I’m back in the West Country and on TV residents of a local estate that is being transformed by the major local social landlord are complaining about being forced to move out of shabby housing on a run down estate called Foxhill if a council decision goes through to demolish the space and rebuild there.
Across the road from Foxhill is Mulberry Park with hundreds of gleaming new properties almost ready for habitation, following transformation of on an old MoD site. The developer, a social landlord, has promised to rehouse its tenants there on the same rents as they currently pay. For homeowners who took advantage of the right to buy over the past thirty years, there’s the offer of 10 per cent more than market value by way of compulsory purchase.
And still people are protesting. At first I thought: 'They're just worried about change'. But no, they’re right to resist.
Renters are fully expecting smaller properties for the same rent. But homeowners who receive more than their property is currently worth will still not be able to afford a new property in the area. New 2-bed homes in Mulberry Park are £320,000+. Homeowners in Foxhill are being offered half that.
The local paper, the Bath Chronicle reported:
“Rosemary Oliver has spent the last 30 years living on the estate but owns her own home after buying it from the council. The council offered her £155,000 for it, and told her she could buy a half-share in a one-bedroom home in Mulberry Park or move outside of Bath.
“What can I buy for that amount?” she said. “I can’t move out of Bath. I have a disabled mother I look after and a disabled friend I look after. It’s disgusting. I bought my house from the council. At my age, I don’t want to move from a two to three bedroom house to a one-bedroom home.”
When I worked at The Big Issue there was a perennial complaint that betrayed antipathy in some of the most well-meaning liberal supporters. Justified were the phone calls reporting vendors breaking our code of conduct while selling the magazine. Forgiveable were the weird moans that the streets were over-run with sellers, as if the public would rather have each of them back begging in doorways with little likelihood of moving on. The comment that caught my surprise each Christmas was this:
“I don’t mind giving but not when I see this homeless person has a mobile phone and better shoes than I can afford.”
For Big Issue sellers, those shoes were the fruits of their labour, buying and selling day in, day out. At Christmas, sales go through the roof because suddenly the public sees homeless people and shares a happy transaction to salve their conscious. It’s a boost and those brilliant white trainers, yes, out of the financial reach of many of us, are a symbol of that enterprise. What’s more, they will be worn more often for longer and work harder fending off the damp and cold that comes with homelessness. To deny them that luxury is to say, “I’ll help you so long as you don’t end up better off than me.”
Could it be that this qualified support for the most disadvantaged people in the country is the way authorities now approach housing development? Even social policy in general? Is there an inherent jealousy more affluent people have of the have-nots when they have something worth having? Or just a frustration that the opportunity to make money off it is going to waste?
On Foxhill, the fact that the value of the existing properties is half what the new builds are worth is the key. For the developer, if they could just get their hands on the land, they could double its value. (More than double its value, actually, because many of the houses have a large footprint, with space enough for two houses or maybe a small apartment block.) And why should someone without the resources to redevelop the home they own be allowed to squander the opportunity?
The homeowners should be paid ‘new for old’ by way of compensation. If it wasn’t illegal, homeowners with full buildings insurance would be better off burning their home to the ground – at least the pay out would cover the cost of a lovely new, modern standard home. Compulsory purchase should work that way.
The government has just announced it will ban leaseholds on new properties for similar reasons. Homeowners are finding the ground can literally be sold from beneath their feet.
For renters in Foxhill, if they cannot get the same sized home, their rent should be proportionately smaller too. They are not choosing to move, they are being forced to. And the local authority is complicit in this game of developers making money with little regard for the communities they displace to do it.
Post-Grenfell, the spotlight should now fall on how cosy local authorities are with the developers. Media investigations, and government inquiries, should be digging around to expose these conflicts of interests too when it comes to decision-making on regeneration around less well-off communities.
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