Anarres Exclusive: A Rich Man’s World – Not So Funny

We here at Anarres HQ have a love/hate relationship with housing; we’d love to have it sorted, but we hate the faff of trying to get it. By which we mean: this is the third time we as a housing co-op have had an offer on our potential first house accepted within the last five years – the first two times, the house sale fell through, and this time around we are still on track to be housed soon, fingers crossed. Hopefully third time lucky (see below if you can help with financially with this)?

For sure, this should be an exciting time for us. Our disparate household is due to include a baby human at the beginning of April, and we are probably all lined up to have a house by the beginning of March… But it’s getting more and more difficult to be optimistic!

The need for genuinely-affordable, dignified, decent housing is indisputable. The high-speed rail line which has been threatening to link London, Bristol and Cardiff for years now, means that the price of Bristol real estate has been climbing up and up, long years before that transport link ever gets here. The purchasing power of ‘professional landlords’ means that gentrification is an absolute foregone conclusion, as rising house prices shatter former communities, and scatter the survivors to hell and back. Even before COVID hit, rental hikes in Bristol rose at an unprecedented rate, and were predicted to continue rising by more than a third more than the rest of the UK. The bulk of landlords and agencies refuse to let to those on benefits or in precarious work, and rents have risen to between £600 and £800 per month for rooms in shared houses. And even though Bristol Council ostensibly recognises and bemoans this situation, their actual response is, well, piss-poor. Despite local government targets, much former Council land ends up flogged off to developers building new estates with zero affordable housing, and the average time spent on lists for social housing for the most vulnerable is six months minimum, but is much more likely over 21 months.

In the old days, homeless folk would work together to solve society’s housing problems, by cracking squats, or moving into vans, boats, and tents. But a whole slew of new laws and police powers has been squeezing the life out of these bottom-up survival tactics for a while now. Even in the first year of the pandemic – with all the current public health concern that work be limited to ‘essential work only’ – somehow bailiffs were still being hired to evict a squatted site in St. Werburghs. And even when rich parasites aren’t literally paying off thugs to attack the homeless, other allegedly-upstanding members of the community are busy either urging the Council to evict van-dwellers, or take a sick pleasure in torching peoples’ tents and vans themselves.

In the face of such economic and physical violence, many of us look to housing co-ops as one of our best means to secure stable housing.

That said, setting them up isn’t half as easy as we once naïvely hoped! Even though many housing co-ops are designed to provide housing for the poor and marginalised, and much of the work involved is carried out by poor and marginalised people, the sad reality is that you need tremendous amounts of funds to make them work. It seems that the majority of fledgling co-ops crumble within their first two years of life, and – for those co-ops that do survive – the need to acquire £100,000s in loanstock can often push acts of intended working class solidarity, to look suspiciously like charity. And there is a lot more hidden hurdles to the process than just a lack of cash.

So, how have our previous purchases fell through?

The first time around, it was a combination of factors which stung us. Firstly, we got gazumped by a late high bidder, even though our offer had been formally accepted. At the same time, our bank decided to cut 15% off our mortgage over night. And then our current landlord gave us our notice. Although the third factor took the piss, it was the second one that was the real killer.

Although there may look like there’s a complete surplus of different banks on your average high street, the legal/financial complexities of co-ops means that we only have three specialist, ‘ethical’ banks to choose from: Ecology Building Society, Triodos Bank, and Unity Trust. Having so few to choose from gives them a lot of power. No matter how seemingly incompetent, understaffed, or downright unethical they are, we just have to grin and bear it. And don’t forget to say “thank you”, afterwards!

The second time our purchase fell through – over a year back – was just a case of us not knowing what we didn’t know. We didn’t know there was a whole alphabet’s worth of building construction methods (“non-standard construction”: including such hits as ‘Laing Easiform’, ‘Parkinson Frame’, and ‘Wimpey No Fines’) nowadays considered so dodgy that no bank would dare offer mortgages on, even though the individual house in question might be architecturally sound. So, that minor detail made another of our housing dreams die a death. We eventually were sent a copy of all these construction no-nos for us to pass on to our networks, but it would have been nice to know this info upfront.

Broadly speaking, estate agents, banks, solicitors, and other white collar criminals make a killing from property sales (I know, I know, tell us something we don’t know). They charge in the thousands for a couple days’ work, maybe reading and writing a handful of emails and letters, or so it seems. Of course, please don’t quote us on that, because we might be completely incorrect; the whole industry is designed to be as opaque and complex as possible, with only the overly-salaried allowed to get a look in, so there’s no way plebs like us can know for sure what’s involved.

We’ve been trying to get this right for six years now, and every time we do our research and think we know what’s what, a new unforeseen problem crops up. Only a week ago, we discovered that our bank had taken a whole month to decide to add an extra planning-related condition onto our mortgage, and our solicitor revealed the existence of a previously-unknown ‘covenant’ on the property deed; meaning yet another step we have to undertake, of politely begging the Council’s permission to say “please sir, let us not be homeless”. It’s obviously heady stuff, but we seem to have miraculously negotiated these obstacles; for now, at least.

Incidentally, we will soon be looking for new co-op members, and we also want loanstock investors. If you have a desire to be one of those investors, we’re looking to source a total of £24,000, ideally made up of a series of loans of no less than £500, to be paid back over a period of 5 to 20 years, at an interest rate between 0 to 3%. If you think you can help, please contact us, at anarreshousing[at]riseup[dot]net.

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