Re/making The Street  

For London, more mixed tenure is a key part of the future.

The large-scale withdrawal of government grants to build new social housing means most new developments are funded by the building of homes for sale or to rent at market rates.

This can be a path to more sustainable communities. At its best, mixed tenure helps integrate people and cultures, stimulates opportunities, creates neighbourhoods that are resource-rich and full of potential.

As a phrase it may be new, but as a theory it is old. The Victorian social reformer Octavia Hill — a campaigner who helped save Hampstead Heath from developers and was one of the founders of the National Trust – was much in favour of not only providing good housing for the poor but ensuring a social mix rather than isolated classes.

But some mixed tenure developments have lead to complaints of ‘poor doors’, where the rented or ‘affordable’ homes get a second-class entrance. Worse still, there is the accusation of ‘social cleansing’ around some redevelopment projects, and fears among residents that they will have to move further away.

The Mayor, Sadiq Khan, made it one of his pre-election pledges that segregated doors that signal rented or private would no longer be tolerated: “Poor doors segregate people who are living side by side, they drive a wedge between our communities. I want a London that rejoices in its social cohesion not separates people on the basis of their social class.” In saying this, he echoes what Bill de Blasio, New York’s Mayor, has also pledged to do.

‘Tenure blind’ is the answer — entrances that are identical, regardless of whether you have bought, rent at full market rate, or are a council or housing association tenant. Tenure blind doors and stairwells may also make sense from the developers’ perspective. It should ensure a consistent higher standard and suggests a more flexible housing stock where private or rented can be interchanged as market and other pressures shift. It is the case with Bonchurch Road that rented and privately owned apartments are indistinguishable from the outside — and the social housing extends to the penthouse level.

A 2003 report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Rebalancing communities by mixing tenures on social housing estates, suggested an overwhelmingly positive experience from mixed tenure developments when done well. Not only may it be vital for getting the development off the ground but it can “help to reverse the decline on estates caused by excessive social polarisation” said the researchers. Now mixed tenure thinking ties in with actions by both Labour and Conservative administrations to redesign the provision of housing so that a more mixed economy, and mixed society, might result. The growth of housing associations and decline of local authority housing was a part of that process, along with the development of new rental and ownership models.

The Joseph Rowntree report followed up on one of a decade earlier that showed allocating housing only to those with the most acute need inevitably led to unbalanced communities, cultivating depressed areas for the disadvantaged that exacerbate social problems. That process of residualisation — where a ‘residue’ of less enabled people are left in increasingly less desirable housing — was, arguably, accelerated by Right To Buy.

In 2015 a review carried out for the National House Building Council Foundation noted ‘mono-tenure’ developments were a thing of the past. It indicated that mixed tenure did not suppress the property prices of the private housing in its mix or nearby — as long as high design standards were maintained throughout developments. It said more needed to be done to develop a wider range of property types so that residents could more easily move across the tenure model. It also raised concern that not enough was understood about the long-term management of mixed tenure developments.

Social engineering through housing is a fact. History shows us this — whether through the massive post-war council house building programmes or the reliance on market logic favoured by current neo-liberal thought.

The open questions remain as to what purpose that engineering works now, and how to ensure it is for the long-term good.