Housing – My Story
May 1986, a 106 bus took me to my new place of work. All I knew was that I was to report to a local council office behind the L.E.B Building on the corner of Cambridge Heath and Bethnal Green Rd. As a temporary clerical assistant I could have been placed in a number of roles within the Council, including Finance, Direct Labour or Housing Benefits. My role was to be in a Housing Office, 723 Commercial Road E1 to be exact, was it fate? Who knows, but 22 years later I am still working in Housing.
In those 22 years I have worked for a Local Authority, a Housing Association, a Tenant Management Organisation and now a Housing Co-operative, the only sector I have not covered is that of Supported Housing, although given my last couple of years at Phoenix I think I have supported enough tenants for it to count.
What have been my highlights? Probably too numerous to mention all of them; however my interview with Pennie on a blow up blue sofa goes down in many circles as a highlight for Phoenix. The main highlights are really getting the reward of seeing how your efforts can help people, from re-housing families from very overcrowded places, to getting sons and daughters of local families housed on the same estate. The reason we do this job, the reason we take abuse, take physical abuse, twice in my instants, including an episode which resulted in me receiving 24 stitches to arm and face wounds, is that there is a reward some of the time.
What have been my lowlights, (think I may get a job as hairdresser next!) obviously the story I have mentioned above is up there as is seeing families being racially abused for no other reason than moving onto an estate and watching people get away with it. Probably the worst though is the decimation of services that brought people together as a community, cutting services for the old people leaving them more vulnerable than before, no provision for youths and then wondering why they hang round on street corners and probably the worst of all the “Right to Buy”. This horrid piece of legislation changed Council Housing forever; I think the concept of getting people to own their homes was a good one; however by allowing people to buy Social Housing and not replacing it meant we are now paying a heavy price. There are record numbers of families on the waiting list, and if you are single and not using drugs or pregnant you can forget any chance of help. It would have made much more sense to give people the discounts they were entitled to and let them buy on the open market.
Working in Housing, you see some interesting sights. In 22 years I have discovered 14 dead bodies, some that have been dead for months, some just died that day. The majority of these have been old people and it is sad to know that they had been lying dead for some time, no families, no-one looking out for them.
Reading this you wonder why people stick at a career in housing, I have because I love it, loved it should I say. Even in the four years I have been in Phoenix you can tell the change. The applicants back in 2004 were drawn into Phoenix because of it being a co-op, a perceived way of life. Now this has been replaced by the majority of people who are only concerned first and foremost about a roof over their head, they play lip service to participation and self help. The problem is, is that these people will be the ones left out, when our short-life properties disappear there will be nowhere to house them, maybe one of the, or possibly the only one, advantages of being smaller is that we will get a return to those co-op values.
My first sentence told you about my first job, the corner of Bethnal Green Rd and Cambridge Heath Rd, as I leave Phoenix, and possibly my career in housing, I will be leaving via the corner of Cambridge Heath Rd and Bethnal Green Rd, fate indeed played a major part.