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Opinion

Why I'm Not Buying My Council Flat, But Giving It Back

By Scottee Last edited 13 months ago
Why I'm Not Buying My Council Flat, But Giving It Back
Scottee
Scottee outside his flat. Photo: Malak Kabbani

If I have to read another self-righteous rant about how awful London has become, written by someone with a double-barrelled name who lives in Kent, attempting to cash in on capital anti-cool I might delete the internet.

It’s become normal, even fashionable to talk about London as if you are going through a divorce by mutual consent.

Whilst sipping Virgin Marys on the rooftop of Shoreditch House a friend patronises me about how difficult it is trying to buy a flat in London.

"You’re lucky, Scottee. You have your council flat — you have no idea what it's like."

However, they can afford a membership at one of London’s most oversubscribed members club and a cocktail the price of my weekly electricity key top up — the irony falls on deaf ears.

The truth is I do know what its like because I have been harbouring a dirty secret from my friends – the Right to Buy scheme. Introduced in 1980 Right to Buy (or RTB) allows those of us who have lived in social housing for longer than five years to buy our homes off the council with a bit of a discount.

There are many myths surrounding the RTB scheme and lots of people have extremely loud opinions about it.

Wordy think pieces typed by university educated, Guardian journalists whose parents bought them a flat in south London using the Buy to Let scheme (again the irony is lost on liberalism) depict me as a working class Judas.

After 30 years of living in substandard, damp, rat-infested, asthma-inducing social housing, tenants like me deserve the discount.

Some believe selling off ‘our’ social housing is counter productive, others think it's Thatcher’s haunting policy — all of which I understand, but something I find hard to swallow is why we feel such animosity against working class communities having the opportunity to get a foot on the ladder.

This idea that government gives you the flat for next to nothing isn’t quite true. London’s ridiculous price tags are no longer council house averse — my 40 square metres Camden bedsit is currently valued at £240,000. Even with a discount of £100,000 its unlikely I’ll ever be able to afford it. Mortgage brokers don’t like concrete council high rises and apparently my dubious earning capability makes them nervous.

What might surprise you is that after 30 years of living in substandard, damp, rat-infested, asthma-inducing social housing I think tenants like me deserve the discount, however unobtainable the property might be.

At a time when people are genuinely struggling to find somewhere to live in the capital I’m not completely blind to why there is such anger towards right to buyers.

Social housing waiting lists are at an all-time high, council blocks are being demolished to make way for 'affordable homes', council rents almost the same as private rents, private rents that just keep increasing...

But not buying my bedsit will not solve the London housing crisis and I refute the idea it substantially contributes to it — demonising those of us who seek the same security you do is unfair.

Scottee at home
"It's time to move on, and hand back to keys to my council flat," says Scottee. Photo: Malak Kabbani

Despite all this, last week I decided to give up my right to buy.

But before you elect me the title of the People's Princess I'm not giving it up because Owen Jones says so, I'm giving up because I can’t afford it nor London nor the luxury of starting a family here.

If London and I were in a relationship my friends would take me out for something calorific in Walthamstow Village (*sideeye emoji*) and they’d call an intervention. London has got richer than me, with better hair and occasionally punches me in the stomach, demanding I give it money I don’t have.

The estate I live on is currently being penned in — from the east HS2 prepares to demolish 200 homes and redevelop Euston so rich business folk can get to Birmingham faster. From the west, property tycoons the Candy Brothers excavate the largest residential basement in central London, while new arrivals in our capital set up makeshift camps in shrubs behind their service entrance — London has become a place of uncomfortable extremes.

London has got richer than me, with better hair and occasionally punches me in the stomach, demanding I give it money I don’t have.

With more and more of us upping sticks to pastures cheaper and commutable soon, the clichés of moody Londoners, world famous subcultures and brilliant homegrown culture will be a thing of the past, replaced by monolithic financial districts and champagne socialists with every piece of land redeveloped by developers for other developers to develop. So where do you live if you can’t afford to live in the place you are from? Southend, apparently.

It's time to hand the keys to my council flat over to the next in line. On 5 May I will vote for a London mayor for the last time. I'm sad to leave, envious of those of you who have made it work and slightly jealous I've lost the ultimate game of capitalist monopoly with the capital.

Perhaps this is just another self-righteous rant about London.

@scotteeisfat

Last Updated 25 April 2016

JosephJohnODonnell

This is so frustrating. Are we expected to feel sorry for him? How does he even have a Council flat as a single man - presumably his parents? A bit of a discount is very disingenuous - over 100k of public subsidy after already having the public subsidy of reduced rent to save up to buy with. Not everyone who has bought has done it with family help. I scrimped and saved living in grotty shared houses to save enough to buy No decent home standards in private rented accommodation! Right to buy means we have no social housing to help those truly in need - unlike Scottee. I bet the real reason he is doing this is that he can't get a mortgage for right to buy. That would leave me frustrated as well.

amy

It's sad that right to buy sets up resentment between people renting in the social and private sector....both of whom could do with help. In my experience, renting in the private sector was MUCH worse that in social., and most people can't get council flats so it seems kind of f****d...we're in a position where social housing is actually a privilege, so of course, quite apart from people who are ideologically opposed, lots of people resent the £100,000 discount. Although it prob wasn't their primary aim, the tories must be delighted that a policy that helps so few (especially in the capital) fosters discord among non home-owning labour voters. Anyway, it's refreshing to see an article defending right-to-buy, and it's made me think, although I can't help but feel a bit miffed by the description of £100,000 as a 'bit' of a discount, and the piece kind of pitches social housing tenants against home-owners, when the ones reallllly in trouble seem to be private tenants.

jamesrgrinter

It's not a sound idea to buy a council flat anyway, generally, as you'll be setting yourself up for future high renovation costs as the rest of the estate next gets refurbished. Houses can be better, as you get the freehold, but you're still at the whim of redevelopment (see Earls' Court and other examples)

GoldenTan

Don't be sorry to leave - why would you want to live in the London that you've just described? London is not the city it was, it's lost much of it's charm. In the late 90s it hada strong claim to be one of the best cities in the world - not any more.