Affordable housing. How often do we hear that term as a desirable outcome for a regeneration scheme?
Affordable means a rent of 80% of the market rate in London. It’s a seriously small number of people who’ll find that sort of price within their range. Especially when you consider that Council house rents were traditionally based upon local rents and property values, where the rent charged would be, at a great maximum, around 40% of market value.
Curiously though, this staggering increase in rent prices is never mentioned when the glossy leaflet heralding a new dawn for your neighbourhood (barring the slight inconvenience of your current home being bulldozed) lands on your doormat. Precisely because Council estates were seen as progressive immediately after the Second World War, those who live on them are willing to set aside their initial trepidation when an improvement plan comes along.
It’s only as the years go by and the scheme morphs and morphs again that the tenants realise who will benefit; which won’t be them. That’s the case on the Woodberry Down Estate in north London, where I live, and all over the capital too.
The tenants also recognise that the developers, having lost what local support they may have had, intend to plough on regardless. The master plan is all; the self-fulfilling logic dictates that the fact that it exists must prove that it needs to exist, mustn’t it? Even if it didn’t, the degree of power ceded to the property developer means that the locally elected representatives can’t do much more than shrug and make sympathetic noises. Then again, who but the most unreasonable amongst us could ask for more from a local representative? The property developers are apparently as unleashed as the banks were before the financial crisis.
I can understand that some upgrading or rebuilding may be needed, as much on a Council estate as anywhere else. But only as a truly last resort – again, as anywhere else. At the moment, tenant involvement is restricted to viewing the latest scale model of the redevelopment.
Meanwhile, you find yourself comparing and contrasting the general blandishments about social improvement in the regeneration literature with the specific way that the area and the new build homes are promoted as an investment opportunity in the national press. In the adverts, all the photos are taken from extremely well-chosen vantage points, to ensure that there’s no sign of any remaining Council flats. The accompanying text makes no mention of the current tenants; this is because when the redevelopment is complete there’ll be no Council flats or Council tenants left in the area.
By accident or design, the schemes amount to a collective land-grab the scale of which is staggering, resulting in a sort of manifest destiny perpetrated against the poorest people in Britain. Whether deliberately or not, the growing insecurity created when each regeneration scheme drags on erodes yet more community spirit, taking with it the will of the poorest to try and make their voices heard.
To misquote Churchill, “Never has so much been appropriated by so many for the benefit of so few”.
READING GROUP QUESTIONS
You have moved into a £500k flat in a new build tower block, to discover that it occupies part of a demolished Council estate.
1. Would you make an effort to engage with the remaining Council tenants?
2. Do you consider that regeneration schemes have an unstoppable logic of their own, having been designed by the people who know best, which must override all local objections?
3. If, in a few years’ time, London has no more affordable housing and no rent control either, who would carry out the private and public services you rely on?