Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Blame the Poor.

Random post, but this cartoon was too good to ignore, given the post below, and the troll comment. Refutes the right wing gibberish better than words alone.

Monday, 28 November 2011

A Home Is Not A Treat

‘The sight of a Labour council - a labour council – evicting tenants convicted of rioting.’

I don’t believe in conspiracy theories. Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK, Al Quaedi planned 911, and NASA really did land on the moon: deal with it.

Recently however, the internet meme/satire quoted above highlighted my own growing suspicions: that there is an enormous conspiracy, audacious in its implantation and spiteful in its intent. I honestly believe that recent housing laws are aimed at scaring and undermining poor people into submission.

That paraphrased parody of Neil Kinnock’s searing speech put into words how I feel. During the UK’s summer riots, I read about the aftermath from afar, but like many I am subsequently wondering how can it be that a crime unrelated to a perpetrators home will end in their eviction?

Remember it’s rare that even the most hardcore anti-social, drug-dealing, violent bully is evicted permanently for bad behaviour, so why the sudden rush to associate a roof-over-your head with being a good little citizen. This policy is ideologically led, unsupported by data and punitively transformative in its philosophical agenda: no more housing as of right, no more council tenancies for life, no more housing benefit (the new universal credit effectively abolishes housing benefit and Local Housing Allowance, or didn’t you notice?) Ed Milliband has even equated ‘bad’ council tenants with those beloved, mother-loving bankers.

This is the most undermining of all Condem wheezes: that housing a luxury and not a necessity- an extra, a privilege. The LibDems are standing by and watching Grant Shapps detonate the idea that everyone deserves a permanent home. He’s big on ownership and keen on boats (I still don’t believe he really said that.) But housing is essential; without a home, people are overcrowded, unfit and miserable. The homeless die young. Even Victorian grandees knew that.

The insidious notion of housing as a treat to be withdrawn for bad behaviour is seeping into policy. Unlike food, you can’t grow your own house on an allotment or scavenge, and housing benefit cuts are starting to bite. Tenants will either make up the difference from food budgets when weekly benefit does not cover the rent, or ask landlords to drop prices – and we all know that landlords love lowering rents.

Many casual landlords will collapse like straw men when interest rates go up, with tenants again be expected to pay. Those who moved to find or begin work can hardly return; they will be declared intentionally homeless and workless, entitled to neither housing nor benefits, stranded in high rent areas enduring low earnings, choosing rent or food.

After both world wars, decent housing was a national priority. Now it’s a national scandal, with tenants undermined by cuts, enduring slack protection, under a growing fear that the behaviour of their children might lose them their home. This is housing used as the stick when there is no carrot.

And never let it be forgotten: the ceiling on rents in local housing allowance is a Labour party innovation. A Labour party innovation…

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Think Of A Number - Slight Return

When landlords let a property, there are two ways to go.

One owner visited all the letting agencies, who in turn visited with their clipboards (parking the inevitable Smartcar outside. Incidentally, does anyone else think they only use these to provide a genuine excuse for not giving tenants a lift…)

Anyway. The various agencies assessed how much money the flat would make. Every visiting agent asked how much their predecessor and brother-agent had suggested, before telling the landlord they would make it their life’s goal to rake in even more money, and that the previous estimate was too low. With cartoon pound signs rolling in their wide and bloodshot eyes, they cranked up the rent. They all did. All of them – even if was by £5, they suggested he could make more money than their cautious, clueless predecessor promised.

Now, the landlord is a human being, and fell for it. Little was said about the state of the place: no matter that the place was unfurnished, situated in the badlands, in need of renovation. Nothing about the aging, heritage d├ęcor, or lack of facilities - no the rent was going to be so high that the landlord would roll around naked in tenners and bling, feasting upon foie gras wrapped in gold leaf.

The owners were going abroad, so couldn’t feasibly manage the property themselves. Since they emigrated, the flat has regularly been empty, and prospective tenants have even made contact with the absentee owner (via friendly neighbours) to suggest reducing the rent. It is empty now, and the owner has never dined upon diamond encrusted quails eggs. In despair, a former tenant organised repairs, hiring the landlord’s relatives, where appropriate. What exactly does the letting agency do here?

Elsewhere, another landlord wishing to rent out his property was visited by a brace of letting agents (a swoop?) and listened in awe to the money he could make. Later on, after some sweet and fleeting dreams of easy wealth, he woke up. Interestingly, he was about to rent a place by the seaside, and realised the letting agents were talking crap (you can tell by my elegant phrasing that I am wordsmith, can’t you?) and, brandishing a crucifix, he said to the letting agents: get thee gone.

He let’s the flat himself, renting to people he trusts and likes. Mates recommend contractors for repairs, or sometimes do the work themselves. The rent is reasonable, so tenants want to stay, not move out at the earliest opportunity. Nobody bothers anyone, as he knows what it’s like to be a tenant, since he is one himself. He wants what will one day again be his actual home to be looked after, but never bothers tenants, and arranges days – even weeks in advance before he comes to call in person.

