Last week, I attended Community Information Session on Social Housing run by Hackney Council.
Organised by Sustainable Advice in Hackney, the session covered the council’s new lettings policy, who is and who is not eligible to be offered social housing, the criteria residents need to meet, the checks the council makes on applicants and how the council decides who has priority for social housing. The session was, naturally, specific to the borough of Hackney but also was designed to cover social housing applications in general.
Nathaniel Mathews, Senior Housing Solicitor at the Hackney Community Law Centre, gave a summary of the recent developments in the new Lettings Policy of May 2014 and then John Isted, Projects and Legislation Team Leader and Asma Bhol, Medical Assessment Team Leader, both from London Borough of Hackney, talked about their work in social housing.
John led us through the system of allocation that the council uses: dividing people into Emergency, Urgent, Priority, Homeless, General and Reserve bands. Currently Hackney council has 10,297 households waiting to move and 1500 properties on its books. The ways of assessing priority is, as described by Nathaniel, “like a game of chess”, a complex system of points and scores.
Of course, with so many people and so few properties, those with higher need than others should be prioritised. But this has to happen critically, carefully, without misrepresentation.
However it was some of the language used by council representatives to describe applicants that, I feel, signalled a shift backwards towards that Victorian type of language of the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor.
At the event, the description “intentionally homeless”, the warning “we’re watching those types of people” and the observation “those types of people are creeping through” clouded the legitimate assessment work taking place.
I spoke to the Cardinal Hume Centre, a member of CSAN on this issue of language. The Centre provides housing support for homeless young people: “here at the Cardinal Hume Centre, we believe that one of the most difficult issues faced by our clients who are homeless or in danger of becoming so, is the lack of clear and objective information about their housing rights and options as well as the rapidly changing benefits landscape. We are also finding that more and more people are coming to us depressed and disheartened from being treated as a number, as a unit, as a statistic but rarely as a human being.”
Authorities need to speak with professionalism and with accuracy. We’ve got to ensure that the language used – however off-the-cuff or generalised – does not end up adding further to a discourse that targets, scapegoats and misunderstands.
Author: Clare Skelton