'Uphill struggle' to create socially mixed housing

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Planners may aspire to create "vibrant", "balanced" and "inclusive" neighbourhoods by mixing private housing for sale and subsidised housing for rent within new estates, but the reality is that people do not want to mingle, says the think-tank Demos.

Planners may aspire to create "vibrant", "balanced" and "inclusive" neighbourhoods by mixing private housing for sale and subsidised housing for rent within new estates, but the reality is that people do not want to mingle, says the think-tank Demos.

Socially mixed housing does not make for mixed communities. Its findings, published today in its report Living Together, challenge the basis of current housing orthodoxy. The research, based on interviews with more than 1,000 residents living on 10 mixed-tenure estates, concludes that most are "not characterised by inclusive social networks", and that "fostering greater estate-wide contact is likely to be an uphill struggle".

Tenants and homeowners tend not to mix. On average, only 37 per cent of residents knew anyone on their estate who lived under a different form of tenure and only 17 per cent knew more than five people under different tenure. While seven out of ten residents would ask a neighbour for help or advice, only one in six would go to someone under a different form of tenure.

There was wide variation between estates around the country: Town End Farm in Sunderland and Greater Leys in Oxford were far more integrated than the average, reflecting the closer mixing of different tenures. The least mixed were Bodesley Urban Village in inner-city Birmingham, and Windmill Park, a "very segregated" development in west London.

Demos therefore advises that to achieve the desired social mixing, tenures should be mixed within streets, not just in the estate as a whole. "Given that street-level mixing helps reduce the chance that certain streets of exclusively social housing will develop a bad image, integration has advantages over separating tenures into different blocks."

The report also challenges the view that private owners do not want to live in socially mixed estates. "Most residents are neither particularly worried nor inspired by the mixed nature of their estates. Only about a quarter of respondents perceived any problems and a quarter any benefits.... Where problems are perceived they usually tend to exert a minor influence on people's overall perception."

However, views were more positive in the estates where social mixing took place within streets. "Residents of mixed streets did not perceive more problems with mixing than those of zoned estates."

Demos also argues that social benefits do arise from mixed housing even though they may not be immediately obvious. The falling volume of new social housing - down from 130,000 new homes in 1972 to 29,000 in 1997 - has led to a "concentration of the poorest". As more affluent people have moved to the private sector, "the economic profile of tenants has diverged more and more from that of the population as a whole". Thus 45 per cent of social housing tenants are among the poorest fifth of households.

Such concentrations of poverty mean that there is little money in local circulation, leading to the closure of shops, excessive demands on social services, "poor social and cultural conditions" and a poor image of an area that "in itself acts as a barrier to employment and other opportunities".

Comments