The ever-increasing housing problems in Southwark are causing one young couple to start their family outside of the capital, with London council elections just around the corner, reports James Murray
Catherine Bossa, 23, is a Business student at London South Bank University in Southwark. Catherine and her partner, Kadeem Christian, have been left with no option but to move back to Catherine’s hometown of Redditch, to raise their first child – because of the lack of affordable housing and council homes in the borough.
The expecting couple was desperate to start their family in London, as Catherine said: “Initially, we tried to apply for a council house, but, because I haven’t lived in London for five consecutive years, I wasn’t eligible. We then tried to do it through Kadeem, but, because he lives in quite a big house with his parents, he wasn’t priority, even though I’m pregnant.”
After being denied a council house, Catherine and Kadeem looked into renting privately – but their efforts were again in vain, as Catherine explained: “We tried to find private renting, but it was so expensive. We tried agencies, but they charge a lot of agency fees. The deposit was a substantial amount, you had to pay the first month’s rent and a deposit. We couldn’t afford it.”
The dejection Catherine feels is evident, as she continued: “After about two-to-three months of looking, we decided we couldn’t do it, it’s too expensive for us. Ideally, I wanted to raise a family in London, but it wasn’t possible.”
It is no surprise to see that both major parties within Southwark, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, have detailed plans in their manifesto’s to tackle housing issues.
The housing problems Southwark council face are largely due to the ever-growing population in the borough, with it’s close proximity central London.
A spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, said: “We are developing a new housing model, which is about capping rents at a third of household income. If your income goes up or down, then you’ll pay a third of that, up until household income of £60,000. The idea is that it’s genuinely affordable.
“There’s about 6,000 empty homes in the borough, which is by far the highest in London. Labour reduced the number of empty homes officers from three to one – that isn’t enough and we’ll have a team dedicated to it. We’ll also increase council tax to the max on empty homes, to get them back on the market.
“Labour built blocks that are 100% non-affordable, which isn’t a good thing with mixed communities in mind. It makes for long-term problems.”
Cllr Peter John, leader of Southwark Council, has faced criticism regarding housing. In 2014, the council made a target of building 1,500 council homes by 2018 and have failed to deliver their target.
Southwark Labour were unavailable for comment, but speaking to Southwark News, Cllr John, said: “Obviously we wouldn’t have said we could build 1,500 by 2018 if we didn’t think we’d get there.
“There’s been resistance, so some schemes that we thought would be delivered we’ve had to remove from the programme. We’re up and running now and I’m as confident as I can be that we can deliver.”
Southwark Labour has proposed to make sure that 50 percent of all housing which is built on council land will be let at council rents.
Although plans are in place to improve Southwark’s housing, it is already impacting on Catherine and Kadeem’s lives, with Kadeem having to find work following the move and Catherine left in an awkward position with her education, as she explained: “I’ve got one year left of university, it means I’m going to have to move back to my family home and go to a university there, because travelling to London would be too expensive.”
This is just one couple’s story that demonstrates how housing issues in Southwark need to see a rapid improvement before more people are inevitably punished.