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Old 03-11-2013, 12:21 PM
567 posts, read 771,204 times
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Howdy! I've been researching British political/economic history (1973 to now, roughly), and one of my points of confusion is the matter of public housing. It's basically this: what's the difference between "council housing" in the UK and "housing projects" in the USA?

(Since some of you might find my post to be "tl;dr", I'll bold the actual questions contained therein.)

When I think of American housing projects I think of man-made disasters like Jordan-Downs (L.A.) or Cabrini Greens (Chicago) which are the utmost pits of underclass deprivation and violence. (I think the former has since been torn down; not sure about the latter.) When JordanDowns was still there, if you stood next to the wall that encircled it, within about 45 minutes or less you would hear gunshots. There was an endless stream of reports about children as young as 7 exhibiting symptoms of PTSD, trembling and whimpering and peeing their pants all through the school day. These were (and still are, to the degree they still exist) ghettos within the ghetto. Whatever violence and depravity existed in the larger ghetto were magnified in these walled-in hellholes. This is why Section 8 (where people who qualify for public housing are given rent money and spread throughout the metro area, rather than concentrated in one single place) is more common now, if I'm not mistaken.

My recollections may be a bit exaggerated, especially since I never had to live in one, but "the projects" were always as bad a living arrangement that Americans in America could have, short of homelessness or incarceration. They are regarded as utter, catastrophic failures, the blackest mark on American urban planning since the 1870s.

Whereas when I come across references to "council flats" and the like, I'm not sure what to think. On the one hand, I grew up on British punk rock, which gives one the impression that council housing was, by definition, as crappy and dirty and miserable as "the projects" of America. I guess they could get pretty grim, judging by "This is England" and that one movie about the Scottish kid whose friend drowned (which had to have subtitles because you couldn't understand anybody). But with that second movie, the kid's dad was a house painter (a licensed professional house painter in America wouldn't be living in the projects), and upon qualifying the family got upgraded from their grimy flat to a newly built house in a meadow not far from the sea. That was rather confusing to me.

When I read academic, literary, and non-fiction works that touch on the subject directly or indirectly, I get the impression that the larger working class (such as the Scottish house painter and his family) commonly lived in them, and not just the lowest of the underclass, and that this was so even in the decades prior to the Thatcherite evisceration of the traditional British working class. (In other words, council housing wasn't necessarily the Pit of Horrors that American housing projects were/are.) Did any of the lower end of the "middle class" live in them as well?

I should mention that Americans have a funny notion of class. Someone living in a double-wide trailer will consider themselves "middle class" because they're not living in a single-wide trailer like the meth-head two lots over. "Working class" is a dirty word because it implies one is not "middle class." The Scottish family in that movie would certainly consider themselves middle class in America. The wealthy are often the same; a corporate lawyer with millions in personal assets will call himself "middle class" with a straight face. Though I guess his British counterpart would as well, for in Britain you don't get to be "upper class" unless your country estate has been in the family since the reign of George II.

Also, what happened to council housing? I keep coming across references to them being "sold off" to small-time landlords some time during the Blair/Brown or early Cameron years. How do things work nowadays?

To sum up: I'm confused about the differences between British "council housing" and American "public housing", then and now.
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Old 03-11-2013, 03:51 PM
Location: deep forest...BEARS?
15,237 posts, read 14,473,172 times
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Until a genuine Brit who has the knowledge comes along, I'll hop in. From what I have seen and heard about, the council housing in England runs the gamut from horrible places like we have in the US to very nice cottages in lovely areas. I don't know how they do it but you can be poor and still live in a nice cottage (house to us).

Even their flats or attached housing are larger and nicer than our hell holes for poor people. More rooms, gardens, nice locations and they are mixed in with ordinary homes. The renters are allowed, in many cases, to purchase their council homes! In the US, of course, if you had enough money to buy a home, you wouldn't be allowed to live there in the first place because you are not allowed to work or have money.

I am sure there are some horrible examples of housing in England too but the ones I saw were nice. There were times when I would say, "Oh, what a pretty area." The Brit beside me would tell me it was council housing! So I am confused too. On the one hand maybe they make it too easy when you are down on your luck but I'd rather be down on my luck over there than here!!!!!!!!!
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Old 03-11-2013, 04:14 PM
Location: Colorado
4,308 posts, read 10,897,654 times
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Careful, you're about to be inundated with people posting photos of the ugliest council house estates in the country!

