The Independent newspaper has revealed Freedom of Information request results which showing the stringent restrictions on the type of social housing tenants catered for by one of Europe’s biggest inner-city regeneration projects, Kings Cross Central. People with a history of either mental illness, drug or alcohol problems, or rent-related debt are ineligible for the 500 social housing units being built alongside 900 luxury units, the UK headquarters of Google and BNP Paribas, and a massive retail complex.
‘Segregation on the grounds of mental health is completely unacceptable,’ says CEO of Mind, Paul Farmer, upon learning that Camden Council, which operates a large mental hospital very close to Kings Cross Central, won’t allocate a single unit to people with a history of poor mental health.
The consortium behind the £2bn scheme agreed to include social housing as a condition of planning permission for the complex. But in shocking contrast to usual social housing allocation, which gives priority to those in greatest need, large chunks of the population are excluded. In addition, a quota system ensures no more than 20% of Kings Cross Central’s social housing residents are emerging from homeless, no more than 23% are children, and no more than 25% are unemployed. Housing Justice CEO Alison Gelder calls the quotas ‘a crude exercise in social engineering.’
WaveLength CEO, Tim Leech, says: ‘WaveLength works closely with housing associations, and often receives requests for TVs or radios from One Housing Group, the association administering Kings Cross Central’s social housing. Many of them come on behalf of people with poor mental health which leaves them almost completely confined to their homes. WaveLength does all it can for these beneficiaries, and I would question why One Housing and Camden Council are not doing all they can to provide their clients with a safe and comfortable environment to live in.
‘Building rarified communities is never a positive way of going about things. Hot off the heels of the Paralympics, these exclusions are a sad reflection on our society and its inability to accept diversity and people for who they are. Councils and individuals need to appreciate people for who they are, rather than their medical conditions and economic status.
‘One of the most common aggravating factors for mental illness, as WaveLength knows only too well, is isolation. For this reason, a home in a bustling, lively central housing development, well-connected by public transport, would be enormously valuable to many people who are crudely excluded by Kings Cross Central. We know from Crisis’ Skylight centres that relaxing, safe and attractive environments do a lot to improve and maintain mental health. We all need access to good living environments.
‘If, as Camden Council says in its defence, ‘vulnerable residents may have insufficient support to manage in these homes,’ this is a failing in the system, not the people. People on the social housing list are capable of living independently in mainstream housing; otherwise, they would be on the supported housing list. In fact, Kings Cross Central will also hold 55 supported living units providing round-the-clock care for those suffering from severe mental illness or age-related impairments – making it unlikely that, as Camden claims, the location’s social housing units are inaccessible for people classified as needing lesssupport.
‘But if there are dramatic differences to this housing which would cause problems for people with mental health problems, this is the developers’ fault, not the prospective inhabitants’. This exclusion shows how, often, it isn’t a person’s own medical or educational condition which holds them back, but a social system which blocks opportunities.’