[Ben Reeve Lewis is getting ready for Christmas …]
Well here we are, Wednesday night for me, a few days before Xmas and I have been poring over me previous posts to see what happened this year.
Like everyone else, as usual I am run off my feet in the last minute rush. I’ve just made some pate and a ham is boiling away as I type.
I have dealt with 3 illegal evictions this week, including one where the landlord threw an entire family’s belongings into a skip and rather embarrassingly had an unexpected; last minute court appearance on Monday dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and baseball boots. Thank you Judge Brooks for being relaxed about it.
Frazzy gave me her Xmas list (shoes….now there’s a surprise…size 4 – European size 37 or 39? Nobody seems to agree) all of which are out of stock so I have to combine a short conference on the mortgage rescue scheme on Thursday afternoon at Kensington Town Hall, with a late night shopping spree in the west end, trying to figure out what to get a woman for Xmas when her fella has the dress sense of Jimmy Saville…..god rest his ego.
In strictly journalistic terms 2011 has been an amazing year for housing issues. We began simply in the throes of a recession and a housing crisis but as things have developed things have spiralled downhill faster than a one-legged fly in a pitcher plant.
Grant Shapps, our housing minister is proving to be as disconnected and delusional as any politician is capable of being. He had an easy run for the first 9 months in that his only opposition was Labour’s shadow housing minister Alison Seabeck, who proved to be about as effective as a polythene bag in a nuclear attack. If it was possible for a politician to have absolutely no views on the world she was supposed to be representing, Alison was it.
Shapps’s own high points of the year seemed to be the bizarre championing of using houseboats for the homeless, indulging in a pointless stunt of a night spent in a sleeping bag to highlight the plight of the homeless and the production of a housing strategy that had less surprises than a Paul Daniels magic show and again re-stated the government’s obsession with homeownership in a climate where nobody can afford to buy and in a year when the social phenomena of ‘Generation rent’ was announced by the Halifax.
Channel 4 raised awareness of the vast but hidden army of rogue landlords (in which I had a short 10 second appearance), Shelter advanced a well-meaning campaign against the problem that garnered much popular support but resulted in a critical article from me in the Guardian and got me some unpleasant emails and tweets from Shelter for not towing their line.
I used to train for them……..they haven’t asked me back.
Restrictions on mortgage lending has made it so difficult to be a first time buyer that people have a better chance of getting a sensible response from a Nigerian 419 scam email where God tells someone to place a million pounds in your bank if you will only let them know what your account number is.
On the plus side Labour replaced the terminally pointless Ms Seabeck with Jack Dromey, a not exactly unflawed character himself but at least he had ideas about housing and, God forbid, dared to express them.
For us Londoners we are moving into mayoral election time and both Boris Johnson and Ken Livingston have announced that the core of their campaigns will be based on renting issues. Ken promises to create a new kind of social lettings agency that will guarantee to keep PRS rents below a third of Londoner’s take home pay and the scruffy haired, eccentric one promises to bring in a blue badge, unified accreditation scheme for landlords and agents.
Both are doomed to nothingness. Boris’s scheme has no identifiable set of standards, he introduced the idea of the scheme without any research or back up plan and I fail to see how Ken can buck basic housing law and introduce rent caps that nobody else in Britain can do.
While all this has been going on homelessness applications have been on the increase. Most recently Leeds council revealed that their applications have risen 200% in the past 2 years. This is while Shapps has been promoting the admittedly very useful ‘No second night out’ campaign, urging people to call the hotline if they spot people sleeping in a doorway this Xmas.
I will certainly do just that if I spot the unfortunate person, secure in the knowledge that action will indeed be taken. The thing is, street homelessness is actually a tiny portion of the real homelessness problem but it is the most visible embodiment of homelessness that is actually dwarfed by what is really going on, as evidence by the Leeds statistics and today’s figure showing that homelessness in Wales has risen 5 times the normal rate.
It is one thing to be seen camping out Mr Shapps but quite another to address the fact that your government’s housing benefit cuts and the escalation of the ‘Son of right to buy’, is creating more real homelessness cases than you can shake a designer fingerless glove at press photographers with.
Many blogs and property magazines this year have been shouting about what a great time it is to be a landlord. Rents for some reason being persistently described as ‘Buoyant’, for which, if you are unfortunate enough to be a tenant, means debt and depression.
While rents continue to go through the roof (80% higher in London than nationally I read today) some quieter figures seep through of a similar rise in rent arrears and late payments but I have yet to converse with anyone who has made this connection.
It aint good really. It is a housing crisis after all and, I have to say, having worked in this industry since before I could even grow hair on my chest, that I have never known such a bad time as this.
On a personal up-note I have been blogging and generally making a nuisance of myself around the housing world and receiving a few death threats into the bargain from people who don’t like my opinions, including emails from people wanting to know my address so they can come around and beat me up for what they perceive as slights on cockneys when I was born and brought up in Deptford and have an accent that would make Alf Garnett sound like Steven Fry.
I would like to thank everyone I have made online friends with this year. Tessa herself. We have only met once but she is a diamond and an honest person to work with, HMO Landlady, whose writing is definitely one to watch and she seems like a brilliant human being, Mark Alexander, Jack, Neil and Teena from Property 118 who I also write for and who regularly produce challenging responses.
Hannah Fearne at the Guardian….I promise I will write that article…honestly.
Phil Allen who has been filming a documentary about my mad job.
Antonia Bance at Shelter…..I know you hate me but I won’t shut up.
And people who I have exchanged ideas/crossed swords with in 2011, who include Sharon Crosland, JS, Nearly Legal, Francis Davey, David Smith, William Flack, David Reaney, Ron Heywood, Mary Latham. Sorry if I missed anyone there. Long may our discussions continue, even if we don’t agree.
Finally a very happy Christmas to all of you from me and Frazzy who you hear about endlessly even though none of you know her.
Our mate Dolly came over last night with a Christmas present of 2 washing up brushes that amazingly look just like us and a real photo so you can finally see what the queen of nagging looks like.
Ben Reeve Lewis
Ben has started Home Saving Expert, to share his secrets to defending people’s homes from mortgage repossession Visit his blog and get some help and advice on mortgage difficulties and catch up with him on Twitter and check out his free report “An Encouraging note on Dealing with your Mortgage Lender” and have it sent right to your inbox.