You’re not supposed to want to live in social housing but Jess Macdonald is proud to be a council tenant.
Council estates. Dreadful places, aren’t they? Covered in graffiti, stairwells that reek of wee, skinny dogs being walked on lengths of string, and sofas in gardens.
No one’s supposed to aspire to living in a council flat, are they? How many times do we hear people say in tones of unalloyed surprise, “She’s done well, you know? Grew up in a council house.”
Well, can people just stop with that attitude? Stop assuming that a council estate is a terrible place to live, that if you end up on one you are in some way lesser, that you’re part of some subsection of society with no aspiration and no future ahead of you and yes, I am a council tenant and I am proud to be.
I sodding love my estate, and I love my local council even more, especially the farsightedness of them during the 1950s and 60s, when this estate (and many more in Norwich) was built.
It’s fair to say that Norwich didn’t so much embrace the concept of social housing; more stuck its tongue down their throat, and then dragged it upstairs for some bouncy-bouncy fun times. At one point, Norwich City Council was the largest landlord of social housing in the country, which is pretty good going when the population was only around 120,000. And they did it with care.
My development is classed as ‘mixed’. Which means it’s one-bed flats, and three bed maisonettes, so there’s a huge mix of people here, from the family next door to the single bloke in his 30s above me to the elderly couple a few doors down. And it’s just lovely, because superficially, we have nothing in common. Except that we are all council tenants. We need to be here.
Because I needed this place. I really, really needed somewhere for me and my children to live and I was out of options. An unemployed/unemployable single mother of two, facing homelessness. We found ourselves in a situation where, through no fault of our own, we had nowhere else to go, and no landlord willing to take us on.
That’s quite a scary situation to find yourself in. So how much of a relief was it to be offered a place to live? A great big massive fuck-off-sized relief. I’m still exhaling now.
That’s what social housing is, that’s what it means. That it’s a safety net, it’s there for when things go wrong and you need some help to get back on your feet. It’s there for when you’re not well, or you’re poor, or disadvantaged, or vulnerable, or any combination of those things.
Social housing isn’t supposed to be a place where undesirables just get dumped and lazy journalists spout clichés about people sitting on benches drinking Special Brew at half nine in the morning and cars jacked up on bricks.
Social housing isn’t some kind of open prison for the underclass whose lives are never going to change or improve. It is, instead, a refuge for when things go wrong and life doesn’t quite seem to be following the route you thought it was. It’s for when you need a home that is for you and yours. It’s for people who otherwise couldn’t afford to live in some kind of comfort. It’s there to help people, not to condemn them.
Are there things wrong with it? Yes, of course there are. Demand outstrips supply by an almost criminal amount. Figures vary according to area, but thanks to the selling off of housing stock under right to buy, on average for every eight homes sold, only one is replaced.
Waiting lists are long as a result. Council budgets are stretched, and so not every essential can always be covered. There are elements of anti-social behaviour, but in my experience it’s minor and fairly low key. In any case, Bad Things can and do happen anywhere.
The circumstances that brought my children and me here were not happy ones, and we couldn’t have lived in a nicer, more affluent area at the time. We’re far happier here.
We’re happier, because being given a council house is a way of being reassured that someone is looking out for you. It tells you that you may be down on your luck, but here’s a chance to start again, here’s a way of giving yourself something solid, some security.
Not everyone’s going to make a complete success of life, but social housing at least gives you a chance, very often when the odds are stacked against you. My council house has given me that chance, and I know, despite everything, just how lucky I am to live here. So yes. I am a council tenant, and I am proud to be.
Jess Macdonald is a quite sweary blogger and mother of two with Scottish hair. http://putupwithrain.blogspot.co.uk