At our Monthly Meeting on 23 August 2023, our speaker was Barrister, Broadcaster and Author Hashi Mohamed, talking on the causes of the current housing crisis, and where solutions may be found. Hashi Mohamed had previously spoken to us on the subject of “People Like Us”, his first published book. It was therefore no surprise that he came with his second book “A Home of One’s Own”.
With a career as a barrister dealing with Planning and Environmental Law, he had some special insights into the problems with housing. After describing his childhood years in the London Borough of Brent, his attention turned to analysing the cause of the current crisis in affordable social housing provision.
Starting with the mantra “Homes for Heroes” – the call for housing for all after World War I – he examined 100 years of government control of planning and social housing. At the founding of the Welfare State in the late 1940s, Housing was still considered to be a Public Health issue, and was alongside the newly developed National Health Service. Today, housing is more under the control of private companies, some of which are engaged by local government, rather than just a question of public health. The subject of “cladding” was also discussed. Today Housing Associations are required to prove they provide safe and healthy accommodation. One policy that was criticised was the Right to Buy policy, in part because the utilisation of the proceeds of the sales to build more housing never happened to the extent that was intended.
His gaze did not avoid Banks and Mortgage Providers, House-builders, and the importance of the Current Householders, who want to keep what they hold. Amongst many statistics he provided, one showed how the duration of the waiting list for social housing in some boroughs had grown ten-fold in the last 30 years – from 2 years to 20 years.
His conclusion came down to the current system being no longer fit for purpose. The issue is not just with the builders, or the financial institutions, but also with the property owners and the system of taxation – for occupancy, for sale and for purchase. The shortage of professional planners in local authority planning departments, whether through a reduced employment pool or through a lack of available funds, also came in for some criticism. The current inequality is now embedded in our society, and that will need to be addressed if the crisis is to be resolved.
Needless to say, there were many questions from the floor, leading to discussion of the differences between countries in Europe and beyond, the unintended consequences of the Green Belt, the role of the Private Rental Sector, the Right to Buy consequences and the need for new legislation if communities are to come together. Whilst the destination may be clear, our current situation may not be an ideal starting point for this journey.