By: Dr Gaby Wolferink @drgabywolferink
First published on the #Housingday blog on 7th October 2020.
Homelessness is more than not having a roof over your head; it is, literally, also missing a place to call home. I honestly don’t know how often I have to say it, but I will do it as long as it is needed, and everyone understands and acknowledges it:
To me, having a place to call home is the most important thing in someone’s life. I see it as the place and space from which we can love, learn, grow and where we can get back to when we feel down, ill, anxious, or let down.
This can’t just be a roof over your head, just a few walls, some furniture, and a bathroom. It has to be what you need it to be. It has to keep you warm in cold winters, safe and sane in a pandemic (yes, that’s a thing now), allow you to live your life as you want and need to.
They need to be accessible, spacious, and light.
They have to be solid and sound, free of damp and mould, dry!
They have to be beautiful.
They have to shout at you. ‘I AM YOUR HOME, YOUR BASE, YOUR ROCK! I’LL KEEP YOU SAFE AND WARM AND WILL LOVE YOU IF YOU LOVE ME!’
Everybody has needs and wishes
I’m writing up all sorts of things that every home (or mortgage) owner in 2020 takes for granted on their wish list. If a potential home hasn’t got one or more of these characteristics, they either won’t buy it, or they will negotiate the price down to leave money to get it to the required state. I know this because that was me a few years ago.
When my husband and I bought our house almost 2 years ago, we had an Excel sheet. Of course we used Office 365, not Excel 2003, although we didn’t need more than 65k rows to pen down our requirement. In this sheet we wrote the things we wanted from our new home. Must haves, like to haves, and should certainly not haves. Working like this helped us shape our search for our place to call home. We were lucky enough to tick off all those boxes, all of them. We were VERY lucky to be able to do so.
Everybody should have a choice
People looking for social rent homes (let’s just not say ‘affordable’, because that’s a bullshit term and allows those in power to keep the housing crisis (yes, it is a friggin’ crisis, Mr Jenrick, not a problem, a crisis)) going and driving up private sector rents, are not granted that luxury. Especially if they are at risk of becoming or already finding themselves homeless on the definitional front: not having a roof over their heads. I say definitional because of my description above of what makes a house home.
The choices NOT given to them lead to people remaining or becoming homeless. We can see that because HAs and Councils are forcing people to accept houses that aren’t suitable for them. This can be because of the area (e.g. known drugs areas for those recovering from addiction). Or the place is far away from family and friends and with that their support networks.
Just giving someone the keys to a property you tell them is good enough for (people like) them isn’t enough to give them the keys to a HOME.
Housing providers and councils have their strategies and annual reports filled with phrases like ‘sustainable tenancies’ and ‘more than bricks and mortar’, yet work with voids-based lettings, that combined with Housing Options waiting lists and their policies fail to take into account these very aims and objectives.
By saying to applicants ‘You have to accept the next place you are offered because you are in housing need and if you refuse it, clearly your need isn’t high enough’ you are doing the exact opposite of creating sustainable tenancies and practicing the idea that homes are more than bricks and mortar.
Everyone and no-one should have to be lucky
I am lucky, and just that. I have found myself in a position where I can have a list of requirements for the place that I call home. And believe me, I am nothing special. I’ve done nothing that would put me and my wishes and requirements above anyone else’s. In fact, having a place to call home is a basic human right if it were up to me. That means that everyone should have choices available to them.
Of course, I was and had to be prepared to make some compromises, as finding something that ticks ALL your boxes is rare, that’s why we split up some must-haves and ‘like to haves’ for ourselves, and for us mere mortals, not having millions of pounds to spend that is the reality of things, and we have to weigh up what is more important and what is less important.
But still, everyone has some hard requirements that differentiate a house from a home. Whether that’s from a physical need such as access level and wheelchair-friendly to being near family. Living more rural or in the big city. Close to work (when most people still went to an office…) or with the space to work from home.
This last bit would almost require a completely new/separate blog. So, to keep it short, if there’s anything that the last 7 months have taught us is that we need more space. Ban the bedroom tax and give people the option to decide what space they need to feel at home.
Now with more people working from home, social rent homes need to offer that space too, and speaking from experience, having worked in the living room for quite some time, having the opportunity to still close the door behind you and separate work and home space is so important…
The time for positivity has gone
This blog feels like an endless rant. Not good, for something that I started off with thinking I’d write something positive for #Housingday. But I feel we have no right to be positive about the world of social housing. Not until we are in a place and political framework where social housing gets the attention it deserves. Where social housing tenants are put on equal level with home/mortgage owners. Seen as people with needs and wishes. Not forced to become homeless, even if they are ‘granted’ the keys to a door leading some walls and a roof. So, let’s:
- broaden the definition of homelessness to allow for that acknowledgement and that practice.
- keep fighting, let’s keep talking to each other, not just about success, but also about failure.
- keep talking to everyone else who gives a shit about housing.
- find ways to work around the political frameworks that keep us down as much as we can.
Let’s do that instead of pandering to them in the mere hope of getting thrown some crumbs. Crumbs to keep us busy for a bit while the housing crisis (yes, again, dear Mr Jenrick, crisis, not problem!) intensifies.
We have so many brilliant people living in the sector’s homes and working in the sector. It’s time to stop thinking for each other and mistrusting each other. It’s time to look each other in the eye and take a chance on each other and work together.
On this #Housingday, let’s decide to draw a line and turn talk and frustration and anger into action. I know there is the appetite, we just need to find the courage. Be courageous. Please.
About Housing Day
Housing Day is an annual virtual event to celebrate social housing as a whole.