Ben Reeve Lewis Friday Newsround #139

Ben on a chair[Ben Reeve Lewis has been wondering if we are just re-arranging the deck chairs on the titanic ...]

In Newsround I regularly bemoan the status quo, spiralling housing costs that benefit landlords on low mortgage interests rates, whilst driving up rent arrears and repossessions that help neither party.

I have written recently that I believe that high rents (Yeah London I know) are bleeding tenants dry and that landlords will suffer when mortgage interest rates rise and they cant look to already overstretched tenants to plug the gap, leading to buy to let mortgage repossessions.

I am starting to believe that my own thinking is on tired old lines, just like councils and government. Are we all just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic???

How Prof Alex made me think again

I make no apologies this week for referencing Professor Alex Marsh and his excellent ‘Alex’s Archives’, who seriously gave me pause for thought.

Alex is pointing up the idea that our whole relationship with housing needs to change, not just rattling around the same three points of the compass of home ownership versus private renting versus social renting.

He even goes so far as to suggest that we were more on the money after the second world war and not in a ‘Good old days’ kind of way when he says:-

“Having noted that in the post-World War II period house building was a cross-party political priority”.

The reason for his own inspiration came from the maiden speech of new shadow housing minister Emma Reynolds who calls for more custom and self build housing instead of the tired, creaky see-saw of mortgage or rent.

Is this increasing individualisation the problem?

Prof Marsh puts some of the problem down to the increasing individualisation of society as a whole and remarks:-

“However much it goes against the grain of increasing individualisation, there is a need to rekindle some of the sense of empathy, identification and common purpose that characterised the post-war effort.

If we seek to substantially expand housing supply without the case having been made then it will lead to more acute social conflict.”

Emma Reynolds too put her finger on it when she said:-

“It’s not just about building homes after all, it’s about building thriving communities and places where people want to live.”

We often forget that don’t we? That housing is not just about buildings but communities.

Government certainly don’t take housing seriously, if they did then they wouldn’t have downgraded the housing minister post to a mere junior ministerial job when it should have been bumped up to a cabinet post in the current crisis.

Communities come second to money in Cameron’s book and if proof were needed that having millions in the bank doesn’t mean you have taste, have a butchers at this monstrosity  described as “The ultimate billionaire’s man cave”.

A floating monstrosity

Sleeps 40, has a 900 bottle wine cellar, a helipad and wotnot and displays all the design imagination of plumbing joint.

3 decks of flat nothing looking like a half finished oil rig, which Planet Property accurately describes as “A floating monstrosity”. Mind you it could probably hold 200 – 300 homeless people at a pinch and judging by the daily increase in people coming through our doors each day since the introduction of the benefit cap in September we are going to need it.

And finally

I usually end Newsround with a humourous housing story in the style of Trevor MacDonald’s “And finally” section on News at 10.

This week that story comes from my own working day which I thought might tickle readers.

As part of my job I have to sometimes go out on joint raids with police. Earlier in the week I went on one to a property run by one of our dodgiest landlords. It had been disconnected in the past as a cannabis factory and the intelligence we got was that it was up and running again.

So me, 8 cops and gas and electricity revenue protection teams barrelled through the door at 7:30am to find that true to form, electricity had been hotwired and the gas meter bypassed. The house was full of people, we found loads of drugs in a box, 5 or 6 swords and police had two blokes in handcuffs.

The woman of the house was shrieking to all and sundry “I’ll stab you in the f**king neck you if you don’t get outta my owse!!!”.

ArmadilloWhat about the armadillo?

In the middle of this real-life episode of ‘Shameless’ Bob from EDF we said to the woman “Look love we have to cut off the supply but what are you going to do with that Armadillo in the tank in the other room if the heating has gone off?”.

She said it had survived in the past and would be OK.

I wandered outside to avoid the woman’s shrill voice and casually mentioned the Armadillo to a couple of the cops loitering in the garden for the same reason as me. One of them pondered if it was legal to keep an Armadillo, we all shrugged, so a call was put in to the nick to ask if Armadillo’s were legal pets. A call came back saying they couldn’t find the list of illegal pets and would call the RSPCA.

10 minutes later we got a call from the nick to say the RSPCA had said Armadillo’s are probably legal but you cant keep them in a tank, they need to roam. They asked how big the tank was so I walked into the back bedroom where a vivarium stood covered by a piece of curtain and shouted back through the open front door that it was about 3 feet by 2 feet. The nick relayed this information to the RSPCA who were outraged and said they would send someone around immediately to collect the poor creature.

RSPCA to the rescue

I told Bob to hold off from disconnecting the electricity for a bit because the RSPCA were coming for the Armadillo and we all stood around waiting for the rescue mission while the handcuffed men persistently tried poncing fags off of all and sundry.

Half an hour later the RSPCA guy turns up and asks where it is. I lead him into the back bedroom with a couple of cops and he throws the piece of curtain off of the tank and inside is a small lizard blinking at the sudden interruption.

He asked where the Armadillo had gone, so I shouted to Bob in the hall “Bob where’s the Armadillo?”- “In the tank” came the reply. I shouted back that it had disappeared.

Bob appears in the doorway fiddling with some piece of equipment and gestured towards the lizard with a screwdriver and says “There it is”. The RSPCA guy responds, puzzled “But that’s not an Armadillo”, to which Bob shot back “Well I dunno do I? Armadillo, lizard, whatever you wanna call it. What am I? David Attenborough?”.

Camera fades on an exasperated group of cops, a TRO an RSPCA inspector and one bemused looking lizard.

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One Response to Ben Reeve Lewis Friday Newsround #139

  1. Thanks for the Armadillo story Ben, classic.

    Here’s one to cheer you up;

    http://www.housingnews.co.uk/index.asp?cat=news&period=lastweek#453233

    The majority of tenants say their rent provides good value for money, according to the latest research findings from the National Landlords Association (NLA).

    More than seven in 10 tenants (73 per cent) rated their rent as ‘good’ or ‘very good’ when asked their opinion on whether it represented value for money. One in five (20 per cent) perceived their rent as ‘poor’ value, while just three per cent rated it as ‘very poor’.

    The findings also show that the majority of landlords haven’t increased rents in the last 12 months, with three quarters of tenants reporting they’re paying the same rent (72 per cent) or a lesser amount (3 per cent) compared with a year ago.
    (snip)
    Carolyn Uphill, Chairman of the National Landlords Association, said: “It’s pleasing to see that so many tenants perceive their rent as good value because landlords face a lot of unjustified criticism for the rising costs of living.




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About the post author:

Ben Reeve-Lewis

Ben is an enforcement officer for a London Local Authority, a housing law trainer, an author on housing law who writes for the Guardian & occasionally pops up wittering away on TV. He also runs Easy Law Training with Tessa & Graeme. Occasionally he sleeps. Find him on Google, and Journalisted. Any opinions expressed are Ben's personal views & don't reflect those of any organisations he may refer to.



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