The real victims of London’s broken housing market
April 24, 2012
This morning’s story about Newham attempting to place families on their waiting list with a housing association up in Stoke-on-Trent struck home for me. Literally.
Almost ten years ago, I scraped together a tiny deposit, for a (pretty tiny!) flat in Manor Park. I’m living there still, crammed in with my partner Jenn and two impractically large dogs. I’m there because I like it there.
My street looks a lot like the street I grew up in: a long row of not terribly well cared for terraces. When the weather is good, kids play out on my street and dodge cars to play cricket. There are some great local shops, including the tardis-like DIY store at the end of the road, and Istanbul grocery that has the best and cheapest fresh fruit and veg I’ve found in London.
It’s not cutesy – like a lot of poor areas the street scene is cluttered and dirty (walking dogs without them wolfing down chicken bones and choking is an art). Although we mostly rub along well, the neighbourhood changes so quickly that sometimes tensions flare up. Lots and lots of people in my street are really struggling to get by.
But I never feel more like a Londoner than in my street (not even when I’m in Westminster, about which I’m pretty sentimental). And there’s a reason for that. London is now, and always has been built on the backs of the people living in the East End. This city runs on low paid labour and has been transformed over and over again by migrants arriving, working and thriving. When you look out of my front room window you can watch London growing and changing in front of your eyes.
You *can* still get a four bedroom rental in my area for the price of the cap (300pw in Newham, for which thanks to @HCABCrowdmap). And contrary to a lot of my Twitter feed this morning, many local landlords *will* still rent to housing benefit claimants. But you won’t find those lets on Rightmove, you’ll find them in the agencies on the Romford Road. They won’t be fancy, and are often overcrowded, poor quality stock. You can also (just for the record) still buy three-bed houses for £250K in my area, which goes some way towards explaining the persistence of street cricket.
But like everywhere else in London, rents are rising fast, and house prices are recovering. The massive investment coming in off the back of the Olympics will drive rents and prices up still further across the borough, particularly once the redevelopment of the Olympic site creates an enclave of high-end family homes in the middle of an (already expensive) Stratford. And while Newham’s mayor is right to say that astronomical central London prices and rents have pushed more and more people into the outer boroughs, the answer can’t be to push poor families further out and create yet another two-tier borough.
This isn’t really about the housing benefit bill, or benefit caps, or even electioneering off the back of these. It’s about a housing market in London that is completely broken, and in the process is breaking the back of the city’s poorest residents.
Follow @HomesForLondon for more on the London housing crisis.