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Comment: family homes shouldn’t be reserved for those who can afford them

PUBLISHED: 17:40 14 February 2017 | UPDATED: 17:42 14 February 2017

Alexandra & Ainsworth Estate in South Hampstead, 1978, is a crowning example of Camden Council's radical architectural approach to social housing in the 1960s and 70s. Photo: Banalities/Flickr

Alexandra & Ainsworth Estate in South Hampstead, 1978, is a crowning example of Camden Council's radical architectural approach to social housing in the 1960s and 70s. Photo: Banalities/Flickr

Archant

The government has vaunted ‘family friendly’ three-year tenancies in its new housing policy outline, a far cry from the days of lifetime tenancies.

Reading the Housing White Paper released this week, laying out the government’s latest policy to tackle the housing crisis, which is so acute in Camden, one small phrase leapt out at me.

It was the call for “family-friendly” three year tenancies that caught my eye (not mandatory and not enforced and only suggested for new institutional build-to-rent developments, but that’s by the by).

These may indeed be more suitable for families than the general absence of regulation that currently prevails in the private rental sector, but only slightly. Having to move house every three years – perfectly likely if the rent rises or the landlord company sells up or goes bust – often with the associated disruption of moving school and leaving friends is hardly ideal for families with children.

But the fact that a three-year tenancy is vaunted as some kind of progressive, family friendly policy reveals just how far our aspirations and priorities around housing have shifted in the past three decades.

In the 1960s to the early 1980s Camden council tenants lived in some of the best modern architecture being built anywhere in the world at the time with a lifetime tenancy to boot.

Their children could spend their entire childhoods there, attending local schools and then when they left home, there would still be the family nest to come back to, not an essential perhaps, but certainly a benefit homeowners who remain in their family homes enjoy.

More importantly, those few, often elderly, tenants who remain today are part of a community where neighbours sometimes provide basic care, or at least a chat, while local cafes and shops also keep an eye on them.

Nowadays, that security of tenure is a luxury preserved only for those who can afford it – in Camden, the third most expensive borough in the country, that’s truly the rarefied few – and the government and society at large shows no signs of thinking there’s anything wrong with that.

The old way may have had its flaws, not least how expensive some of the developments were to build and maintain (the council’s idealistic in house architecture department were insistent that only the best would do) and of course there was Right to Buy.

But the principle of a decent home for life for all, not just those with money, is one we all fail by forgetting


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