grow vegetables. Working in a garden also offers contemplation. The garden is where I gather my thoughts in a frenetic city.

With each upheaval and each garden lost, having been being turfed out (let’s be honest, priced out) of the area, I have to move on.

To combat the loss of loosing gardens I created a garden sharing start-up Lend and Tend

However, who am I to stand in the way of progress? Capitalism. If the shoe was on the other foot; if I was a landlord with the opportunity to make a fast buck in the property game, who knows, I might do the same. Flip houses. Wouldn’t you? After all, it is legal and there’s no restriction to how much money a person can make and how they dispose of those assets.

What is being disposed, thrown out? The likes of you and me, families, vulnerable people. We’re all at risk of being out on our ears in this fast past craving for capitalism.

Every landlord I’ve rented from has had the right to buy and sell and can increase rent at the end of term as they please. They always do and you pay up or you get out and move on. This attractive market so unfairly favors landlords at a time of property being under incredible demand. It allows money to be extorted from people who are struggling. I understand it. Why continue to rent a property to a reliable tenant, when you could just sell up, make an enormous profit, buy two more to ‘do up’ and rent those out for double? Why not, get rid of the chumps like us paying below what estate agents like KFH say you can “achieve”.

“Achieve” is a crucial word here. With limited supplies of council housing and raging private rents rising, we’re damaging prospects for what people can achieve. Particularly people who’ll never see the bottom rung of a property ladder in their 20s or 30s. By removing the ability to allow people to settle peacefully, this crazy system uproots us and has no remorse.

We’re seeing more social divide: Us v. Them. Rich v. Poor when more than ever we need social inclusion. Think of the implications of this situation further spiraling out of control. More urgently, how are initiatives like decentralising going to affect the prospects of young people and their chances in life.

Only if I make a stratospheric achievement in my life, like winning the lottery or I can grow my own property; will I, like many people my age be able to achieve the ‘normal’ milestone of owning a home. Until then, we renters wait with baited breath for our landlord’s next move to know if it involves a moving again.

According to neuro experts, moving house; the stress and the upheaval it entails is on par with all of the most distressing things that humans can go through, right up there next to divorce and grief. No matter how many times I’ve packed up and moved on; my experiences seem a mere inconvenience compared to what some people have to endure.

BAFTA tipped creator of HALF WAY, Daisy-May Hudson has my utmost respect. Watch HALF WAY, an insightful, confronting and poignant feature length documentary film about what it was like for her family to experience finding themselves not only having to move house, but becoming homeless.

The very personal documentary, premiered at the Cinema Museum, catalogued the events leading up to an unnerving precipice of the unknown for Daisy and her family: From being evicted and newly categorised as homeless, the film shares a torturous emotional upheaval a family experiences trying to get re-homed after landlords, Tesco serve compulsory eviction. Tesco’s reason for forcing the family to vacate the place that they had made their home in Epping for many years? To sell the land. The land the property was built on had increased in value and naturally Tesco saw it as an opportunity to earmark the ‘site’, Daisy’s home for development and Tesco’s profit. Daisy’s loss being Tesco’s gain.

Skyrocketing house prices is seriously affecting rental values in London meaning that people who rent can be priced out at the end of rental term before you can say ‘11 person flat-share’. It also means people can no longer afford to live in the communities they’ve established anymore. Daisy’s mother Beverly turned to her local council for support in at times what seemed a futile fight.

The hardworking and female family; well dressed, vivacious. A single mother at 58 in full-time employment and Daisy, then, a recent university graduate, also newly in full-time employment and her young sister still at school had to declare themselves as homeless. Not the picture of what one assumes of stigmatised homeless people. But this is becoming a harsher reality, a stark contrast to who I’d usually associate with homelessness and it seems that most of the renting population is on the knife edge of it.

The broad definition ‘homeless’ scales from anyone sofa surfing, to someone to sleeping rough on the streets. With celebrities doing their bit bringing the hard plight of homelessness to the masses on TV, HALF WAY is a wake-up call to understand that homelessness is not just reserved for people with Big Issues. Homelessness is becoming a staggering reality for many people without addiction dependency, mental health issues or who have fled domestic abuse and have no where else to turn.

Legally being homeless is defined as “someone with nowhere in the world available for you to occupy.” So you don’t necessarily have to be sleeping on the streets to be considered legally homeless. It means there are likely to be many many more unreported cases than statistics suggest. These people are also eligible for support and may not know it.

