Britain's Housing Crisis

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Britain is in the middle of a housing crisis. The country is building only half the homes needed to tackle a severe housing shortage. In Britain, rising house prices have been willed by public policy over decades. The fallout for families, communities and business has been severe. And with the lack of new homes, house price increases are at their highest since before the recession. An invisible city of vulnerable and excluded people does exist in Britain today. Crisis has estimated that there are 380,000 hidden homeless people trapped in circumstances that leave them on the fringes of society. They live in hostels, squats and bed and breakfast accommodation or stay with friends or family. Their situation is not a temporary interlude – many are trapped in it for years. The average house price across the UK is now £273,000 and in London that figure is almost double, at £498,000. Sad to say, statistics shows that at least 93,000 children in Britain are currently homeless and more than 4,000 homeless families in London have been waiting for two years or more to get a permanent home.

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Narration: Shocking figures released by housing and homeless charity reveal around 93000 children in the UK woke up homeless last year.

SOUNDBITE [English] Daniel: “One night I was crying and said I don't want to be homeless.”

Narration: As local councils push through the regeneration and development of estates, activists accuse them of social cleansing. 

SOUNDBITE [English] Anna Kasperek, Resident: “It doesn't care about people like us it cares about people that are rich and it doesn't care about the working class low earner.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Faiza Ahmed, Host of Program: “This is one of the houses on the estate and the residents have told me the developers have been here and they have basically gutted out the properties, in some cases going as far as flooding them making them unlivable for the residents.”

Narration: With less and less social housing available, charities warn families are being forced to live in unhealthy conditions.

SOUNDBITE [English] Souaad Yousfi: “It is dirty even they bring sofa and they bring from outside. We are animals or what. We are human and we have rights.”

Narration: In this episode of in focus we show the devastating effects of the housing crisis that’s tearing through the UK.

SOUNDBITE [English] Faiza Ahmed, Host of Program: “Britain has been engulfed in a housing crisis for a number of years. Soaring rents, unhealthy conditions in homes and homelessness are all too common today.”

Narration: The lack of affable homes is affecting many across Britain; with many finding themselves priced out of home ownership, forced to pay unaffordable rent or are finding them with no home at all. The number of households in temporary accommodation has reached almost 65000 and charities are warning that the UK is sleepwalking into a homelessness crisis.

Temporary accommodation includes a variety of different type of properties- from flats, hostels to bed and breakfast style places. The Yosuifi family has found themselves living in temporary accommodation for the last two years after being evicted by their landlord and unable to afford another private rental property.

SOUNDBITE [English] Mourad Yousefi, Father: “I gave the key to the bailiff and I took my wife and two children to the council and we stayed there about 5 hours then they said we are offering you a one bedroom flat but in Ilford. I told them how come one bedroom flat with two children and they said, no, no don't worry it is just temporary. I said what do you mean temporary? They said to me for maximum between 6 months to one year.”

Narration:  According to Unite the Union, In October 2010 1 in 10 private renters in England reported they had suffered ill health because of the poor state of where they live, many saying they had problems with mould and damp, electrical hazards and pest infestations.

SOUNDBITE [English] Mourad Yousefi, Father: “We also have plenty of mice everywhere and here as well. The children they are scared to sleep here and one time they are sitting here and Watching TV and they saw the mice playing in the kitchen they start crying, shouting we cannot stay here.” 

Narration: A report released by UK charity shelter revealed that bad housing conditions such as overcrowding can have a devastating impact on a child’s life impacting their health, education and development. The Yosuifi family is all also forced to sleep in one bedroom.

SOUNDBITE [English] Riad Yousfi, Son of Mourad: “I can't sleep like that because there is something that is stamping up there and because I can't even sleep and my brother his bed is broken and I can't get in and I really want to play with him.

- Where so you play in the flat?

- In the flat? Nowhere.

- Why?

- Because it is small I can’t run.”

TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00

Narration:His mum told me the reason fit we are getting wet it is because of the bath room fell of damp. Experts are warning the crisis damages lives, breaks up families, blights employment prospects, reduces mobility and slows the economy. 

