When you mention the housing crisis, people tend to think of London and of campaign groups like Focus E15. There is good reason for this - the capital has experienced the worst excesses of the housing crisis, and the pushback there has been among the most dynamic in the country. Yet London is not alone in having a housing crisis, and in recent years the effects of a dysfunctional housing system have been making themselves felt in Greater Manchester.
Greater Manchester Housing Action’s new campaign Housing Greater Manchester aims to organise the fightback against an increasingly unjust housing situation in the region. It seeks to use the opportunity of devolution and the new metro-mayor to mentor concerned citizens as effective housing activists and shift the political agenda towards tackling the crisis. Housing Greater Manchester is about empowerment.
The housing crisis in Greater Manchester
The housing crisis is complex, and so takes many forms across the city region. Over the last two years social housing stock has disappeared and the construction of new council properties in Manchester is virtually nonexistent. The waiting list for social housing is over 120,000 names long, and with the average mortgage in the city requiring an annual salary of over £34,000, many are forced into the private rented sector. Yet the sector is unregulated and favours powerful landlords. Damp and squalid conditions are all too common.
Exacerbated by all this, homelessness in Greater Manchester is the highest in the UK outside of London. Last year, the number of homeless people rose by 44%. The year before that it rose by 79%. Last year, the death of two homeless people in a fire caused public outcry but so far has failed to translate into decisive action by Manchester City Council.
These are problems that show no signs of abating, and it is likely that it will get worse. At the beginning of this year, Manchester was named one of the year’s property "hot spots", threatening to drastically increase the cost of living, forcing residents out and fundamentally changing the makeup of the region.
Devolution in Greater Manchester
On May 4th Greater Manchester will elect its first metro mayor and with power over health, social care, transport as well as housing and planning policy, this represents the greatest decentralisation of political power in decades. On paper, it provides a chance to revive local democracy and increase political accountability. So far though, this has not been realised. With public consultations taking the form of poorly advertised and dense documentation accessible only to those in the know, as well as the sheer strength of developer and business voices around the table, there is a huge gulf between ordinary people and the decisions made that affect their lives. As it stands, there is a real risk that, rather than providing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring power back to a local level, devolution will simply only highlight and exacerbate the inequality that has developed in Greater Manchester during the years of its lopsided economic renaissance.
What we are doing about it?
With an eye to both the opportunity of devolution and the context of the worsening housing crisis in the city, Greater Manchester Housing Action (GMHA) have launched Housing Greater Manchester. We aim to address the democratic deficit in devolution and to influence the trajectory of mayoral policy on housing.
GMHA is a coalition of progressive organisations, activists and citizens that are fighting for housing justice in the context of a new, devolved political landscape. The campaign has four key strands:
1. Building Knowledge
The housing crisis is notoriously difficult to get your head round, and this is off-putting. How can we fight something that we don’t understand? To combat this, Housing Greater Manchester includes a series of community discussion sessions and stalls across Greater Manchester through which we will be demystifying the housing crisis and informing people about how they can help tackle it.
2. Building Voices
Statistics show that those most affected by the housing crisis are those who are already marginalised. BAME communities, immigrants, young people (especially LGBT young people and care leavers) and those on low incomes are all disproportionately impacted. Housing Greater Manchester is running a number of workshops and events with organisations that represent marginalised groups, such as Gaskell Garden Project, Salford Community Theatre, RECLAIM and the University of Manchester Students Union, to work together to build their political voices.
3. Building Activists
Most people would like to see more ordinary people in politics, would like to see politicians who actually represent their interests and want to see a solution to the housing crisis. The difficulty is in translating this desire and compassion into the skills and knowledge that will allow people to make decisive change. Housing Greater Manchester will be running a series of workshops on range of topics: community organising, creative actions, media training and self-care. These are aimed at creating a new cohort of skilled housing activists who will take the housing movement to the next level.
4. Building Change
The centrepiece of the campaign will be the Greater Manchester Mayoral Housing and Homelessness hustings. Here the candidates will have an opportunity to lay out their visions for housing in Greater Manchester and ordinary people will have the opportunity to quiz and challenge them.
So far, the devolution agenda has been driven by powerful established interests. Whether run by newspapers, universities, private business, think tanks or charities, most of the other mayoral hustings have one thing in common - citizens remain in the audience, they are not the organisers. GMHA and its allies aim to buck this trend.
Our campaign is about empowerment. It is about showing local government and Whitehall that people will not allow the biggest change to local governance in a generation to go ahead without their involvement. It is about sending a clear message that devolution does not come without a price tag and that the arrival of a new metro mayor and Combined Authority must come clear action to tackle the housing and homelessness crisis in Greater Manchester.
If you have any questions about the work of GMHA or would like to get involved, please email [email protected].