Council housing gave me a childhood

Why we're campaigning for green social housing

Council housing gave me a childhood. That’s not just a snappy exaggeration to open this blog with — it’s true. One of the most sobering moments I’ve had as an organiser was when a little girl at a community meeting drew pictures of her dream home, and — bar the pink roof — it was simply the one I’d grown up in. The bog standard council house of my childhood was her dream.

I had security. She was one of the 120,000 children in temporary accommodation, thanks to a no-fault’ eviction a year earlier. I had a garden. She was one of the tens of thousands of kids with no access to green space. I had my own space, to do schoolwork, sleep and play. She shared a room not just with her sister but with her mum, who had shown me pictures of the rotting window frames which rattled in the wind. Above my bed there was no mould or mushrooms or leaking ceilings. Things went wrong sometimes, of course. But things got repaired. Most importantly, my parents didn’t have to worry about the rent, which meant a lot less worry over the other essentials. We were never hungry, never without clothes, never cold.

We should all care about this because it affects all of us. Like all poverty, housing poverty is closely linked to the climate crisis. Private tenants have the privilege of paying more for rattling window frames, black mould and electric heaters, with astronomical energy bills to go with them. But all of us will pay for it in the long run, through millions of tonnes of wholly unnecessary CO2 leaking into the atmosphere, while the bank balances of many private landlords balloon. Private tenants would save an estimated £595 a year if landlords upgraded their properties to a basic C” EPC energy efficiency rating. 

We should all be furious because this situation is the result of political choices. Successive governments have chosen to mar the childhoods of millions by selling off social homes and failing to replace them. 2 million social homes have disappeared since I was born into one, with no hint of this government wanting to build them back at the scale needed, or to fund councils and housing associations to keep those left in good repair.

Successive governments have chosen to mar the childhoods of millions by selling off social homes and failing to replace them.”

Inequality within the system is stark, causing and deepening division. On average, people of colour face the worst housing conditions, and truly accessible housing is far from a reality for most disabled people. Regulation of the private rental sector has been slow and weak. The Renters Reform bill is still only a promise — one which has been broken multiple times since first being announced. If it happens, rent control will be nowhere to be seen, in their place measures to make arrears evictions easier. And after furious lobbying from both tenants and landlords on energy standards, the government listened — to the landlords of course — whom it will likely give another 3 years to bring properties up to scratch, costing tenants collectively an estimated £1 billion in energy bills.

But we should all be hopeful. The bricks and mortar of those homes didn’t disappear. We have enough homes in this country — but the wrong people own them, and the wrong people make the wrong decisions about how much rent the rest of us should pay and what conditions we should put up with. Just as homes were taken out of public hands, they can be put back into them. Rotting window frames can be replaced. Mould can be cleared. Rents can be brought down. We have all the materials to do so — all that’s missing is political will. The government’s, and ours.

We want to make it government policy to turn private rental properties — including those built by councils which have now fallen into the hands of private landlords — into retrofitted social homes, saving tenants millions of pounds in rent and energy bills, and the earth from millions of tonnes of carbon.

This is a radical but genuinely workable idea — a version already being played out in some cities — which could transform our housing system. But the politicians of all parties, who have consistently ignored or smashed our housing system, cannot be relied upon to do the right thing unless we make them. To do that, we need to build power in our communities.

That’s where the Homes for Us campaign comes in. We’re already working with communities and groups living in the midst of the housing crisis across the country, from Birmingham to Yorkshire to Manchester to London. We want to take this idea to them and their councils, to work out how they can make it a reality in their communities and how together we can push the government to adopt and fund the takeback. Crucially, we want to do this in a way which puts those communities front and centre, designing how the policy would work and leading the campaign to get it through parliament. We’re running an appeal to pay for a series of in person events with tenants and those on housing waiting lists. This will be the first step on the road to rebalancing the housing market.

*Our appeal hit its £20,000 target and is now closed! Thank you to all our supporters who donated so generously.

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