No Answer To The Housing Question

Michell Soares Gonzales despairs of Newham Council’s ‘core strategy’ for housing.

Newham, that place where rubbish cozies up to the sides of the streets and fly-tippers regenerate the urban environment every week. Where the infamous Council tower blocks have not received a caring hand since god knows when, and the fact that drugs have taken over in some places is evident to all except those in ‘authority’.

I admit I’m exaggerating. It’s not all that bad, and I should know since I live here myself. But I need to let off some steam, having been invited to consider Newham’s ‘core strategy’ and what it means for the housing shortage in this part of East London.

Housing has always been a problem in these parts, and this part of London town has always been considered a problem. Here’s what Charles Dickens had to say 170 years ago:

‘A suburb on the border of the Essex marshes which is quite cut off from the comforts of the Metropolitan Buildings Act; in fact, it lies just without its boundaries, and therefore is chosen as a place of refuge for offensive trade establishments turned out of the town, those of oil boilers, gut spinners, varnish makers, printers’ ink makers and the like. Being cut off from the support of the Metropolitan Local Managing Act, this outskirt is free to possess new streets of houses without drains, roads, gas, or pavement.’

Still ‘cut off’ to this day; but instead of houses with no drains, roads, gas or pavement, in the present year of 2015, there are no houses at all to cater for the expected growth in population.

This is indeed a core problem requiring a borough-wide strategy. Hence the borough council devised a strategic document which promises ‘a sustainable mixed community with affordable prices’ in response to the area’s special needs; and big developments should be comprised of 35 -50 per cent affordable homes, of which at least 60 per cent must be social housing.

Some hope!

The latest large scale housing project is the re-named and regenerated ‘Silvertown Quays’, where 3000 homes are to be created by the end of 2016. Are these going to be ‘affordable’ for families on low wages and housing benefit? I’ll believe it when I see it. Going by what I’ve heard so far, nothing could be further from the truth.

‘We will be “removed” in a couple of years, maybe sooner,’ predicts Laura, a mother of three who has lived in council housing for the past 10 years.

‘I was living in Stratford before the Olympics came along, then I only had one child and didn’t mind to moving over to Custom House. Now I have three children, a job and not enough money to afford a private tenancy. But if I am moved out again, it will be to Rainham or Dagenham. My children will lose their school friends, I will lose my job and we will end up being isolated.’

Anna, Laura’s elderly neighbor, was equally sceptical. For her, council strategy is a way of attracting ‘pockets of the wealthy’, and it’s been going on like this for 30 years.

Not everyone agrees. Gregory, a landlord who six years ago bought a house to rent out in Beckton, recalls ‘this neighborhood was a piece of scum no one wanted to visit, not even to shop at Asda. Now you see different people, from a more varied economy and culture, people who will hand you back the money if you accidentally drop it on the floor – instead of running away with it.

Maybe Gregory can afford to look on the bright side because, aside from the revenue he receives from renting out the property, his capital investment – the value of his house – is reckoned to increase by 10 per cent a year. For him, that’s a good rate of return. But this council – a Labour council – really should return to the recurring question of how to house London’s labouring poor.

Its current ‘core strategy’ doesn’t get anywhere near it.