Unable to move his young boys to nearby schools due to long waiting lists Yousifi has found his ability to work has been severely hampered.

SOUNDBITE [English] Mourad Yousefi, Father: “I can't go to work let me be honest with you because my wife works part time so the days she works how can I go to work with children. It is not easy for me even it is far away from here every day you should go 6 miles for one way.”

Narration: Although this accommodation is described as 'temporary', in practice, many families find they are forced to spend a long time in such living arrangements due to the current shortage of settled housing.But despite the poor conditions in many cases families have to pay large rental costs.

SOUNDBITE [English] Souaad Yousfi: “This property is expensive. Do you know how much we paying a month nearly 900 pounds and we pay full council tax and we are legal and when we ask for stuff  for example we asked for bed  for children and they bring the bed you know I can't leave my child sleeping on it you know. It's dirty; they collect it from the street. It is dirty even they bring sofa and they bring from outside. We are animals or what. We are human and we have rights.”

Narration:  The family have contacted the council on a number of occasions, but told me the local authority have failed to get back to them. Brittan’s housing crisis has been blamed on the shortage of homes across the country. In May 2014, Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, complained that house building in the UK was half that of his native Canada, despite the UK having a population twice the size. Housing activist Eileen Short believes it’s the shortage of affordable homes which is the key issue here.

SOUNDBITE [English] Eileen Short, Defend Council Housing: “Well there are two things going on like in the last 20 years in Britain like the rest of the world has been to denigrate public provision and the welfare state and telling us that everything private is good and that in British terms has meant that public housing council housing has been privatized, sold off and demolished and now you have two million less homes than we did twenty years ago.

In the 1970's 1 in 3 British people lived in a council house and now there are only 2 million of those everybody else scrabbling and competing in the private market.

At the same time there hasn't been much private building since the market crash and so we get less homes with more people competing for them and rent is soaring and that's what's really squeezing everybody that isn't in the top 5 percent.”

Narration: A decade ago, the Barker Review of Housing Supply noted that about 250,000 homes needed to be built every year to prevent spiraling house prices and a shortage of affordable homes. But experts say this target is not being met. Despite the shortage an investigation carried out by the Evening Standard last year revealed 700 “ghost mansions” worth a total of £3 billion lying empty and unused across the capital.

SOUNDBITE [English] Liam Barringon Bush, Housing Activist: “There are tens of 10,000 of properties around London that are sitting empty and just accumulating wealth for people who don't need that wealth whilst people who do need homes are unable to live in them.

But I know a lot of these developments are becoming second homes for people who commute into London for a couple of days a week if that. And more beyond are advertised around the world in financial centers as investment so it is like advertisements in the Qatari press saying invest in London properties it is the best investment you can make. People never have any intention of living in them and don't plan to rent them out.” 

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 Narration:  Activists have also said the lack of available land to build and less homes being built by the state has added to the problem. Between the late 1940s and late 1950s councils built more homes than the private sector. Right up to the late 1970s local authorities were building 100,000 homes a year. So far these figures have not been matched.

SOUNDBITE [English] Eileen Short, Defend Council Housing: “These are the precious homes which in London at least face demolition. Instead of building more of them the government is undermining them and doing benefit cuts and giving developers the green light to demolish them.”

Narration: In recent years a tide of gentrification has swept across London. The issue is hugely divisive and has been met with protest.Those in favor celebrate it as urban improvement and regeneration, while those on the other side see it as social cleansing.

SOUNDBITE [English] Eileen Short, Defend Council Housing: “There is a notorious example at the elephant and castle the hay gate estate of 1100 council homes- affordable homes life time tenancy a community of people neighbors were demolished and is being replaced by 2400 homes but only 17 odd are social housing. That’s what developers call regeneration boy what we call it is displacement and social and ethnic cleansing. Because people who could afford to live in that development are driven out to make way for people with a lot more money and that is the crisis what London sees.”

Narration:  Since the 1990s both the conservative and Labour governments have targeted council estates for various ‘regeneration’ programs justified through so-called ‘mixed communities policy’. By redeveloping council estates into ‘mixed communities’, national and local governments claimed to tackle ‘deprivation’ and ‘social exclusion’.

