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We already had a crisis… and we still do

By Perry Miller
28 April 2020

By Perry Miller, Partner

When the virus first arrived, they closed my local park. It was the Sunday farmers’ market that did for it apparently: images of entitled Hackney hipsters crowding together in the sunshine to buy their sourdough was too much even for the local council to bear. And in an instant, the East End’s biggest open space – all 213 acres – was shut down. So much for the People’s Park. 

We tutted. And then we found new cycle routes and exercised more in our gardens – or joined a Peloton class. Lucky us. That is a privilege not available to a good many of my neighbours in Tower Hamlets where the poverty rate is the highest in the capital and overcrowded homes remain a significant issue. Alternatives to the park are few and far between for them. No wonder there’s been an upswing in calls to local helplines.

Right now, there are 19,000 households on the borough’s housing register in need of an affordable home and over 2,000 households living in temporary accommodation. Average house prices are 22 times the average salary.

So, while we may have a short-term public health crisis, we sure as hell have a long-term housing crisis. And we can’t allow the one to make the other even worse. Which is why I welcome the recent decision taken by leading housebuilders to commence a phased return to work. It can’t have been an easy decision but we need the homes and the security they bring, we need the jobs, we need the boost to confidence.

Sure, not everyone is convinced. But we should trust the science and listen to the experts (for once). And the industry needs to make its case too, turning the spotlight on how it has nimbly adapted to the new normal and reassuring site neighbours that their personal safety is not put in jeopardy. Done well this could be a game-changer for the industry. They’ve reopened my park. The swings and the skate park are out of bounds; the cafes are closed; the benches are taped over. It’s no longer a place to linger but it’s all that some have got.