Four experiences from different customers of thrive homes, in Hemel Hempstead
Homelessness is more than not having a roof over your head; it is, literally, also missing a place to call home. I honestly don’t know how often I have to say it, but I will do it as long as it is needed, and everyone understands and acknowledges it:
To me, having a place to call home is the most important thing in someone’s life. I see it as the place and space from which we can love, learn, grow and where we can get back to when we feel down, ill, anxious, or let down.
This can’t just be a roof over your head, just a few walls, some furniture, and a bathroom. It has to be what you need it to be. It has to keep you warm in cold winters, safe and sane in a pandemic (yes, that’s a thing now), allow you to live your life as you want and need to. They need to be accessible, spacious, and light. They have to be solid and sound, free of damp and mould, dry! They have to be beautiful and shout at you ‘I AM YOUR HOME, YOUR BASE, YOUR ROCK! I’LL KEEP YOU SAFE AND WARM AND WILL LOVE YOU IF YOU LOVE ME!’
I’m writing up all sorts of things that every home (or mortgage) owner in 2020 takes for granted on their wish list. If a potential home hasn’t got one or more of these characteristics, they either won’t buy it, or they will negotiate the price down to leave money to get it to the required state. I know this because that was me a few years ago.
When my husband and I bought our house almost 2 years ago, we had an Excel sheet (Office 365, not Excel 2003, although we didn’t need more than 65k rows to pen down our requirements…) with things we wanted from our new home: must haves, like to haves, and should certainly not haves. Like with many things helped us shape our search for our place to call home, and we were lucky enough to tick off all those boxes, all of them. We were VERY lucky to be able to do so.
People looking for social rent homes (let’s just not say ‘affordable’, because that’s a bullshit term and allows those in power to keep the housing crisis (yes, it is a friggin’ crisis, Mr Jenrick, not a problem, a crisis)) going and driving up private sector rents, are not granted that luxury. Especially if they are at risk of becoming or already finding themselves homeless on the definitional front: not having a roof over their heads. I say definitional because of my description above of what makes a house home.
The choices NOT given to them, HAs and Councils forcing people to accept houses that aren’t suitable for them, whether that’s about the area (e.g. known drugs areas for those recovering from addiction) or away from family and friends and with that their support networks, lead to people remaining or still becoming homeless, as just giving someone the keys to a property you tell them is good enough for (people like) them isn’t enough to give them the keys to a HOME.
Housing providers and councils have their strategies and annual reports filled with phrases like ‘sustainable tenancies’ and ‘more than bricks and mortar’, yet work with voids-based lettings, that combined with Housing Options waiting lists and their policies fail to take into account these very aims and objectives. By saying to applicants ‘You have to accept the next place you are offered because you are in housing need and if you refuse it, clearly your need isn’t high enough’ you are doing the exact opposite of creating sustainable tenancies and practicing the idea that homes are more than bricks and mortar.
I am lucky, and just that, that I have found myself in that position where I can have a list of requirements for the place that I call home. I am nothing special. I’ve done nothing that would put me and my wishes and requirements above anyone else’s. In fact, having a place to call home is a basic human right if it were up to me, and that means that everyone should have choices available to them.
Of course, I was and had to be prepared to make some compromises, as finding something that ticks ALL your boxes is rare, that’s why we split up some must-haves and ‘like to haves’ for ourselves, and for us mere mortals, not having millions of pounds to spend that is the reality of things, and we have to weigh up what is more important and what is less important. But still, everyone has some hard requirements that differentiate a house from a home, whether that’s from a physical need such as access level and wheelchair-friendly to being near family. Living more rural or in the big city. Close to work (when most people still went to an office…) or with the space to work from home.
This last bit would almost require a completely new/separate blog. So, to keep it short, if there’s anything that the last 7 months have taught us is that we need more space. Ban the bedroom tax and give people the option to decide what space they need to feel at home. Now with more people working from home, social rent homes need to offer that space too, and speaking from experience, having worked in the living room for quite some time, having the opportunity to still close the door behind you and separate work and home space is so important…
It feels like an endless rant, this blog for something that I started off with thinking I’d write something positive for #Housingday. But I feel we have no right to be positive about the world of social housing until we are in a place and political framework where social housing gets the attention it deserves, where social housing tenants are put on equal level with home/mortgage owners: are seen as people with needs, wishes and are not forced to become homeless, even if they are ‘granted’ the keys to a door leading some walls and a roof. Let’s broaden the definition of homelessness to allow for that acknowledgement and that practice.