Councils and their regeneration partners made up of property developers and housing associations say that council residents will be able to return and live in those redeveloped areas. However, critics have said there is title truth in this and that in many cases people are forced to move from their area into other council homes or the private sector.

SOUNDBITE [English] Eileen Short, Defend Council Housing: “This is increasingly happening across London and Britain that those people who do the absolutely key and necessary jobs from teaching our children to sweeping our hospitals and serving coffee, baking food in canteens those are being driven out due to pressure of rents and lack of alternative to private renting.” 

Narration: The regeneration of the old Grahame Park Estate in Colindale to create New Hendon Village is one of the largest projects in London. Grahame Park was Barnet Council’s largest housing estate with 1777 homes built by the GLC in the 1970’s. Some parts of the old estate are still standing and but some of the residents told me those blocks will soon be demolished and they too will have to move out of the area, in many cases out of London.

SOUNDBITE [English] Faiza Ahmed, Host of Program: “Do you think that you know some people say that take care should just take care if the council offering your accommodation and say other part of a UK, you should take there if you can’t afford to live there why do you deserved to be here?”

SOUNDBITE [English] Naomi Foster, Resident Grahame Park Estate: “Because I work here my family is here my children were born here the opportunities in life are I hear in London all of my friends I hear why should I not because I don't earn more than 2000 pounds a month.”

Narration:  A document that was leaked to the Independent showed  between July and September last year there were 423 families sent out of Greater London, including 115 families sent to Essex, 96 families sent to Kent and 24 to Birmingham.

SOUNDBITE [English] Naomi Foster, Resident Grahame Park Estate: “Here in Green Park it's quite nice we built a nice community with each other we are all friends and the children play together as you can see. The houses if they were brought up to a good living standard would be in good condition they are quite well made and sizeable properties there is no reason for them to be knocked down and being an unsecure tenant we aren't guaranteed anything when this does happen so we could be thrown anywhere at that point.”

Narration: She went on to tell me she feared losing the community they had created here on the estate and stressed the negative impact it would have on the children of both moving schools and losing their friends. But she along with the other residents felt it wasn't something the local council cared about.

SOUNDBITE [English] Naomi Foster, Resident Grahame Park Estate: “The council doesn't care about people like us it cares about people that are rich. It doesn't care about the working class low earner.”

TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00

SOUNDBITE [English] Naomi Foster, Resident Grahame Park Estate: “They don't care about low earners who can't afford to pay 2000 a month. They don't care about children they don't provide no community. We do that ourselves and at the end of the day they are going to chuck us wherever.”

Narration: Recently housing minister Brandon Lewis called for demolition and redevelopment of more council estates across London. He described the move as a way of boosting the supply of homes in the capital. They think things are just going to get harder under the new government.

SOUNDBITE [English] Naomi Foster, Resident Grahame Park Estate: “We have their plans on council accommodation and what they class as affordable rents, with bringing rents up to 80 per cent of the market value. It's too high people aren't going to be able to afford to live. I work as a letting agent and I see people kicked out of their properties all the time that can't afford the private market. They are starving themselves to pay their rent a get in re evicted.”

Narration:  Sweets Way is a housing estate, located in the leafy borough of Barnet in North London. The estate once belonged to the Ministry of Defence who sold it to Annington homes, a private developer who plan to demolish the existing homes and replace them with new units, of which a small fraction is affordable homes.

The estate was home to over 150 families. Residents were forced to leave their homes earlier this year and moved to temporary accommodation out of the borough. 

Since then, the families have been fighting for the right to go back to the estate and in an effort to stop the development, have occupied an empty house, which has become known as the occupation house. Many of the former residents still gather there. 

I met Anna, a single mother of two young children who took me around the estate, most of the houses had metal shutters over the doors and windows to stop any more of them being squatted in.

SOUNDBITE [English] Faiza Ahmed, Host of Program: “This is one of the houses on the estate and the residents have told me the developers have been here and they have basically gutted out the properties. In some cases going as far as flooding them making them unlivable for residents.”

Narration: We went to her old house, which is now being occupied by squatters who agreed to let us film inside.

