by Rania Ramli
Despite reports of a slowdown in the London housing market, the fact remains that for the vast majority of those living in the city, the prospect of buying our own home is inconceivable.
Young people, women and those from ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected, with people like me, who fit into all three of these groups suffering the most.
The government built just over 217,000 new homes in the 2016/17 financial year, exceeding their 200,000 target but still failing to address the fundamentals of the problem; particularly when considering the impact on groups that are already marginalised. Reports have highlighted that of that 217,000, only 41,530 were ‘affordable’. Despite the obvious connotations, ‘affordable’ is nothing but a synonym for rent of no more than 80% of the local market rent – not financially feasible for a large proportion of people.
A report by the Resolution Foundation from August 2017 shone a light on the significant gap in the incomes of minority ethnic families compared to their white counterparts, with the former earning on average £8900 less per year. Bangladeshi and Pakistani households are particularly affected, with statistics showing that on average, they bring home a third less.
There are clearly complex underlying issues in terms of access to education, language barriers and institutional racism which contribute to this statistic, but ultimately, the consequences in terms of housing are stark. Those from an ethnic minority are even less likely to be able to access the government’s limited stock of ‘affordable’ homes, pricing us out of London and all that the city has to offer.
Sadiq Khan is pushing to build 66,000 new homes in the city with 65% affordable but whilst this is good progress, the lack of government support is a significant problem.
But the lack of genuinely affordable homes on the rental market is only the tip of the iceberg.
Addressing the failure of successive governments to build more safe, secure and accessible social housing in London has to be top of the agenda. Theresa May promised that ‘help is on its way’ for those stuck on a council housing waiting list in her last conference speech, but this rhetoric does not reflect reality for many ethnic minority families – not least for those in my area of Newham.
As one of the most diverse boroughs in London, the lack of social housing being built in Newham is disproportionately affecting BAME people; many of whom are left with no choice but to move away from their support networks and out of London.
As a BAME woman and the daughter of immigrants, I know the impact that social housing can have on ethnic minority families. Spending parts of my early childhood homeless and living in bed and breakfast hostels meant that the impact once my family did get a council house was huge. This security and the fact that we were able to stay in London opened up endless opportunities.
But we were lucky. I know that for many ethnic minority families and individuals, the current housing market means that this prospect is inconceivable.
Properly dealing with the problem must mean a two-pronged approach – addressing the imbalanced impact of government austerity and reconsidering how we view affordable housing. Things are set to get worse, with universal credit predicted to cost Asian families with three or more children up to £1370 per year. The impact will be similarly large on other ethnic minorities. Along with the fact that housing supply is not keeping up with demand, it is clear that this is an issue that we must tackle.
We cannot continue building homes that the majority of Londoners are unable to access whilst also ignoring the desperate need to reconsider our approach to social housing.
I was lucky but I know that the same is unlikely to be true for other children from ethnic minority families, growing up in similar circumstances to me. Rethinking both austerity and their approach to housing is vital if the government is going to address the gentrification we’re currently seeing.