Let’s keep fighting, let’s keep talking to each other, not just about success, but also about failure. Let’s keep talking to everyone else who gives a shit about housing, and find ways to work around the political frameworks that keep us down as much as we can instead of pandering to them in the mere hope of getting thrown some crumbs to keep us busy for a bit while the housing crisis (yes, again, dear Mr Jenrick, crisis, not problem!) intensifies. We have so many brilliant people living in the sector’s homes and working in the sector. It’s time to stop thinking for each other and mistrusting each other. It’s time to look each other in the eye and take a chance on each other and work together.
On this #Housingday, let’s decide to draw a line and turn talk and frustration and anger into action. I know there is the appetite, we just need to find the courage. Be courageous. Please.
Dr Gaby Wolferink – West Yorkshire
Added by Tony Smith – @HousingITguy – 07/10/2020
Never has ‘Home’ been so important as it is today. The world has literally been brought to a standstill during the Covid-19 Pandemic with our homes being pivotal in providing a ‘safe haven’, somewhere we can be safe away from the outside world, away from Covid-19. But for me my home is Pandora’s box……..
I bought my newbuild detached house with my husband in 2014. We; like many others got a mortgage to ‘buy’ our home. We jumped through all the same financial hoops everyone does when ‘buying’ a home, but the big difference is I don’t actually own it. It’s leasehold.
I used the governments ‘Help to Buy’ to ‘buy’ my house. Therefore, I was restricted to Newbuild only. All newbuilds in the North West were Leasehold, I can still hear the sales ladies voice in my head, in fact It’s a voice that will haunt me for the rest of my life “Don’t worry, it’s normal for houses to be leasehold nowadays, you can buy your freehold for a couple of thousand in 2 years”. 18 months later my dreams were shattered when Pandora’s Box was opened, and I was not alone.
They sold me out, they literally sold the land from beneath me. That was my penny drop moment that I owned nothing, that I had no control over what was supposed to be My Home. A Home should provide security and control, but not if you’re a leaseholder. I looked deeper into what this all meant and discovered I needed permission to make any alterations to what I thought was “My home”. I was charged £2,600 consent fee for permission to build a conservatory?! I couldn’t understand this cost and what it entailed. The price to buy my freehold then became over £13,000 instead of the £2000 I had been told. My neighbours charge became over £30,000! I then realised it was a money making racket and our homes were not ours. Govt encourage homeownership but leasehold is not. The government describes Leasehold as ‘A long term tenancy agreement, it’s not the same as outright ownership’.
My new freeholder (sometimes referred to as my Landlord) is an offshore entity who I have been told had bought my freehold as a long term investment. What an absolute insult. I work 14 hour shifts as a paediatric nurse to pay my mortgage and to provide a roof over my family’s heads. But it’s not mine. I am a Leaseholder. I simply own the lease which allows me to occupy the property for the duration of the lease, subject to many restrictions.
In 2017 I started a campaign group called the National Leasehold Campaign (NLC). I never realised what I would find when I opened Pandora’s box. Quickly it became evident that Leasehold abuses were widespread across England & Wales. I had uncovered a national housing pandemic that was causing tremendous hardship to leaseholders of both flats and houses. It was essential Leaseholders were given a voice. Leasehold is a spider’s web that once you are caught in it, it’s very difficult to escape. Leasehold has very deep roots that drains you of every last bit of energy. Leasehold is a strangle hold over our lives.
I have spent 4 years tirelessly campaigning for justice for ALL leaseholders. This is time away from my family that I will never get back. The feelings of guilt I have to battle daily. The term ‘Leasehold Scandal’ is now widely used within the housing sector and amongst government. Professionals agree Leasehold Law is not fit for purpose.
I appreciate I am lucky to have somewhere I can call ‘home’ but it doesn’t deflect from the fact it’s not mine, I am a tenant. Even worse I am a mortgaged tenant. Most professional freeholders are multi-millionaires and they make vast sums of money from the misery of leaseholders whilst at the same time exploiting huge gaps in the current legislation, legislation which was originally introduced to protect us. The home I thought I could live ‘happy ever after in’ has caused copious amounts of stress, worry, anger and outrage. It is truly scandalous.
