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Word on the street: Housing policy ‘eroding’ communities

PUBLISHED: 10:30 07 February 2019

copyright Fiona Campbell 2014

The imminent decision by the Royal Free Foundation Trust regarding the sale of Queen Mary House, currently accommodation for its doctors and nurses, throws into stark relief the plight of keyworkers and their accommodation.

It highlights the problems faced by all keyworkers, including police officers, fire station personnel and teachers who are being pushed out of London because of unaffordable accommodation.

Their plight is linked to the housing crisis that sees home ownership slip out of reach of many Londoners due to rising prices, low incomes and a lack of a coherent and cohesive government policy to tackle the current drift. Housing strategy needs to plan for the long term as it takes time to gauge the impact and to tweak it appropriately. But such strategy is sacrificed to short-term election cycles that prohibit any meaningful attempt to innovate and to address the inherent problems we see today. As such, it is likely that home ownership will continue to be the holy grail for many of the current “generation rent”. In a fair society, it should not be.

Housing is a fundamental requirement for everyone’s wellbeing. Yet, today, I hear stories of those on housing benefit in private rented accommodation in Camden being given notice to quit because landlords have hiked the rent above the rent cap imposed by Camden and tenants cannot afford to stay in that property. Camden will not immediately rehouse those tenants until they are about to be evicted and, even then, may not treat them as homeless because it concludes that the tenant could find accommodation outside of Camden at a cheaper rent and so made themselves intentionally homeless.

Even if Camden treats that tenant as homeless, the council may relocate them to Birmingham and other places outside of Camden on cheaper rents. Long term residents of Camden are losing their homes in what seems an unfair and divisive system.

Strong communities are diverse communities but the diversity of Camden and, I suspect, other councils, is being eroded and homogenised by the removal of the less fortunate. The removal of keyworker accommodation is part of this homogenisation as these valued service providers are forced to live outside of London. At the same time, Sadiq Khan and the government trumpet the building of more homes, but they are mostly luxury flats bought by foreign investors which are not what is needed.

The fundamentals of our dysfunctional key worker accommodation and affordable housing generally need to be overhauled as they are not currently fit for purpose. The current drift of our city and our nation’s housing policy will create a larger and unnecessary divergence between those who have homes and those who aspire to have them. Valued service providers may stop coming into London altogether and hospitals, for example, may then struggle to staff their wards and other NHS services. This will impact the service which Londoners expect to receive from their income and council taxes.

I have asked the Royal Free Foundation Trust to keep Queen Mary House as key worker accommodation as, in an informal sense, it is an asset of community value. We need a plan so that, in 20 years’ time, keyworkers can enjoy a short commute to their workplace and home ownership is a reality for many rather than a fantasy, which it is today.

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