Exclusive: Housing crisis in East London boroughs

Poor Housing. Photo: Shelter Claudia Janke

The decline in house building completions is creating a “shocking housing crisis” according to the homeless charity Shelter. East London Line boroughs are bearing the brunt of these trends. The number of houses built in the first quarter of 2010 is 6 per cent down on the previous year.

While the building industry promotes an increase in registering new builds, the true measure of housing growth is government figures which record the completion of housing projects as these usually reflect the true state of the economy, private housing market and finances of local authorities.

“Housing completions in England fell by six per cent to an estimated 26,090 (seasonally adjusted) in the March quarter 2010 compared to the previous quarter. This follows a seven per cent fall between the September 2009 and December 2009 quarters.”

“Private enterprise housing completions (seasonally adjusted) were eight per cent lower in the March quarter 2010 than the December quarter 2009; completions by registered social landlords rose by three per cent over the same period.”

Housing crisis. Photo: Shelter Graham Fink

While mortgage repossession figures released this month showed a national decline, Lewisham was recorded as one of the local authorities with the highest number of landlord possession claims  [5.27 per 1,000 households (including mortgaged and rented)]

Shelter fears any increase in interest rates will lead to a catastrophic increase in home-owners unable to meet their mortgage payments. And Citizens Advice warn that their:  “service still dealt with over 115,000 problems about mortgage and secured loan arrears in the financial year just ended (April 2009 – March 2010) – a 21% increase compared to the previous year.” When the banking crisis recession developed in 2008, Lewisham, Croydon, Hackney and Tower Hamlets were among the local authorities in England with the highest  mortgage possession claims per 1,000 households.

Mortgage possession claims 2008 Per 1,000 households
Lewisham 10.3
Croydon 10
Tower Hamlets 5.1
Hackney 4.9

Need for new housing. Photo: Shelter Graham Fink

Analysis of homeless figures in the ELL boroughs also reveals that London’s non-white communities bear the greatest burden of homelessness in Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Lewisham and Croydon. Official statistics show that the non-white homeless substantially outnumber homeless persons of white ethnicity.

Local authorities designate significantly more black and Asian homeless people as having: “a priority need”  for emergency accommodation. The high number of non-white people being officially classified as homeless is out of all proportion to the spread of ethnicity in these boroughs.

It may also be a sign that homelessness is another factor in discrimination and social disadvantage due to ethnic background.

Accepted as being homeless and in priority need Borough Ethnicity

[October to December 2009]                                            [March 2008]

Ethnicity Non-white White Non-white and mixed White.
Lewisham 176 112 34.1% 65.9%
Croydon 193 144 29.8 70.2
Tower Hamlets 125 88 48.6 51.4
Hackney 132 88 40.06 59.4

The release of the latest homelessness statistics on June 10 is expected to confirm this pattern and the housing charity Shelter argues there  is not enough decent and affordable housing for the population.

In Lewisham 418 households are still in a position where the local council realises it owes them a duty under the homelessness provisions of the 1985 and 1996 Housing Acts, but no accommodation can be secured for them. They used to be known as: ‘the homeless at home.’

While there has been a downward trend in the number of people sleeping on the streets, Shelter is concerned that the continuing recession means more private homes are repossessed by mortgage lenders and the pressures on already stretched local councils are intensified.

Statutory Homelessness: 4th Quarter (October to December) 2009, England (with local authority breakdown)

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The need for volunteers to assist charities providing emergency accommodation for homeless people, is still great and the Whitechapel Mission has put out a London wide call for more help.

Whitechapel Mission . Photo: Rosalynn Ghubril

Tony Miller is a man who has dedicated the last thirty years of his life to helping people come off the streets, weekends included.  For Mr Miller the needs of the homeless is a year round priority.

‘It is a ridiculous concept that somebody turns around and says; “Today’s the day, I can’t take this any more, I need help coming off the streets” and we’re shut. That’s just ludicrous. We have to be there on the day that they’re ready to take the next step and ask for assistance’.

The Whitechapel Mission opens its doors to the public at 6 a.m. daily to serve a very rich breakfast including bacon, eggs, hash browns, tomatoes, baked beans, porridge, cereal and more. It also offers clean showers, a selection of new clothes fresh out of the laundry, medical attention for those in need. So anyone without a home, need not appear homeless.

Tony spoke of one homeless visitor who would arrive to the charity at 6 a.m. sharp, have breakfast, get showered, receive a new set of clothes, then head to his day-time job to return to the charity in the morning.

As a charity, it relies mostly on fund-raising events as a form of income. One of its main charity events is coming up this Summer. The charity hopes that they will find fund raisers to take part in the British 10k London Race.

Volunteers are welcome to visit the charity’s website and sign up to help make a difference.

Hear Rosalynn’s interview with Tony Miller:

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