SOUNDBITE [English] Anna Kasperek, Resident: “It was clean it wasn't anything luxury but it was enough for us. It was clean it was cozy it was perfect area with lots of lovely people around and now it's just heart breaking really.” 

Narration: Anna told me that the conservative led Barnet council had had plenty of time to arrange for alternative accommodation, but had failed to do so. This led to terrible outcomes for some families, who found their possessions dumped on the streets by Bailiffs.

SOUNDBITE [English] Anna Kasperek, Resident: “We knew that it is a private property right now so at the beginning I was such a worry, yeah we did worry but we say ok we can’t do anything and then when Esmaa was evicted one of the residents she had to basically wait till she was out on the streets when the bailiff come and chucked her out on the street and locked all the doors. This isn't right so we came and out said why you didn’t give them the flat two days before you know the eviction is coming. She is your responsibility she is a working parent why won't you help them.” 

Narration: Eventually the council began the process of re housing some of them offering them accommodations which were very far away from their schools, places of work. At times conditions of these alternatives accommodation were substandard condition. This flat was offered to a mother of two.

SOUNDBITE [English] Anna Kasperek, Resident: “It is very difficult the main thing you need is to feel safe in the house. When you are coming back and thinking when are we going to receive the letters where are we going to go and then you are at the point you are living in boxes because you are waiting for the council to rehouse you. It is heart breaking. You are going to work and you can't focus on work because you don't know when the letter will come and when the bailiff will come, where you will end up. All of this is on your mind and you can't function properly.”

Narration: Barnet is an affluent borough with average house price at x and rent at x. Residents here told they felt the housing policy in this area is being engineered to exclude many low income families and remove them from Barnet.

SOUNDBITE [English] Anna Kasperek, Resident: “They want to create a borough for rich people forgetting that we are people who work in the pharmacies in the hospital in home restaurants. You can't keep a borough for the super Rick without the working class it's just not right. When we start arguing about why they send people outside they say we don't have houses here and I say ok you don't have housing but you are the ones who are supposed to build houses you just selling them. Why are you selling social housing?”

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Narration: Many housing activists say the housing crisis has worsened under the last coalition government. Policies such as the localism act and introduction of the bedroom tax have been called decisive and destructive.

SOUNDBITE [English] Eileen Short, Defend Council Housing: “In the last 6 years in Britain was a housing problem has been cranked up by government policies so the last government cut by 60 per cent their spending on public and social housing and that immediately created a problem. They then said that new built council homes and housing association homes should be let at up to 80 per cent of market rents and that cracks up another layer of problem. They started to replace life time tenancy with fixed terms 5 year tenancy or less. And then they started cutting the benefits that people rely on that’s government funding that people rely on to be able to their rent so the bedroom tax and cut means that people who are the most vulnerable and sick and disabled and trying to raise very small  children have been hit by benefit cuts that are pushing them into insecurity and forces people into private renting for people who find it not possible to live in private renting with only three month tenancy and try to rise children so it is a perfect storm.”

Narration: Critics of the government have accused it of focusing on boosting demand rather increasing supply, subsidizing first time buyers with policies such as right to buy, help to buy and rent to own. But Liam feels it wouldn't have been any different under labour.

SOUNDBITE [English] Liam Barrington Bush, Housing Activist: “Both the major parties are committed to the same policies when it comes to austerity and letting the free market run through people's lives so I wouldn’t say there would be a massive difference in many practical situations. Whatever happens we are going to have to fight and organize and keep doing at the last 7 months now what we were under this government as we were during the last.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Faiza Ahmed, Host of Program: “So what can be done to fix the housing crisis?”

SOUNDBITE [English] Eileen Short, Defend Council Housing: “70 housing estates are threatened with demolition. This is large purpose built council and housing association developments with affordable rents. Instead of demolition them we need to invest in them, repair them and open them up so the empty homes on those estates are put back to use and then we need to develop more.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Liam Barrington Bush, Housing Activist: “What social movements provide is a chance to hold all to account at once. Because through organizing and we have seen this in Spain over recent years people can just take over empty homes en masse. This is the point where London is moving too where people will be forced to collectively occupy sweets way estate that we are going to live in places that are sitting empty.”


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