Winners and losers in the hunt for A Home of Our OwnPosted: October 20, 2021
Originally published as a column for Inside Housing on October 20.
A young couple living in a caravan because they can’t find anywhere to rent let alone buy wait for winter and cold weather.
It might be an everyday story from the housing crisis except for two things. First, this is the final episode in an excellent 10-part Radio 4 series that shows that there are many different local crises not just a single national one. Second, one of them works as a housing officer for the local council.
A Home of Our Own finished on Friday but is well worth catching on BBC Sounds over the next few weeks. Presented by Lynsey Hanley, it’s a journey right around the UK that begins in Cornwall and ends in Pembrokeshire via London, Belfast, Glasgow, Middlesbrough and most points in between.
The opening episode featured a 17th century fisherman’s cottage in St Mawes in Cornwall that was bought by Phil Salter and his wife Judith for £135,000 in 1989 and is now worth over £1 million.
He had bought his previous home under the right to buy and was one of several people in the series who had benefitted from the scheme. However, any discount he got then was miniscule by comparison with the access it gave him to the house price gains he has made since.
Both felt conflicted by the consequences, Phil by the loss of affordable housing and what had become a village full of what he called ‘house farmers’ and Judith by the loss of community in the village she had grown up in since her family sold their parents’ home after they died.
St Mawes is one of the most sought-after places for second homes in the country (think classic Cornish seaside village plus yachts) and like many others it largely shuts down for the winter. As she puts it:
‘I blame myself because I didn’t want my parents’ home anymore and it was sold. That’s what’s happened with my generation, they’ve moved away, they’ve sold their parents’ houses at fantastic prices, so if their offspring wanted to come back to the village there’s no way they could buy a property. Unfortunately that’s the way it is in the village. I know that since my sister and I sold it it’s doubled in price again and that’s in the space of 15 years.’
The series is in some senses the story of property market winners but it was striking how many of them lamented the aggregate effects of millions of perfectly rational decisions like this.
But there were losers as well as winners and Danielle and her mum Lydia represented both. Lydia had bought her council flat and then a house in Tooting, South London, but NHS worker Danielle was priced out of the area and still living with her.
Also among the losers were Dorine and her husband, who both worked at Gatwick airport until the pandemic, but share a two-bed private rented flat in Crawley with their two children and her two sisters. Crawley was of course a post-war new town that was meant to be part of the solution to the housing shortage and is now part of the problem.
Further north, there was two cautionary tales about the limits of home ownership and that ‘home of your own’.
Steve in Middlesbrough was a victim of the leasehold scandal and the cladding crisis living in a one-bed flat whose value has plummeted since he bought it in 2007 while Howard and Margaret were living in a beautiful Georgian house in Newcastle they say has become a ‘gilded cage’ because of problems with the charitable trust that owns the freehold.
That brief selection illustrates the fact that this series ranged far and wide across the country and went well beyond the usual London-centred narratives about the housing crisis.
There were some important aspects missing from this, notably current (as opposed to ex) social housing tenants, although Lynsey Hanley covered the history of council housing in a previous Radio 4 series and the shortage of social housing is a theme running through this one.
The policy context provided by Professor Paul Cheshire at times felt overly focussed on problems with supply to the exclusion of other factors driving the dysfunctional housing market. However, these are minor quibbles on what was a great and sometimes surprising series.
There were some bright spots too, such as the years of effort by a housing association that went into bringing a redundant factory site in Belfast back into use and enabled Katrina to buy near her family and the £1 house scheme that enabled Chris to buy and do up his formerly derelict home in Liverpool.
The series ends on the hopeful note. Rachel (the housing officer living in a caravan) is involved in setting up a Community Land Trust that hopes to build homes for local people in Solva in Pembrokeshire.
The plan has support from Welsh Government, a local housing association and the council and will be part funded by money raised from the council tax levy on second homes.
However, as the series showed only too clearly, these are rays of light in an otherwise grim housing reality.