Hi! This is my first blog, today our theme is ‘better housing’.
The first place I lived after I moved out of home was a terrace on Priestley Street near the old skating rink. It was 1993 and I lived with some students at the Art College. We shared our house with a colony of slugs, we had damp – lots of it – and no-one ever took a bath because they’d come out dirtier than when they went in, despite the all round scrubbing. It was disgusting and our landlord was completely disinterested.
We left that house and found a home – somewhere much nicer, for around the same price, on the same street. We’d been unworldly and naive – vulnerable you might say – in believing our landlord when he’d said he’d sort out all the problems for us.
It was in the days when students could still get housing benefit, and for some reason, that seemed to mean that the landlord felt like he held the balance of power – even though we were the ‘customers’. It seems like 20 years on, things haven’t got better in the world of private tenancy for a lot of people. This is why we – the Greens in Sheffield – want better regulation of private landlords. We know that it’s the most vulnerable who are getting the roughest deal.
In practical terms, one of the things which Jillian (Creasy) and I have done recently is to meet with a group of Somali women in Broomhall to look at issues with draughts and workmanship in their social housing properties. The issues are wide-ranging; it’s not just about how responsive the social housing org is, it’s about the quality of communication, about expectations, about the tenant’s capability to sort out some problems of their own. We’re working to open up communication and , with the community, to try and come up with creative ways of making life a bit easier as well as documenting what the problems are.
In our election newsletter we say that not enough homes have been built recently and that we want more homes built – especially affordable housing. The thing which I think is really important here is to rebalance the needs of people and business. Today there are many many more single people than in times past, which means we do need smaller homes for those who want to live on their own, but at the moment a lot of smaller housing doesn’t have enough green space or amenities. There are also still a lot of student houses and corporate apartments being built. Projects like Little Kelham where there’s a combination of types of housing and green space are few and far between. We’re in danger of creating soulless ghettoes where there’s little or no community and high turnover. This isn’t good for Sheffield, which has always had a good reputation for blending housing types in the past.
I’m no expert, but my experience of the planning process has made me realise that the policies, checks and measures are all very process oriented, and largely economically driven. There doesn’t seem to be much space for making strategic decisions about the culture, diversity and future of the communities which are being impacted. Big business has far too much sway over the planning process. To my mind, it would be better if local Councillors – perhaps over constituency boundaries, were making planning decisions about their areas; areas they know well and are interested in, rather than decisions being made on a piecemeal basis by one group of Councillors who can’t possibly be expected to know every nook and cranny of our fair city. I understand the need to make evidence-based decisions, but I believe that this evidence should be a contributor to how planning decisions are made, not the reason planning decisions are made.
The Bedroom Tax. What a nasty piece of work. I’ve said elsewhere how struck I was last summer when talking to people on the doorstep about it. It’s so divisive; not only are communities being broken up, but it stokes the fire under racism when a neighbour of twenty years gets moved out to the sticks to be replaced by a large family from a non-white background. We should be looking after the most poor and vulnerable in our society, not taxing them further whilst corporations and the super-rich don’t pay fair taxes. It’s shameful.
I’ll be talking about fuel and energy more in weeks to come, but whilst I’m talking about housing, it would be remiss of me not to mention that the Greens in Sheffield put in a budget amendment to put solar panels on social housing. This is a policy that has worked well in other areas, reduces household bills for the most in need and cuts our dependence as a city on fossil fuels. There’s also a great opportunity to see various ways in which people across the city have ‘greened’ their homes throughout April and May, see http://sheffield.greenopenhomes.net
Till next time…