My story is not in isolation. It is echoed by many of the 6 million Leaseholders across England & Wales. The Cladding Scandal is another illustration of how the leasehold system is stacked against leaseholders. They don’t own these buildings yet are expected to pay. Its immensely unfair and morally indefensible.
I will not stop until people can live peacefully and safely in the homes they pay for. Free from 3rd party investors who used our homes as a cash cow.
Enough is enough. Leaseholders are uniting together to ensure these abuses stop.
“The writing is on the wall for this feudal unfair system and the only question remaining around its abolition is when, not if” Louie Burns 2020
I look forward to getting my life back, I look forward to being able to enjoy my days off work again with my family. I have lost many years fighting this David Vs Goliath battle. I pray there is light at the end of the tunnel so I can live in my home, a home that I truly own.
Katie Kendrick, The National Leasehold Campaign (NLC)
Added by Tony Smith – @HousingITguy – 06/10/2020
When Rachael and Simon’s youngest child was diagnosed with leukaemia, the family needed support from Progress Housing Group to move to a larger property to accommodate a hospital bed and storage for medication.
The appointment of a dedicated liaison officer, from Progress Housing Group, for the family, and a multi-team approach to looking at all the housing options, led to Rachael and her family successfully moving to an appropriate property.
You can watch Rachael’s story here on YouTube : https://youtu.be/d_JaV2AHeSo
Rachael’s story is one of a series of short films that tell the stories of customers as part of Progress Housing Group’s annual review 2019-2020. We share it today for #HousingDay and #HomesAtTheHeart to recognise the crucial role safe and affordable housing plays in all our lives, both in times of crisis – and always.
Progress Housing Group, Lancashire
Added by Tony Smith – @HousingITguy – 06/10/2020
Now in its eighth year, #HousingDay celebrates ‘the importance of home’, the key role a decent, safe and genuinely affordable home plays in people’s lives.
Not many understand the real meaning of a true home more than Warrington Housing Association tenant Margaret who has lived through the trauma of childhood abuse, foster care and bereavement, abusive marriage, and the spectre of homelessness.
In fact, the former teacher would go as far as to say, being able to access affordable social housing when she needed it most “saved her life”.
Margaret ended her abusive marriage after becoming afraid for her small children’s safety. Her husband left the family, sold the house from under them, and went back to live with his parents.
With no family of her own to turn to, Margaret said: “We were left without a home. I had nothing of my own; no money, but we could not stay in that situation. I needed to protect my children, with my very life if necessary. That is when I was put in touch with Warrington Housing Association – https://www.wha.org.uk/ .”
Margaret, then in her thirties, was determined not to let history repeat itself.
She said: “I only had a small teacher’s pension and social security but WHA was so kind and, I would say, saved my life. If it had not been for their support, my little brood may not have survived without being put into care. I was determined not to let that happen as it had to me.
“They provided me and my three small children a lovely home that I still live in now. I and my three toddlers began a new life in this lovely house.”
That “decent, safe and genuinely affordable home” gave the family the safety and springboard they needed to thrive.
Margaret added: “I’m so proud of my three children. My son is now an architect. My middle daughter is a staff nurse at Warrington General Hospital and my oldest daughter is a very experienced care worker for the disabled.”
“I am so grateful for all the help and support I have received from Warrington Housing Association for saving my life and that of my children, who are now serving the community as their life’s work.”
Margaret, now 70, still enjoys the support of Warrington Housing Association as she plays an active role at WHA’s over-50s centre LifeTime. She spent the lockdown taking part in quizzes and exercise classes over Zoom and Facebook art tutorials, in between helping her keyworker daughter with childcare.
She added: “Thank you WHA for all the support throughout this Covid crisis. God bless you.”
Kathryn Dainty – North West England
Added by Tony Smith – @HousingITguy – 06/10/2020
I don’t think I have ever witness such an outpouring of emotion on Twitter as the one that followed the announcement that John Popham had died. Many of us had been following his story about his struggle with cancer and were willing him to survive. At one stage it appeared that he was getting better but it was not to be. His final tweet, ‘This is probably it’ came as shock to us all. The silence that followed was almost unbearable.
