Why is it important social housing tenants have a voice?

Housing CEOs are paid ten times the average tenant income while many of us now work in badly paid zero-hour employment. Being voiceless adds to the gulf between “you and us”.

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“Hi Lizzie. Can you write a 400-word blog on the importance of social housing tenants having a voice, for #HousingDay? It needs to be done by Thursday.”

“I’m really busy, and 600 words takes a lot of time. How much is the fee?”

“It’s voluntary. You write really well, and it’s important to hear the tenant’s voice.”

So, it’s 6am, the deadline’s today and I’m trying to write. What can I possibly fill 600 words with? I know: Why is it important that social housing tenants have a voice?

Well, because there are millions of us. Because it’s immoral that so many of us have no choices, say or influence over the way the homes we rent are managed, what services we pay for or their cost, the length of our tenure, the ways our landlords’ employees represent us to government or the media, or over local or national housing policies.

That’s 65 words. What now? Wait, my son is up. Thank God!

“Why is it important that social housing tenants have a voice?” I ask him.

“What? Uh, well, you’re talking about millions of people. Different ages, lifestyles, backgrounds, varied wages, housing markets and costs. In London, young people can’t afford a market rent but there’s no public or community housing for us either. Talking about a social housing tenant’s voice doesn’t mean anything without a more defined context.”

“I agree. I said about the millions of people. But I’m stuck. I wanted to write about how we’re described en bloc as if tenants are a species, but I’m supposed to be writing something positive with solutions. I want to present the need for meaningful, diverse, inclusive self-representation and social democracy to people who work in the housing sector.”

“You can’t talk about social democracy to people running a feudal system, they won’t want to understand you. You’re such a muppet sometimes. Can you make coffee? I’m late for work.”

And now it’s 11am. I’ve had a chat with some of my neighbours, and it’s clear that people want control and say in our housing. We pay for it, yet we feel increasingly infantilised, demeaned and falsely presented as “the needy and vulnerable”.

Here in Kensington, Grenfell’s burnt, shrouded skeleton is visible everywhere. It’s a monument to the suppression of tenants’ wisdom, experience and voices. Nothing’s happened in fifteen months apart from lots of commissions, surveys and reviews that we did not help frame or write.

Solutions? They are obvious. I’m happy to be paid to research and write an article about it.

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