Actually, Wikipedia (I know, I know) gives a fairly good description of the history of council housing in the UK (Council house - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) with the boom in construction happening during the Industrial Age to house the thousands flocking to the cities for work and again immediately after WW2 when millions had lost their homes in the bombings.

It is true that when most people think of council housing we do tend to envision places like Broadwater Farm, a rather notorious area in London but I also know there are nicer places. My hometown has a row of ye olde Almshouses (built between the 17th and early 20th centuries) which are today used as housing for low-income retired people.
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Old 03-11-2013, 05:23 PM
Location: London, UK
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I live in a council flat and it sure isn't pretty looking. The inside is nice paintings on the wall and what-not.

In our major cities all of the old council houses (especially the tower blocks) from the 60s are getting ripped down to build more modern homes for families however its a slow process because though I don't live in a grimm tower block my block is set to come down in !!2018!! which is **** taking because our flates are drafty as hell especially when its cold like currently.

Old warn out council estates are typically ''no go areas'' for most upper middle class snobs oh sorry I mean people because of the high crime rate and ''dingyness''. I'd say our council estates are still tamer than an old housing project in New York.

Generally its the lower middle class, working class and the so called underclass (people that don't / won't work) who live on the estates its the inside of the home that tells one how well of the family is.
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Old 03-11-2013, 06:15 PM
Location: Next stop Antarctica
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I was brought up on a council estate, we moved into our house just after the war, yes we were working class ( hate that class thing) but the estate was beautiful, tree lined streets, most people kept their gardens and homes neat and tidy although we didn't have a lot. Kids played out in the street never any trouble just the odd scuffle. We were proud of our homes.
When i went back recently to have a look it was a disgrace, gardens a mess, full of rubbish, weeds growing out of the footpaths, youths hanging around. Broken down fences. If the outside was looking bad who knows what the inside was like.
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Old 03-11-2013, 06:54 PM
Location: Scotland
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Dundee, Scotland council housing. Sure theres a few decent houses.......... but mostly sh*t.

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Old 03-11-2013, 10:37 PM
Location: Glasgow, Scotland
554 posts, read 549,648 times
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I'm sure that online there's far better information than I could provide as to the what, why, where questions. However I can link you to general street view locations of the various era's of social housing in the UK.



Post-WW1 until early 1950's:


Early 1950's - early 1970's:


From 1980, tenants in social housing have had the Right to Buy their council house at a very subsidised price. The idea being that people would look after something they owned, better than somewhere they just rented. (Probably true.) However this move more or less bankrupted the local authorities who had paid for the original construction of these homes. This acted as a great disincentive for local authorities to build any new housing schemes. Where necessary they tend to buy individual homes in private developments. Increasingly, tenants in need of support with housing rent from a private landlord and have housing benefit paid which subsidises their rent, instead of having to live in purpose built housing. The new setup is much more expensive, but it is without a doubt better than the sort of high density housing schemes which were put up in the 1950's - 1970's.

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Old 03-11-2013, 11:36 PM
Location: The Silver State (from the UK)
4,663 posts, read 6,704,659 times
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Council housing in the UK is nowhere near as bad as project housing in the US. Whilst it isn't the most desirable it serves its function and is often found intermingled with private housing. Many private developments now have to include a certain amount if council housing (publicly funded) for those in need of them. People in Britain may make negative remarks about council housing but you will not find one anything like those in LA or Cabrini Green. Not even the worst ones.

Now, on the other hand, public housing is ridiculously inefficient as far as distribution goes as there will be waiting lists for London whilst houses in the north are vacant. I wrote a paper in my final year of Uni on the UK housing market (public and private).

British council housing is also often occupied by those who can afford to live in the private sector but consume resources meant to be for those more in need. Overall, its a desperately inefficient system but the standards are infinitely better than living within the American equivalent.
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Old 03-12-2013, 03:07 AM
Location: Next stop Antarctica
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In Britain they also have sheltered accommodation independent living for the elderly, council owned, I don't know about the US but we have nothing like that here in OZ.
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Old 03-12-2013, 04:32 AM
Location: Glasgow Scotland
13,059 posts, read 9,673,445 times
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Our council type housing in the eastend of Glasgow has picked up greatly... as in the early 70s poorer people were shoved in in multi storey buildings, not for families at all , most of these tower blocks are being pulled down thankfully. and now we have much more homely, family friendly houses over the area....
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