The detrimental impact of racist systems on housing

“Dionne, when are you going to try for a boy?”; I’m asked this question repeatedly. Mr A (the hubby) is a football academy owner, so living in a home with three females is most definitely the reason behind this question that seems to follow me around year-after-year. My hands are already full with our two energetic girls, but even if I wanted to try for a third child, my housing situation wouldn’t allow for this.

Growing up, my mum always made sure that our living conditions were comfortable so this has always been an essential factor at every stage of my abode journey. Right now, four people living in cramped conditions is not my idea of fun, but we make it work! I’m a born and bred Londoner; I love my City! London is one of the best places on earth (in my humble opinion), so I have always strived to keep this place as home whilst residing in the UK.

When Mr A and I were childless, the whole of London was our oyster; we could pretty much settle anywhere that allowed us the space and affordability suitable for our circumstances. When we decided to have children, we knew that finding suitable housing was going to be a challenge. I grew up in a Central part of London which saw rapid real estate growth as a result of the introduction of the Jubilee Line. As youngsters this was great! Our location was finally receiving some TLC. When I began adulting and looking for my own place in the same area, I was shocked at how expensive living in my postcode had become – I mean eye-wateringly expensive.

“Have children” they said; “it’ll be fun” they said (!!!)… no one gave me the heads up on the unavoidable criteria that comes with finding a family home:

  1. Living close to family

Regardless of if you’re a working parent or not (even though this becomes very important when you are working), being close to a trusted support network is going to provide you with a solid foundation to that allows you to do the things you need comfortably. So many of us rely on our parents to help us with the caring of our children; schools run, daily childcare, unexpected emergencies – having family around to assist is a game-changer.

2. Good schools

Education is one of the clearest indicators of life outcomes such as employment, income and social status, and is a strong predictor of attitudes and wellbeing. News flash for those unaware, the school application process is a joke! The authorities are playing location lottery with our children’s lives; if you’re not in the school catchment area, you’re not getting in – simple. Finding a home near the best schools is one of the most challenging tasks; and surprise surprise, most of the ‘good’ schools are located in higher-income areas.

3. Community, Amenities and Safety

Having a family makes who becomes your ‘locals’ more paramount than ever. For us, it’s always been our goal to bring up our children in a family-friendly community. Good amenities like pools, parks, libraries and activity centres enhance lifestyles for locals and create spaces that allow families to come together. We knew that any area that held family and community at its heart would be an area that also carefully considered its safety and security.

4. Affordability

This should have been number one, but I’m always thinking about my children first. Recreational time is mandatory for my family. We promised that we’d never put ourselves in a position where we’re unable to do what we wished as a family. We love to travel, do activities, visit restaurants; so wherever we reside, we ensure we stick to the 35% rule. Experts advise that a person should spend no more than 35% of their income on rent. Mr K and I work good jobs so we’re in a fortunate position but excessive rent has to be one of the most significant barriers put in the way of native Londoners.

It didn’t take me long to work out that we were going to be priced out looking for housing in my local area.

In order to continue to live in the area I knew and loved, plus meet all of our new ‘responsibility’ criteria, we would have to clear fork out over £3k a month on rent. You don’t have to be Einstein to spot that the mathematics doesn’t add up. Why should we waste so much money paying someone else’s mortgage home AND abroad with those nonsense prices?! We instead decided to go down the mortgage route and were equally horrified at the values that were given to what we deemed to be quite modest properties.    

I want to get to the point of my article. But I couldn’t without providing the background and now I want to give you the context.

When we talk about being outpriced, there is more to it than just a few extra £000’s. Redlining is a term not often heard in the UK; gentrification usually takes prime place when discussing social issues with housing, but well before gentrification, redlining was the original system that systematically disadvantaged poor and minority communities.

In the 1960s, sociologist John McKnight first coined the term to define the discriminatory practice of avoiding investment in communities with unfavourable or high-risk demographics, typically with large minority populations. There was a recent social experiment that showed that even in 2020, redlining still exists. An interracial couple were valuing their property and the mere presence of the black partner devalued the property by over £100k…£100k!

There are several issues black people have to contend with. When renting, you’ve got to put on your Sunday bests to be accepted into the ‘nice block’. When searching for mortgages, the rates you’re offered are often high as a result of what I would argue to be a biased credit-scoring system. Areas with a high proportion of minority residents are more likely to be flagged as ‘higher risk’ in the system, leading to disproportionately higher lending rates compared to ‘lower risk’ white property seekers living in more affluent locations.

These issues are compounded by other multi-layered challenges such as blacks being paid lower in the workplace and an overall lack of generational wealth that would make essential steps such as obtaining a mortgage deposit, much easier. Without wanted to cover off everything in this one piece, I can’t fail to talk a little about gentrification.

Gentrification is a process of changing the character of an area through the influx of more affluent residents and businesses. It is a common and controversial topic in politics and urban planning. Gentrification often increases the economic value of a postcode, but the resulting demographic change is frequently a cause of controversy. Gentrification often shifts an areas racial/ethnic composition and average household income by developing new, more expensive housing and businesses in a gentrified architectural style and improving resources.

The area I grew up in was swiftly gentrified and still continues to be. I can’t explain the feeling of being displaced in your safe space. As it stands, we have decided to continue to live in our ‘cosy’ home until the girls are independent enough that we don’t need to rely on close family to care for them whilst we work. The prices that we’d pay to buy a comfortable three-bedroom flat in the area I call home would afford us a mini-castle in Scotland.

As much as gentrification argues to have many positives, being on the brunt end leads me to have a perspective that comes from the reality of the group most affected, the black lower-income community. Increased cost and charges to local services; community resentment and conflict; homelessness; loss of affordable housing; displacement through rent/price increases; unsustainable property prices; loss of social diversity (including historical cultural characteristics) and under occupancy and population loss to gentrified area; tear out the beating heart from communities who for many years, worked tirelessly to build an ecology that welcomed them and those walking in the similar shoes.

This time I don’t have any solutions to give because I still feel powerless however I hope I’ve provided a picture that’s improved your knowledge on the issues that exist and an explanation on how the systems at work negatively impact the lives of so many, including me and my family.

Sending light and love always.

DiDi x

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