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The Housing Crisis... What type of island do we want to be?

The Housing Crisis... What type of island do we want to be?

Thursday 03 November 2022

The Housing Crisis... What type of island do we want to be?

Thursday 03 November 2022


You start a new job with enthusiasm and zeal: this is going to be a challenge, because there is an existential crisis to resolve, but you are the person to really change things, to make a difference, to correct the errors of the past, to ride to success.

Undoubtedly any new Housing Minister must have thoughts and feelings such as these when accepting the poison chalice.

Within days of starting, the unexpected complexity of the challenges become clearer. There appear to be no easy answers, no quick fixes. Civil servants seem to oppose any new thinking and are reluctant to change anything, even the deckchairs.

The last thing the new Minister needs is to discover that the crisis is very much worse than anybody thought. That is just too horrendous to contemplate.

The very idea must be resisted. What are back-burners for? Dealing with the known crisis is difficult enough. To tackle this, policies can be tweaked, emphasis can change, reassuring words can be uttered to confirm that lots of things are being reviewed and all will be well. 

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Pictured: 'Civil servants seem to oppose any new thinking and are reluctant to change anything, even the deckchairs.'

The Minister of Housing recently announced that he had agreed an official definition of “homelessness”. This was excellent news.

Committees, civil servants, politicians and forums have agonised over this for years. I, myself, was a member of a Government sponsored group that came up with a carefully considered definition, two years’ ago.  Our definition included “involuntary sharing” of accommodation, to cover divorced couples needing to co-habit, three-generation homes and the like. The final definition does not include this category, but otherwise is useful and helpful. It contains four levels of homelessness, from desperate to merely unfortunate. I commend the Minister for taking this long overdue and vital decision.

The Minister mentioned that those now recognised as homeless would be counted. He did not enlighten us further. I am aware of no mechanism that would deliver any reliable statistics of the homelessness to which so many Jersey residents are subject.

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Pictured: The Minister of Housing recently announced that he had agreed an official definition of “homelessness”.

A young co-habiting couple, both employed in good jobs outside finance, childless because they cannot afford children, sharing crowded and unsuitable accommodation with in-laws, are now officially recognised as homeless. Unfortunately, the Minister knows nothing about their circumstances. They cannot afford to rent, let alone buy. They cannot apply to the Affordable Housing Gateway to be included on the social housing waiting list, because they are under 40 years of age and have no dependants. There is no Government agency to which they can apply or beg. 

We now have a totally anomalous situation in which thousands of Jersey residents are officially homeless, but they cannot apply for social housing. Their fate is unknown and ignored and they have no hope of a decent life. 

What kind of Island are we?

The Gateway must be opened up to all who are homeless. 

This will, obviously, result in a massive new challenge to our beleaguered Housing Minister. That is surely preferable to the head-in-the-sand policy that has bedevilled housing policy in Jersey for a generation and has resulted in the present disgraceful mess. The problem has long been ignored and unmeasured. Consequently, there was no imperative to devise policies to resolve it. That remains the position today.

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Pictured: 'A young co-habiting couple, both employed in good jobs outside finance, childless because they cannot afford children, sharing crowded and unsuitable accommodation with in-laws, are now officially recognised as homeless.' 

The Minister has announced a gradual relaxation, over the years to come, of the unjust criteria of the Gateway that discriminate against homeless people.  There is little new in this.  That has been the intention of successive Housing Ministers or Presidents for over 20 years.  

Open up the Gateway, Minister. Do it now, Minister. Do it today, Minister. I implore you. Give homeless people some hope. Count them. Correct this injustice. It is your responsibility. Tell your civil servants to get their act together. 

Then insist that your Government colleagues support you in a new, comprehensive programme of social housing development to address the problem and to solve the crisis. Then you will be “the person to really change things, to make a difference, to correct the errors of the past, to ride to success”.

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