Tackling the housing crisis, the government have aims to integrate more social housing in with all other upmarket accommodation, in an attempt to avoid certain areas becoming inaccessible to different social classes. This movement is particularly important in London boroughs, where residents on lower incomes are slowly being pushed out of the areas in which they grew up. However, a system which was once meant to unite residents has been found to be causing great divides, with those in the cheaper accommodation feeling unwelcome in their own buildings.
Ed Mead, Director at Douglas & Gordon, stated that the majority of these issues stem from the developers. It’s a well-known fact that the rulings regarding affordable housing requirements didn’t go down well with developers, and in fact, most of the time “viability assessments” will see the number of homes for regular people slashed drastically. For those houses that do make it onto market, they end with “the result that most developments now have a separate entrance and a different look.”
This ‘different look’ recently came to light for the general public, when The Guardian exposed a complex on Collard Street, whose original design was altered to exclude the affordable housing residents and their children from using the communal play area.
Carol McGiffin of Loose Women stated that “these people are quite lucky to be in a flat at all” but these aren’t people who simply stumbled upon a home. They are hard-working people on average wages. One of the residents of Baylis rightly responded “I pay £1200 a month to live in that flat - that’s more than some people’s mortgages.” And yet it is comments like McGiffin’s that purport an us vs them mentality.
Luckily the residents themselves have a different view and, after creating a community group to tackle the problem, the wall separating them was torn down.
More examples of segregated communities were revealed shortly after, with the revelation that a housing complex in Islington was implementing similar rules, prompting Diarmaid Wrd, Islington Councils Executive Member for Housing & Development, to comment, “this development would never get approval today and we call on all building managers to ensure that existing play spaces are accessible for all.”
When contacted Peabody Housing and developers, London Square, similarly responded, issuing a joint statement promising to desegregate any divided areas.
This backlash towards segregation, shows that housing developers are dangerously out of touch with what residents want, assuming that those who are in the more expensive housing want exclusivity that pushes others out. When in reality, it was the efforts of both private housing residents and their social housing peers that made significant change this year.
Arguments against inclusion, when it comes to communal areas, include the fact that service charges vary for different residents, however it’s important to note that without the social housing facilities, many of these blocks would never have been approved. Social Housing residents also argue that they are paying service charges, which in some housing developments covers areas they can’t even access. New Providence Wharf, which was already hit with controversy after housing development company, Ballymore, refused to cover the costs of removing cladding, similar to that of Grenfell tower, was once again the subject of scrutiny, after residents explained they were paying up to £3000, part of which they claim was being used to fund the upkeep of a grand water feature by the front door, an entrance they were denied use of.
Residents also claimed that they were made to feel “less than” when letters were posted through their front doors during summer months reminding them that certain outside areas ‘weren’t for them’, whilst the ‘posh entrance’ signs reminding residents that a concierge was on hand to help, were in stark contrast to the ‘poor door’ signs that warn of CCTV cameras.
Segregation within housing developments has had widespread condemnation, including from politicians, such as Jeremy Corbyn and Sadiq Khan, but we can’t expect simple comments to create change. Luckily for Londoners however; money talks. Recent developments within the housing sector mean that developers will have to change their priorities when it comes to London housing, as rich overseas investors are no longer using London as a cash cow. Brexit has dampened sales to the point where more than half of the 1,900 ultra-luxury apartments built in London last year failed to sell.
“We’d be much better off with decent quality but lower-spec homes built for actual Londoners. What’s the point in having private cinema rooms that sit empty and resident’s swimming pools with no one swimming in them; it just seems wrong.” – Steven Herd, Founder and Chief Executive or MyLondonHome
Hopefully these will be the statistics that convince developers it is affordable housing that is needed, and that these residents need to be treated with both respect and dignity.