Homelessness is on the rise again in Britain and it’s happening to people who look like your sisters, your mothers and your best friends; people just like Daisy and her family, people like you and me.

Our awareness of homeless rough sleeper’s struggles for survival may leave you comparatively less sympathetic when you see Daisy’s family; despite being declared homeless, are placed in fairly acceptable (albeit cramped) temporary housing whilst waiting for permanent council accommodation. However it was during this process that Daisy’s mother Beverly had to navigate unhelpful council telephone systems, convoluted letters back and forth; bureaucracy that we can all relate to. Beverly spent hours on the phone to Epping council staff who offered less than sympathy, knowledge or an ability to help understand her the progress and status of their housing application. Often enquiries on the simplest matters, such as the maintenance of their temporary home that were left unanswered.

Most of us have experienced what it’s like trying to reach people beyond impenetrable phone systems, ‘Computer says no-ers’. I’ve recently spent 3 hours in as many days trying to lodge a complaint with a British telecoms company! Except Beverly wasn’t calling up to deaf unhelpful ears about slow broadband or a late delivery; things one might usually make a call to complain about. Beverly was fighting tooth and nail for the fate of her family. Imagine how much more of a struggle this is for people who don’t have a phone, literacy skills or most of all the will to fight.

In 2013, when HALF WAY was started there were 112,700 reported cases of homelessness. In 2014, the average home in England and Wales cost a record 8.8 times the typical local salary. It is as high as 20 times more in some parts of London.

HALF WAY was screened in the House of Commons as evidence, part of the rhetoric against the Housing Bill. However, Daisy’s film was seen by only 4 out of 30 officials, less than half the amount of Lords that should have been leaping to her defence couldn’t be bothered to attend the screening during the The Housing Inquiry.

Daisy’s film leaves a bitter taste in your mouth towards one of our country’s most prolific super grocers. We could blame corporations, but remember; it’s our government that’s letting the collar go, allowing of the likes of Tesco to expand aggressively.

On the subject, playwright Jingan Young premiered ‘I’M ONLY HERE TO BUY SOY SAUCE’ at the Camden Peoples’ Theatre at the WHOSE LONDON IS IT ANYWAY festival. The festival, a the first of its kind, a platform to open up debate between both artists and the public on their dismal experiences of housing in London.

I’M ONLY HERE TO BUY SOY SAUCE, a Chinese meme; basically translates to: ‘I give zero f*#ks’/ ‘Don’t ask me it doesn’t concern me!’. The play also shares some of Daisy’s questions in HALF WAY: What are the implications of foreign buyers buying up properties and leaving them vacant? Despite not knowing who is to blame for the housing crisis, someone, somewhere needs to asses realistically: What is affordability? As it certainly isn’t what is deemed as ‘affordable’ right now.

In a post talk after HALF WAY representatives from SHELTER and the film’s producers made a compelling point to make a difference against the housing crisis; “YOU need to establish; What bit of the housing crisis means to anything to YOU? What resonates with YOU?”

Then we need to contact our councils, write to our MPs: shout from our short-term rooftops.

Have you like me, moved endlessly? Or have you been affected by homelessness yourself? Perhaps you’ve had the rug pulled out from under your feet due to an unscrupulous landlords cashing in on a quick sale? Maybe you may even now own a home that is now worth a million pounds from the pittance you once paid for it, but now for your children; it’s a different story: They’re still living at home with you unable to afford to move out, when at their age you were probably buying your first home yourself? Maybe you still live with your parents and don’t see how you’ll ever move out?

For the first time in recent history, generation Y’ers have to accept a worse standard of living than their parents. Since 1988 around the time when most of us were born, housing stock has reduced by 50% whilst need has only increased. We need more houses please! Affordable ones.

Council housing is supposed to be subsidised rent between 50–80% of the market rate, but in truth it isn’t. It’s ‘at cost housing’. A supporter of HALF WAY, Yasmin Parsons, Housing Activist from West Hendon, citied that most council housing is paid for many times over in the years that a council property provides dwelling, so we shouldn’t allow councils to be abdicated from their responsibilities of providing housing by passing the buck to social housing corporations. Yasmin also claimed statistics now suggest it costs over three times as much to put people into social housing, rather than council properties. She also feels passionately that

we’re part of an era brainwashed about owning our own property,

but in a time with unstable rents, people in B&B accommodation has doubled, never have so many people been forced to live in temporary accommodations long term. So who can blame us for wanting the ‘British Dream’? Surely shouldn’t every (wo)man’s home be their castle for as long as they want it to be?