Throughout his illness, John continued to tell his story positively through social media. And that is how many will remember him. As a man who was always positive and who always encouraged others to be the same. As a man who was an expert at communicating through social media and who introduced many of us to it. And most of all as a story teller.
John was a great supporter of social housing. He was one of the people who established Housing Day. For a number of years he was at the heart of many Housing Day events. Because of this I have been asked to write a tribute to him on this Housing Day, using the words of those who knew him and followed him on Twitter and elsewhere.
I first met John at the HACT Fringe in Manchester. The now infamous House Parties established by Matt Leach and others. He was a central part of the two Fringe events that were organised. He live streamed many sessions, including a debate I had with my old friend Matthew Gardener. After that he introduced me to podcasting and Skype. We did a podcast together on social housing in 2015. During the podcast I learnt that John and I had both worked for Leicester City Council and that the estate where he worked was next to the one where I was born.
Since then we have regular exchanged tweets and like many of you I’ve often responded to his most famous tweet, what can you do this week to make someone’s life better? Communication, technical innovation, and a passion for positivity are repeated in all the tributes to John that appeared on twitter and elsewhere.
Here are just a few of the many :-
*I met him several time’s during our Comms Hero presenting days. He always got there super early, was always beaming from ear to ear, was genuinely interested in everybody there, truly listened to what they had to contribute and was highly skilled at sparking healthy debate about important issues. In general he was never afraid to be himself and above all, he was kind and caring. I will miss him very much.
*John was a compassionate Socialist who cared deeply for doing good and remained positive throughout his illness
*I am absolutely heartbroken to read this news. @johnpopham was a visionary. Ahead of his time in pushing for digital skills in care homes to reduce social isolation & loneliness. There will be thousands of people who will have benefited from his advice training & support.
*If there’s one thing everyone can do to remember @johnpopham it is to be kind & do things every day to make someone’s life better. RIP John
*Henry Burton’s poem “Have you had a kindness shown? Pass it on; ‘Twas not given for thee alone, Pass it on; Let it travel down the years, Let it wipe another’s tears, ‘Til in Heaven the deed appears – Pass it on.”
And IMHO this is how @johnpopham work will continue on Twitter…
*John was a quietly gentle hero who helped so many. To work with him on social media surgeries was a joy. As it was to share a pint and discuss the merits of Rush. He will be in my thoughts…
*I am saddened to hear this. He was a great champion for the possibilities that digital inclusion offer to those who’d yet to experience it.
*Really sad news John was an inspirational person always encouraging us to reach out and engage more effectively and inclusively than we were – his impact will remain but so sorry for your loss
*So sorry to hear this. A fantastic story teller, giving a voice to many that felt they didn’t have one before. All round lovely guy. RIP
*I’m so glad to have met John and working with him and @sweynh recently on #DrTech show was an unmitigated joy – he shared his great knowledge generously and was guided by a sense of justice to try to bridge #digitaldivide; RIP my friend, my heart is sore
*We are sad to hear the passing of @johnpopham – he was such a kind soul. Over the years he had been an amazing advocate for #UKHousingFast, helping us to raise thousands of pounds for #foodbanks – May he rest in peace, you will always be in our thoughts and prayers #RIP
*So sad to hear of the death of John Popham a lovely man a magnificent campaigner who loved his family his friends & his community passionately. Rest in peace John you fought a great fight.
There were 100s of similar tweets and comments on twitter. I sure there were many more elsewhere. One of the sad things in life is that we often say how we really feel about someone after they have gone. I hope John knew how so many felt about him. Perhaps he is reading them now and smiling. I hope so. I hope his family and friends read them and realise how much he was loved by so many. As Asif Choudry has said he was a true CommsHero. Paul Taylor summed it up in his tribute, ‘you’ll be missed John — and you told a really great story.’
In what was to be his final blog John said, ‘But I am not done here. I want, with my family’s help to build a legacy which is based on my passionate commitment to using new technologies to promote equality of opportunity.’ Well John, you have left a massive legacy, and even a new a hashtag, #bemorejohn. On this Housing Day, I hope everyone remembers John’s great contribution and let us all try and live up to his hashtag. As John would have said, we all have a story to tell, so tell it. Pass it on.
