3 Women On How Social Housing Shaped Their Lives

Natalie Gil

There are few things more desperately needed in the UK right now than housing (besides clarification of what on earth is going on with Brexit). House prices have continued to rise, despite uncertainty over what will happen when we leave the EU; the private rental market remains out of control and is predicted to get worse; and demand for housing continues to outstrip supply. The UK's housing crisis urgently needs solving.

A lack of social housing – homes rented from the council or a housing association – is a major sticking point. England needs 3 million new social homes in the next 20 years, according to a report by a cross-party housing commission published this week, and Shelter has an ongoing campaign calling on the government to build more social homes. There are nearly 1.2m households on the waiting list – and many more people in need.

Social housing accommodates "more vulnerable groups than other sectors" and accounted for 17% of households in England in 2016-17, according to the government's most recent English Housing Survey on the social rented sector. It's crucial for people needing to escape from hazardous or overcrowded private properties, for those with disabilities, homeless people, lone parents, low earners and people living in fear of domestic violence. In particular, social housing is a lifeline for women. Fifty-eight percent of households in the social rented sector were headed by women in 2016-17, which the government said was "unsurprising". It continued: "Lower incomes and lone parenting – both of which are more prevalent among women – mean women are generally more likely to be eligible for social housing which is allocated on the basis of need."

Ahead, three women who have lived in social housing explain what it means to them.

Temi Mwale, 23, managing director at The 4Front Project, grew up on the Grahame Park housing estate in northwest London with her family, and lived there for 17 years.

We lived in poverty most of my life, so renting privately simply wasn’t an option. We couldn’t afford it and we would have been homeless if it wasn't for social housing. It completely shaped my life. All my work has been shaped around providing support in my community and advocating for what communities like mine need to thrive. It made me who I am and I wouldn’t change the fact that I lived here.

The problem with estates like mine is that they are abandoned and neglected by local authorities and the government, then sold off cheaply due to disrepair. We need investment in them. They are worth saving. I don't live in social housing anymore, but I'm finding it increasingly difficult to rent privately in London.

Eve Connolly, 28, from Derby, has been living in social housing for nine months. She received an eviction notice from her private landlord a week after giving birth. She had been complaining about black mould, caused by flooding in her cellar, where all the electrics were, but these concerns were ignored by the lettings agent and landlord. Eve was eventually placed in social housing, where she lives with her 1-year-old daughter.

When I got the eviction notice, I was already on the list for the council. The eviction notice put me higher up in the priority, but I was still on it for two more months. My house was a mess when we moved in and I had to decorate it myself, but the property is a lot better than my previous one. Social housing has been an absolute lifeline for me. Even my midwives at the previous place would ask why I wasn't being housed by the council. They'd say: "You and your baby shouldn't be breathing in black mould." I went on the list when I was pregnant but because I was working [as a full-time teaching assistant] I wasn't considered a priority, which was frustrating. I'm hardworking and just needed some help.

Once you eventually get a council house they really look after you. This is the first time I've ever lived in social housing and it's amazing compared to how you get treated in the private sector. The problem is getting a property in the first place. I'm someone who looks after properties and has always lived in private accommodation, but it took me forever to get a place. It was hard work having a newborn and getting a new place that I had to decorate myself, but once I moved in they were good about repairing things.

Jenna (who wanted to remain anonymous), 31, a liaison officer who lives in London, has lived in social housing for five years, since 2012, since leaving an abusive relationship with a young child.

I approached my housing provider as I was suffering domestic abuse from my ex-partner. I reached out to see if they could help rehouse me and I was assigned an officer who supported me to apply for a management transfer. This was all processed, while keeping me safe and I was then moved to alternative accommodation that was safe for my child and me.

I don't know what I would have done without the support of the officer assigned to me and the management transfer. I'd probably still be trapped in an abusive relationship. I now feel safe in my own home and have been able to rebuild my life for me and my daughter.

*Interviewee not pictured* Photo by ADAM KUYLENSTIERNA

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