The Price of Affordable Housing

“You would think that in a rich society there’d be enough for everyone, a home for everyone. Well there isn’t. Take social and affordable housing. There just isn’t enough of it to go round. And what there is, well…

I’ve had enough of sofa-surfing and frankly I think those whose sofas I surf on have had enough too. People are so kind, and though nothing is ever said, there comes a point when you sense they have a limit to kindness. And so they should, because everyone deserves some privacy to live their lives without interruption and hindrance. Everyone deserves the decency of having a place to call their own.

So yesterday I went to look at two bedsits I found on the affordable/social housing list. To say the first was disgusting is an understatement. It was dirty, the paint was peeling off the walls, the toilet had all the griminess of an unkempt public convenience, the kitchen I frankly wouldn’t eat in. The living/sleeping area did have a carpet but it hadn’t seen a vacuum in months. Stains everywhere, all of them dubious, some of them mysterious. Birds had broken in through the window and shat. Spiders had spun their webs without disturbance. Frankly I’ve slept in cleaner shop doorways.

So I went on to the second flat, up four flights to the very top, stairs so narrow and steep I wondered how one could get furniture in, if one had any. And a carpet so threadbare it was almost bald. “It’s a communal area,” I thought, “bound to get more footfall, the flat will be much more inviting.” But it wasn’t, in fact it was worse than the first, even more grime, even more paint chipped, even more cobwebs, even more bird shit. The bathroom was a disgrace and led off the landing, which had a store cupboard belonging to the shop downstairs, meaning they had access past the bathroom so even vanity couldn’t be guaranteed for the tenant.

I came away feeling dirtier than when I went in, more depressed than when I went in, more disgusted. My disgust was two-fold; what kind of person could leave a premises in such a state? Yes I’ve slept in cleaner shop doorways, alongside people with more dignity. And what kind of landlord or council could expect someone like me to say “Thank you this is perfect I’ll take it.” Even if social housing means the rent will be paid from Housing Benefit, is it wrong for someone like me to expect basic cleanliness?  Or is this designed to make me feel desperate enough to take what’s on offer? Should I expect to be grateful for being degraded? And if I could afford to pay the rent, could I afford to lower my expectations?  Could I afford to lower myself even lower than I am now?”

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