Tom Murtha, Co-Founder SHOUT, the campaign for Social Housing under threat
Added by Tony Smith – @HousingITguy – 05/10/2020
We bought off plan just under four years ago. Was very proud to be the owner of a brand new flat near canary wharf. Was very happy to be living in such an area enjoying London life.
As most people do when they get older and their family begins to grow they realise they need that little bit more space, more green trees and their willing to commute for it.
So then started our new property search. Nice to get out of one bed flat and intl a house with a garden Another exciting chapter. Keen to be out the city. Staring at the same four walls during lockdown had been a challenge for us, but that was behind us and a new adventure wouldn’t be long away.
That’s when we found out. I was in complete disbelief that something could be so widespread and yet not public knowledge. Following grenfell change was rightly need and so was born the EWS1 form designed for buildings over 18m. However following government advice months ago this form was now applicable on a flats regardless of height, despite their being no obligation on freeholders to provide, and no way of leaseholders completing themselves.
I read many stories online believing it simply couldn’t be true and that other people must have got it wrong or simply done something stupid. It was I who was wrong. After speaking to multiple banks and building societies none would be willing to lend on our flat. That means we couldn’t sell it. We needed that form.
Being a practical person I immediately followed up with our management company and freeholder to see where things were. I was astonished to know more than them in nearly every way, but powered through. It would be another month until I spoke to anyone with any sympathy or knowledge. I was told the covid had delayed the process and I should expect no timeframe of any review, assuming no remedial work was needed. It took them six weeks to agree the building was under 18m so I didn’t have much hope. In short we could not sell for years, no definite date. Blame covid.
Story after story followed how leaseholders were being forced to pay to fix work needed on buildings they didn’t own or build. The developers and freeholders simply were able to pass the bill on. What’s worse is this was all legal and had the blessing of the government. Their solution was the cladding fund. A fund for buildings blighted by cladding. Couple of issues. Only for buildings over 18m, only a finite pot of cash, and not covering all the costs they prefer not to mention. Why a four story building like mine should be treated the same as a 30m tower was simply unfathomable.
I spose I should consider myself lucky not yet a victim of waking watch, but a variable mortgage rate – as I can’t remortgage – is costing me hundreds more a month. With little prospect, we have looked at every avenue and how very few options. Our money is tied up in a flat that was deemed safe just a year ago is now a weight around our necks. Costing us more and more each month with no end in sight. I feel sick just writing this. This should be a happy time with a new child, but I find life doesn’t have all that much meaning right now. Ive found myself crying in the shower more than once now, realising how helpless we really are and how little this government seems to care. The hundreds of letters I have sent have all been ignored. Our debts grow through no fault of our own – always waiting for another bill to come through the door.
Leaseholders have been told time and time again how they will be protected, with Robert Jenrick’s last announcement estimating bills of 78 thousand pounds. Per leaseholder. We don’t have that money. I honestly do not know what we would do if that bill came through. That bill we are legally obligated to pay. And the bill Jenrick won’t even engage conversation about.
I’m sickened by the way I have been treated by this government and would never vote conservative again. No one even acknowledges the issue which is beyond belief when people are literally at their end, this is simply ignoring people begging for help, over an issue they have no blame in. We don’t get a summer recess, why do they. The bills don’t stop, the worry doesn’t stop, the nights laying in bed wondering how to escape this doesn’t stop. It’s like a cruel joke. I’ve read stories of people killing themselves over this, and as little as a year ago I wondered how bad life would have to be to consider such a thing. I don’t ask that question anymore, I’m afraid of the answer.
Now I just paint a smile on and tell my family it’s going to be alright. I have to be strong for them. I don’t believe that myself so how much longer will they.
Barry, leaseholder, family of three stuck in a one bedroom flat – East London
Added by Tony Smith – @HousingITguy – 27/09/2020
From a young age, a lot of us dream that we’ll finish school, find love, buy a house and get married.
After finishing university, I moved to Manchester with my boyfriend. So my life plans were going well. Whilst renting, we decided we should get on the housing ladder soon. We saved diligently, so we could afford to buy a place we really loved.
In August 2018, we finally got the keys to our flat in Burton Place. I was over the moon. Finally, a place to call my own!
However, two months later, I went to a leaseholders meeting and found out there were MANY problems with Burton Place… flammable cladding, flammable insulation and fire breaks missing. I was shocked – how could a block of flats been built so poorly?
