Catrin Lewis is a Tenant & Resident Involvement Support Officer; aspiring journalist & CIH Rising Stars Cymru finalist 2014
When I first learned of the Council Homes Chat campaign, I knew that it was something I wanted to get on board with. When I gave my first presentation at CIH Cymru’s conference this year, I spoke of wanting to help change the image of social housing, its tenants, and the successes that we are all a part of. I told all those delegates about how I wanted to alter perspectives and show the country what we are all made of, and who we are.
However, when it came to writing this blog, it turned out that it was incredibly difficult to put into words how I feel. I admit, I have never been a social tenant, and probably never will be. Yet I feel incredibly strongly about the benefits it brings tenants, communities and the country as a whole. Despite three years studying it and a lifetime of a Neighbourhood Officer mother talking to me about the Right to Buy, I still have never understood why government deemed it an excellent idea to sell off one of Britain’s greatest assets. I despair at the prospect of having to choose between living with my mum for what feels like the rest of my life, or being at the mercy of a private landlord who won’t see me as a person, but as a series of numbers and figures that will be filling their bank balance each month. Mostly, I’m disappointed that I will probably never be a part of the communities that the South Wales valleys used to be filled with. Strong, vibrant communities which cared for each other, came together in time of hardship, and worked to make their neighbourhoods better places to be. These are now fractured, limping along, a shadow of their former selves.
Even when I applied and gained my job at a Housing Association, I think even my perception of council tenants was a little skewed by whatever popular scrounger story was in the newspaper. Quickly, I met tenants who worked hard to support their homes and household, wanted to make a difference in their community and most importantly, were sick of being told that they were akin to the scum of the earth because of their tenure. These tenants were from all walks of life, held different jobs, held different values. They were, I realised, wanting to smack myself in the face for being so daft, just like everyone else in the world.
As I’ve come to meet more of those involved with social housing in one way or another in the last year, I’ve realised one major problem. People see housing as a necessity and everyone would agree that each person deserves somewhere to call home. Yet, unlike roads, hospitals, and schools, previous political figures and those in authority have done a fantastic job in trying to downplay the amount of responsibility the government should have towards it. Everyone knows that a decent home with a secure tenancy provides the basis for improved educational attainment, employment opportunities and health, yet we are essentially told that we do not deserve homes unless we are at the very bottom of the rung. We have been told this until it has become a part of the British psyche, that social housing is for the scrounger, the teenage mother, the person with disabilities, the elderly.
So what does social housing mean to me? It’s security. It’s safety. It’s something that we’re in danger of losing; renamed and rebranded on the sly until it no longer means what it meant to. I may never live in a council house, but I will defend the right to it, and the reputation of those who live within it. I will fight for more to be built, helping to create jobs, restore communities, and solve this housing crisis that we are all a victim of.