Homeless In the UK? Join 170 Year-Long Wait List For Social Housing

Hidden Homes, Wandsworth photo by mhclg is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
A new housing development in England that includes 38 affordable units. Unfortunately the affordable housing being built will be of limited help to people hoping for relief from high rents and no help at all to those who are homeless.

Two UK articles in the Guardian neatly bookend the depths of an affordable crisis that is far more than the national concern of a single country.

First, the Guardian quotes Shelter, a charity which, among other goals, does research, and proposes and provides solutions for homelessness. According to Shelter’s best estimates, there are more than 320,000 homeless people in Britain.

At the same time, another Guardian article focuses on virtually the only permanent solution for homeless people: housing available at social rents. Less than 6,500 such housing units were built over this last year. The opposition Labour party has been quick to point out that at this rate, it would take 170 years of construction to house those who are currently on waiting lists for social housing.

In other countries the situation may well be just as bad, or worse. Canada’s long-overdue federal initiatives focus on refurbishing much neglected existing stocks of social housing. Great. But how much new social housing will be built, if any?

In the United States, beleaguered public housing providers scramble for income from any source. This includes renting to people poor enough to win rent subsidy voucher lotteries, in order to cover long-absent direct funding from the federal government. New social/public housing? Not in the present climate.

Where might the blame be laid for these sorry states of affairs? One obvious culprit has been the canonization of public-private partnerships and support of ‘small government.’ The result is convenient to private industry: elasticizing the definition of ‘affordable.’ Depending upon the adjustable meaning of affordable, it can refer to a small segment of citizens, anywhere from the unemployable up to the heart of the middle class.

If an elastic definition has produced satisfactory results for private industry, the nature of public debate has been deeply muddied by misconceptions about which definition of affordable is driving any particular discussion.

Politicians who are touting one or another elasticized version of ‘affordable’ can suck all the oxygen out of a debate that ought to include several different population segments in dire need of housing.

One recent example has been New Zealand’s ambitious Kiwibuild program, which seemed to promise a vast array of new homes, built with innovative techniques to solve New Zealand’s entire affordable housing problem.

Well, okay one segment of it, at least.

Many startled and angry Kiwis reacted to recent news: ‘Kiwibuild? Oh no, it’s not for the poor.’ Read more here: The Lightbulbs Go On In New Zealand: Oh . . . You Mean THAT Kind Of Affordable Housing

Many segments of economic classes that are included in different definitions of affordability may indeed suffer dire inconvenience as well as a crisis of expectations in their search for affordable housing where they prefer to live. But it is those with the very lowest incomes who can not even afford to move, whether they are already homeless or one missed bill payment away from becoming so, who face the ultimate disaster: no home at all.

For more on the terrible disparity for those who need housing the most, read in The Guardian: At Least 320,000 Homeless People In Britain, Says Shelter

And for evidence of a government completely distracted by the siren song of ‘public/private partnership’ flavours of affordability, read in The Guardian: Construction Of Homes For Social Rent Down 80% On A Decade Ago