I tried to put it all to the back of my mind.
It was in April 2019 when we got the letter about the possible amounts we had to pay to fix the building – ranging from £8,000 to £44,000! And that’s for flats with 2 bedrooms. For flats with 3 bedrooms, the cost could be as high as £80,000…
It’s now August 2020 and the end is nowhere in sight. Will the building ever get fixed?
Yes, I have a place I call “home”, but it’s not a real home. A home is somewhere that’s safe and you feel happy. I am not happy or safe in my home, I am in danger every day and facing financial ruin.
Added by Tony Smith – @HousingITguy – 26/09/2020
How important is a home?
I don’t think the importance of home had ever been more apparent to me, and thousands like me, prior to the last year.
In February 2020 we were told by our freeholder that the place where we live is covered, head-to-toe, in a combination of flammable cladding and insulation. Materials nearly as bad as those that were fitted to the Grenfell tower. Materials that should never have been deemed safe enough for use on high-rise buildings.
Since then, every time we go to sleep in the flat we face the very real risk that something will light the touch paper.
It wasn’t meant to be this way. We had worked hard and saved in order to be able put a deposit down on a house of our own later this year. Somewhere we would be able to move on with our lives. Get a pet, have a child. A real home.
Instead, we have spent the 7 months since we learned of the buildings’ safety issues trapped in what has fast become a prison. Not only is a flat we bought in good faith dangerously flammable, it is also likely to bankrupt us, and hundreds of thousands like us across the country.
Since Grenfell, and the government retrospectively changing building regulations after decades of lax oversight, an estimated 600,000 to 3,000,000 are now trapped in their flats. 600,000 to 3,000,000 no longer have homes; they have a dead weight hanging round their necks, threatening to take their lives, their financial livelihoods, or both.
To see so many developers and housing associations smile and pat themselves on the back for supposedly ethical practices while simultaneously charging innocent people thousands for historic building safety issues they did not cause is galling in the extreme. We didn’t cause this mess. You did.
Never has a home been so important to so many. When the entirety of the UK was in lockdown home was meant to be where people were safe, where COVID-19 could not touch us. We traded one fear for a multitude of others.
Fear of fire. Fear of financial ruin. Fear of being trapped indefinitely. Fear that you can’t move on. Fear of being unable to start a family. Fear of your mental health being destroyed. Fear of never being able to have a proper life. A proper home.
These fears are felt by so many across the country. Fears felt due to government, regulators, developers and freeholders all refusing to take responsibility for their actions. Their property.
Leaseholders did not regulate these buildings. Leaseholders did not construct these buildings. Leaseholders do not even own these buildings. Why then, are we being charged to make these buildings safe?
Homes should not feel like prisons. Homes should not bankrupt you. Homes should not fill you with cripplingly constant fear and anxiety.
Homes are important. These are not homes.
Added by Tony Smith – @HousingITguy – 06/09/2020
#HousingDay, the 24-hour social media event, will take place on Wednesday, 7th October 2020.
Now in its eighth year, #HousingDay has played an important role in raising the profile of the social housing sector and ensuring the voices of residents and leaseholders are heard.
The theme for 2020 is ‘The importance of home’ in support of the national ‘Homes at the Heart’ campaign and coalition calling for a once-in-a-generation investment in social housing.
The cross-sector campaign has been set up to highlight the crucial role decent, safe, and genuinely affordable housing plays, not only in times of crisis such as the Coronavirus pandemic, but always.
Commenting on the theme, #HousingDay lead Leslie Channon, said: “Never has there been more of a time, in recent history, where the importance of home and community has been so starkly demonstrated within our society.
“Although I have had Covid19 and I have been ill for many months – I have been very grateful for the home and community I have. When I was too ill to take care of myself, my community stepped in and dropped off meals and went shopping for me. My community has held my family together.
“#HousingDay has always been a celebration of social housing and the important role it can play in supporting people’s lives. We are delighted to be lending our support to ‘Homes at the Heart’.”
It’s easy for everyone to get involved in #HousingDay but first we need to spread the word. Please get the date out there and encourage friends, colleagues, residents and your wider communities to get involved. We would love to hear your positive stories.
Added by Tony Smith – @HousingITguy – 21/08/2020