Social housing woes!! Part one

I’m inclined to think that social housing would-be-tenants should be treated the same as private sector would-be-tenants.

So you’ve gone through the high hells of living with ex-friends, ex-partners, ex-family and that private flat that was on the 20th floor of an ex-council block, where a ride on the lift was a matter of life and death! And now finally, oh yes finally, you are on the social housing waiting list. You have the capability and the capacity to bid for available properties that are advertised weekly.  However, unlike the private properties, these properties are advertised to give minimum information, e.g. a vague location (postcode and if lucky house name), number of bedrooms, rent and other charges etc., and to leave you in no doubt that you are indeed bidding for social accommodation, a caption to let you know if you have the right to buy.  This is a highly coveted position and you should NOT, under any and all circumstances, piss off a social housing worker because they have the authority to throw you out of the waiting list at any given moment.  So tread carefully and always remember to be grateful.

One major difference between social housing would-be tenants and private sector would-be tenants is the inability to view properties.  Basically you bid blindly.  All you know is that you are bidding say for example a two-bedroom ground floor flat of housing association X or the council on Some Vague Road on actual postcode.  Most people will drive or walk or take a bus to this postcode and peruse the houses around there, obviously, can’t tell which ground floor flat of which block will be your future home.  The future home you intend to raise your seven (and counting) children (have to keep tax credits coming).  The future home you will work hard to pay rent, council tax, service charge and anything the government want to charge you for the privilege of occupying this flat that was built 88 years ago using public money.  The public money pot that you continue to contribute to whether you are employed or not.  Did you know if you ever find yourself out of work and are left with no choice but to claim JSA you are expected to pay that money back in taxation?  Yeah someone has completed lost the plot.

So you decide that this flat that you intend to make a home has to be the one.  You want to go in there and feel the warmth and the spiritual message (the online preacher promised you this) that tells you that this is your home.  This is where you’ll raise those babies and then some more.  So you decide to phone the ‘advertising’ agency aka the local council and request to view a few properties that you are interested in before making the final decision on which one to bid.

YOU (in an accent only invented by and for the criminally insane): “I want to bid for some properties advertised by the council, but I need to view them first so I can make an informed decision” and after an after-thought “please”.

PERSON AT OTHER END (in an accent invented by the Krays twins): “It doesn’t work that way am afraid. If you like a property, please bid for it and take it from there.  And you can only bid for one property per week unless it’s a bank holiday weekend when no properties are advertised”

She proceeds to tell you in no uncertain terms that that request is always almost impossible to meet, she goes on to say it has actually never happened in the 40 odd years she’d worked in the council.  Wait a minute; actually it used to happen like 10 years ago.  Now it doesn’t because the council hasn’t got the luxury of several properties for 2 tenants.  Now they have billions of would be tenants and 2 properties.  You should be grateful for the privilege of bidding.  In fact you should go to her house and show your gratitude by cleaning her privately owned property from top to bottom and clean the neighbour’s garden. Of the billions of people wanting social houses, you, a mere mortal, a cockroach from god knows where has the privilege of bidding.  You should be grateful and stop wasting tax dollars by asking the impossible.  In fact just bid the damn flat and spend the rest of the week praying that you remain in position one. OK you imagined most of the above but she could have said it, “her tone is truly condescending and she had a superior attitude”, you console yourself.

The person at the end of the line is left laughing out loud and telling colleagues what one ignorant stupid immigrant just requested and how people can be wankers.  In your infinite wisdom you can feel/hear her laughing.

So with tail between legs you return to your hostel room, cry for a while, then bid for the property you liked most (location and rent as deciding factors) and hallelujah you are number one!!  Yay! You wait with baited breath for 3 days (when bidding stops) and for that all important call from the council, telling you that you’ve own the property and can you urgently go and collect the keys and move in within 5 minutes!!! While waiting you pray and hope and make numerous promises to God. You promise to return to church, any church. You denounce satan (my spell checker tells me to capitalise s but I won’t) and all his followers.  You even clean the hostel’s toilet because this might be the last time you share toilets with drug dealers and prostitutes. You are certain of it. You are suddenly smiling with strangers and have a spring in your step.  You can feel the blessings flowing.  You’ve been homeless for the last 3 months; this is your turn for that coveted council house or was it housing association.  Shit! You can’t quite remember, so you make a mental note to go back online and verify.  You definitely want a council house because you intend to buy it in the future.  You also don’t like housing association houses because they are too expensive and you can’t buy them. Although they are so cute and modern unlike the council ones where some blocks of flats with up to 5 floors have no lifts and the stairways look like the Nairobi city council’s toilets of the 90’s. But first thing first check what property you bid for and while at it, check your position number, it did say that it might change as other people place bids.  But you are not worried; all the signs are in your favour.  You’ve even had a dream that you were not cooking, sleeping and watching TV in same room and that your next-room-neighbours did not blow cigarette smoke through the little gap under the door, despite that fact that you’ve put an old duvet there the smoke somehow fills your room.  You hate the smell of ciggies even though you sometimes smoke while plotting which of your many enemies to kill first.  In your many thoughts you decide it’s wise to find boxes and start packing.  You make a mental note to pass by Matalan or Primark and collect boxes. You might need a cab for this but hey you’ll soon be cleaning and painting your own council property.

Later that evening you decide to login online and see the progress of your bid.  Of course you are not worried.  You’ve even phoned that out-of-country-online priest that sometimes prays with you if you send him some discretionary funds. He has of course assured you that he can see great things in your future.  Not only will you get a council house but you’ll end up owning it.  You’ll get married. You’ll do great things in your life. The only problem is that there’s no time line to his prophesies or predicted future.  It could be in the next minute or tomorrow or in 2 years or in 3799 years when you’ve died and being reincarnated 500 times. But whatever the case is you have to keep the faith. Keep the faith.  At least you have the ability to bid – step one in God’s great plans for you he said.  Some people are still queueing at the council’s offices for long days and have to come back day after day. Others are still renting privately with ever increasing rents.  Others, worse others, have no papers.

You login hoping to only verify if you actually bid for a council house or housing association, and if you are still number 1 in the queue which you are of course not worried about because pastor-mpesa told you not to worry.  To your utter, gut wrenching, womb churning, head spinning, spine breaking, leg-jellying horror you discover your position has significantly shifted.  It was as if an earthquake or a tsunami or a tornado happened and tore through the online world and everything was thrown out of alignment.  You are an incredible number 1387 in the queue and there still two days remaining.  You start sweating and experiencing labour pains. You don’t know whether to jump out of your third floor hostel room, strangle one of your screaming kids, kill your neighbours and their stupid annoying dog, smoke the rest of the 5 cigarettes left in your pack, go back to where you came from or match to 10 Downing Street and strip naked.  You are utterly devastated because now you have to spend another week in this godforsaken shit hole they call hostels. A bottle of wine at this point is a very good idea.  So you crack open a bottle and threaten the kids sleeping next to you that the next one who makes a sound will soon be living in the Dumping Ground – now there’s a thought!!!



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