[Ben Reeve Lewis shows us how he does it …]
When I write newsround I keep all my housing news feeds on a holding website called “The Old Reader”.
That way all the numerous publications are in one place, one click away, without me having to google each service individually.
Each week’s offerings are lined up as hundreds of headlines to choose from. This is a snapshot of this weeks :
- Parents spend retirement cash to buy children homes,
- Fears cuts to budget will hit supported housing
- Housing experts criticise ‘political dithering’ on green belt development
- 80,000 children in temporary accommodation
This is a tiny example of a fairly typical week’s list. Difficult to get fired up to write an article when faced with hundreds of depressing entries like this week after week.
Where has the laughter gone?
Where are the people that made me laugh?
- HMO Landlady has gone silent since mid-July and
- Planet Property, home of much of the whackier housing stories shut up shop back in February.
- Renter Girl penned her last joyously provocative article, also back in July
Has the UKs broken housing market gotten so bad that even the funsters can’t find anything to laugh at anymore?
At least we still have Ben Brandt over at Rat and Mouse who somehow manages to dig up some of the more leftfield pieces of news that tickle my fancy.
Mind you, even he might break away from his keyboard now and again to call the Samaritans, who knows.
I did get two laughs out of an article in The Guardian about London Landlord Andrew Panayi – he of the ‘Channel 4 Cash Cows’ fame, who is renting out 19 dilapidated rooms measuring just three metres by three metres.
The first laugh is the brilliant graphic which accompanies the article showing a man swinging a cat and the second laugh in the form of the information that the council have decided to stop paying him anymore, deeming the miniscule size of the rooms to be an HHSRS Cat 1 hazard.
Each of these so called ‘Studio flats’ has the bed space, kitchen, shower and toilet all within the same three metres, so you can have a wee whilst simultaneously and rather handily, stirring your soup on the hob.
One tenant said:
“I have bruises on my legs from constantly pushing the bed around so I can get to the shower or the kitchen. The hot cooking plate is less than 60cm from my bed. I am very depressed. I used to live with dignity… councils are supposed to invest in property and not spend £255 a week on prison cells. It is abuse of the taxpayer.”
A spokesperson for Investing Solutions Ltd who manages these rabbit hutches said they were:
“Very, very shocked” by the decision to declare the flats unfit for human habitation”
“The ones I saw were normal studio sized, we don’t measure them. That’s the landlord’s responsibility.”
Panayi with his usual charm commented that the lack of space was the fault of the tenants who crammed too much furniture in.
How much furniture can anyone cram into three metres by three metres? There are Buddhist monks who would struggle with that one.
Minimum space standards coming
Of course government, ever on the side of the tenant have announced plans to introduce a minimum space standard for new build.
The article points out that there has been resistance from developers over this suggestion on the basis that the restriction would increase the cost of homes but all is settled to their satisfaction now, as the article points out:
“Resistance from developers may be more muted due to the fact the standard is not mandatory”.
I’m so relieved for them, glad that one got sorted then. The words ‘Chocolate’ and ‘Teapot’ springs to mind.
For some time I have been really intrigued with stories of councils and housing associations using drones to deal with a range of problems.
Some are using them to detect beds in sheds, some for cannabis farms. Inside Housing this week reported on Bromford and Halton, two of the more innovative housing association who are using them to check the roofs of their housing stock.
Why on earth would they do that? You may well ask….I know I did, well apparently it saves tens of thousands of pounds on scaffolding each year. How surprising is that? I like it.
I wish I could persuade my employers to buy me one but I’m not sure I wouldn’t be able to resist the urge to chase people down the street with it, filming the look of horror as they dive into hedges and posting them on YouTube under the ‘Epic Fails’ series, or peer through bathroom windows as it cruises by. Come on….don’t tell me you wouldn’t be tempted.
Assaults on housing staff
Inside Housing also informed us this week that since 2008 there has been a six-fold increase in assaults on social housing staff.
I remember in 2008 training a council in London where the situation had gotten so bad that they were forced to employ mini busses during the afternoon to ferry staff from the office to the tube station because local residents were so hostile.
If they have seen a six-fold increase there then I would imagine they are using armoured cars by now.
The opinion of the various councils and housing associations surveyed was that this development:
“is the latest in a series of mounting evidence pointing to rising numbers of attacks by social housing tenants who are experiencing increased pressure due to welfare reform and the rising cost of living.”
Being, if not exactly a social housing worker but a worker employed by a council to take on criminal activities in the private sector I am understandably interested in these figures.
I have been threatened on occasions too numerous to mention and assaulted in a handful of them, always in incidents when I have attempted to confront people bullying other people.
The hidden cost of targeting criminal landlords
As the fight to tackle rogue landlords gathers apace among the local authority enforcement officer community that I inhabit, these incidents are also stepping up, albeit anecdotally as nobody seems to ask us what we are going through yet.
In the past few months I have encountered environmental health officers who took on the wrong landlords and whose families are now under police protection and officers who were followed home and beaten on their doorstep in front of their family.
We are advised to have our car registration numbers blocked at the DVLA and to use aliases when carrying out standard duties.
This is on top of the routine wearing of stab vests and the exhortations to be aware of booby trapped cannabis farms that can see you in hospital through a variety of medieval Heath-Robinson style contraptions, usually wired up to the mains.
Last year two housing officers were shot whilst attending the eviction of a council tenant
Welcome to housing work 2014.
TRO was an angel
But before any anti-council types think we deserve the abuse that is so often routinely heaped upon us, think on the case this week of one of my fellow TROs Beverley Holdsworth over at Waltham Forest Council.
Her tenant/client named her baby after her following a serious harassment and illegal eviction case which cost the life of one of her unborn twins. The tenant at the sharp end of the stick said:
“It was a nightmare and looking back I don’t know how we got through it. Beverley was like an angel and went well beyond the call of duty in helping us with our situation.”
Beverley commented of the landlords Ogechi and Chanel Anyanwu:
“I find it very difficult to get into the heads of people like the Anyanwus. Elizabeth and George lost a lot of possessions in the turmoil and of course the tragedy of losing one of their babies was just heart-breaking”.
Yes, most landlords are fine decent people but there are still a lot of sh*tbags like the Anyanwus and the Panayis out there and stopping them is what motivates me to get up in the morning and spoil their days, even if people are cynical and sarcastic about what I do for a living.
See ya next week.