It’s seen as creative to be a homemaker, a home builder, we can express ourselves via the making of a home, but what we all need to do is to go back to our (Pinterest) mood boards and think collectively and more creativity about what is needed to solve our housing crisis.

Appropriate to the context of the evening, the Cinema Museum which was once a workhouse where Charlie Chaplin and his mother once lived, is nestled in my childhood neighborhood where 20+ years ago pre-fabs lined Dante Road. These little boxes thrown up around London were a popular solution to a lack of housing in a post-war London, where hardly any buildings stood after intense bombing. It was with these cheap and temporary homes that communities were able to shelter and thrive.

A Prefab on Dante Road. Photo by Ste2470

Anecdotes from the HALF-WAY post show talk include one from someone in the audience, about staying in a temporary accommodation; a tented community in a poverty stricken part of outer Mongolia, who claimed it was one of the happier times in his life. (Much like people experience the old pre-fab communities). That his community shared a sense of responsibility, duty and respect despite their humble means. In comparison, with London’s widening socio-economic divide, we’re living on top of one another; living closer but maintaining an ability to ignore each other more. We also seem to be more often than not, closing our doors behind us and closing our hearts, too, turning our backs on our neighbours and on integration, causing fear to flourish and subsequently, the rate of crime to rise in our communities.

Daisy and her family faced over a year in temporary accommodation before being forced by Epping council to live in unsuitable permanent accommodation without choice of refusal, miles away from her place of work and too far away from her youngest daughters school, jeopardising both her daughter’s safety and educational prospects.

Beverly sought legal aid, her legal right and contested Epping council for their poor suggestions, lack of problem solving to their housing needs and it cost the taxpayer an eye watering £15,000 in legal bills. Much of this cost was spent on the futile phone calls speaking to an ‘advisor’ and received confirmations of no news whatsoever via (costly) official letters on headed paper, confirming a lack of good common sense on Epping council’s part. Epping council representatives unofficially appologised for treating Daisy and her family like statistics on a piece of paper at the post show talk. They offered little in accountability for some of Beverly’s hardships.

Their defence was that there are 1000’s of families like Beverly’s in every borough council going through the same experience.

However we must remember our councils are run by people like you and me. These people are just doing their jobs; people with small powers who answer to and operate for the benefit of an elite. It all seems to boil down to a power struggle for a victor to declare, what is suitable?

Shelter, now in it’s 50th year, express that the subjectivity of suitability is often the reason why so many people stay in long-term temporary accommodation. Sadly not many people like Beverly have the energy to fight, quite rightly, over what is suitable. Overall, however it is a conversation on power that needs to be debated.

We have to act on this. Here’s how?

Assemble to KILL THE HOUSING BILL on Sunday13th March at Lincoln’s Inn Fields W2.

Watch THE ESTATE WE’RE IN — a 60 minute program on BBC1. Screened On Tuesday 15th March 2016 10:45pm. It gives an intimate perspective on the housing crisis to residents in West Hendon and raises broader questions: What makes a community? What kind of cities do we want to live in? And are the rights of the poor being ignored for the benefit of the rich?

In the meantime I’ll continue promoting garden sharing to help knit neighbourhoods together with Lend and Tend. Whilst there’s no sign of stability or control of our futures, we can certainly garden in them and if we don’t have anywhere of our own to garden, there’s always the option of gardening at someone else’s.

Useful Links:

facebook.com/TradeUnionistsForHousing

rentersrightslondon.org

generationrent.org

defendcouncilhousing.org.uk/dch

england.shelter.org.uk

http://www.thepeoplesassembly.org.uk/hendonhousing

https://pokfulamrdproductions.wordpress.com/im-just-here-to-buy-soy-sauce-camden-peoples-theatre/

http://www.halfwayfilm.co.uk/team.html

LendandTend.com — Lend and Tend aims to help people share, combat loneliness and beat a concrete grey cities with lack of green space. It’s also a way to get allotment-like space; without a long wait!