This is why rents are rising. Rents are rising because…prepare for a sharp shot of obvious, but people are forever putting up rents – a self-serving and damaging process in this time of low interest rates, and it can’t go on forever.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Damn Those Evil Scammers

Flat hunting online is like entering the Wild West naked without a gun. Wearing a blindfold. With your hands tied behind your back.

The flat-offered adverts are bad enough – they offer non-existent homes for a massive upfront deposit, sometimes (as I’ve written about previously) from a ‘pastor’ who is much too busy preaching in (yes, sadly) Nigeria. Pay him upfront and praise the lord, he will courier the keys…

Then there’s the ‘blind’ landlady, promising to arrive with her carer and sort out the legalities. It’s just that she can’t quite make it, and could you transfer the massive deposit anyway? Or you could just open your window, fold the cash into little origami birds and scatter them into the wind. Either really.

The worst abuses are found when tenants place flat-wanted ads. Scamsters are getting better at pretending to be real people, choosing European names, inventing complicated ruses for not being around, encouraging a huge upfront deposit, security bond, rent in advance and fee (I know!) can be sent through. They used to give up when asked for a fast viewing, but nowadays have a brass neck and press ahead with creative, complex excuses about why they are overseas.

One told me they were working as a diplomat in Hungary. They trusted me instinctively and suggested I wired my money to their PA in Geneva, who would forward the documents. I think they were aiming a bit high, as why would a high flying diplomat live in a scuzzy flat-share? The flat descriptions are giveaway to the wise: pasted in from websites, estate terminology and all. The pictures of the flat were obviously of an hotel. Then they changed the pictures, to a luxury flat way out of my league, and too good to be true for the price.

Another was just so pleased to find someone like me, who they could trust to sort things out quickly, and would send the keys when I had wired the money. Isn’t that nice?

It’s funny how hard they try, and how the weave their way in and out of truth. It stops being funny when you realise that people are unaware of these scams and send the money. One friend was caught out in London by a thief who had even set up a website, and ended up stranded with nowhere to stay.

It’s no laughing matter for innocents who pay upfront, subsequently arriving in a strange place with nowhere else to go. It doesn’t matter how many warnings are posted, as these parasites can still pass for legit and go on to winch in vulnerable home-hunters.

Especially in London, housing is scarce, and rents are rising. People might be new and one step away from a hostel when looking for a home. They might not be thinking straight, and when fraudsters can convincingly pass for legal, the result is a huge, yet silent tide of misery. I wonder how many millions have been siphoned away from the bank accounts of needy, desperate people. This scam is causing so much real harm.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Unavoidable Storage Centres

I was packing my worldly goods again, when I noticed a change in the behaviour of those running the booming business of storage centres.

As places go, storage centres have always been extremely odd. Tales of murder victims in freezers, ill-gotten gains and terrorist related items being ‘stored’ are legion. People even hire rooms in storage centres and hide that they are living inside, although I am amazed that it’s cheaper than renting a house. They are often places of quiet desperation, where the detritus of failed relationships is stacked in tea-chests, next to a failing ebay company and some old videos the owner can’t bare to throw away.

Many people, myself included, have noted storage centres, and the role they play in enabling people to hoard possessions when homes are getting smaller. I wandered round the ancient building, fascinated by just a peek into dusty rooms. One held a life-size Mr. Punch, elsewhere there were packing boxes and bicycles, toys, furniture and burst bin bags full of mouldy old clothes.

They are very expensive nowadays. Competition for custom is hotting up. Phoning a storage centre to request a quote is on a par with comparison shopping for insurance, but here the sales people are oily than rather than slick. Try asking for a direct price and they avoid the subject, asking if you are student (“…you sound so young!”) and making a big show of not selling you too much space (so easy to spot) and instead piling on ‘extras.’

Extras? You mean a door is optional, or a ceiling. No: but wait, they are trying to sell you their ‘free’ van. It’s only available if you book really quickly, and then you have to drive it yourself, so if you can’t drive, well need I finish? Not much use really. Beware ‘offers.’ They last for one-two months, after which in the complex language of subterfuge, prices escalate.

Then they call again: they promise to meet the offer of any ‘reasonable rival.’ They are more pushy and duplicitous than the worst estate agent. They call casually once more, surprised then hurt that you’ve used another company where prices are reasonable. The problem is that within the big group of famous companies, no matter what, how fair and reasonable they claim to be, the price eventually offered is exactly the same for all of them. How strange.
Thankfully, I found an established family firm, and by established I mean they’d been keeping things safe in the same warehouse for 150 years. Imagine what they must have seen. I worried what would happen if payment didn’t go through, and joked about a bonfire of my vanities in the delivery bay. They said no: it’s not like that. But we both know they hold a trump card, that is my worldly goods, under a lock with combination known only to them, while I have my own key so they can’t rob my stuff.

Such strange places. Such necessary places, but that hard-sell needs looking at.