Friday 8 May 2009

Both policy and attitudes need changing on housing

Our housing report, ‘In the Mix; narrowing the gap between public and private housing' is out today.

Over the last week there has been a good deal of media coverage (national, local and specialist). Much of it has led with a quotation that I use from Thomas Sharpe, one of the key town-planners of the immediate post-war period. Sharpe was concerned that the early council estates of the interwar period had become ‘social concentration camps’.

As ever, the media love a good headline, and the radio talk-shows love a good debate about the ‘sink-estate’. That said, most of the debate and coverage has been very balanced.

The deeper issues have been given a fair hearing. Right at the top of this list of issues is the theme that we have articulated through the language of ‘apartheid cities’.

Strong language, as many have pointed out. But there is a truth here that needs to be taken very seriously indeed. At the literal level, it is still the case that much social housing is concentrated in very poor areas and cut off from services and good infrastructure. But apartheid cities is also a metaphor for a process by which all social housing has increasingly been seen as somehow ‘other’; the denizen of a different type of person from ‘us’, the ‘virtuous’ of a property owning democracy.

It is these two senses of apartheid that drive the report. Both senses must be met by serious policy solutions, and equally serious political argument. Hopefully that argument and debate will have stepped up a gear today.

Guest post by James Gregory

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