Like many cities in the UK, Manchester is changing quickly. Its highly lucrative housing market is serving young professionals well, evidenced by the large number of one and two bedroom apartments available to rent and buy throughout the city. The Piccadilly East development profiled in the BBC’s recent Manctopia series is a prime example. But what about our older generations and especially those who rent?
One part of the city that is rapidly becoming unrecognisable to its long-term residents is Hulme. I ventured to the inner-city district on a recent sunny weekday morning, where I arranged to meet local author and Hulme community leader, Tina Cribbin. She invited me to a weekly community group she runs with older residents of Hopton Court, a social housing block where she lives.
“A lot of people in here, because of Covid-19, have gone into arrears – they’re all scared they’re going to lose their homes.”Hopton Court resident, age 67
I’m greeted with Tina’s welcoming smile, and after a group introduction a hot cup of tea finds its way into my hands before I can sit down. The residents are just beginning a game of socially distanced bingo in the gardens. Looking at the group with a caring pride, Tina observes, “Nobody recognises what these older people offer to us. They offer history and wisdom.”
Hopton Court’s older renters find themselves in a country that for decades has geared policy towards home ownership. While Right to Buy was introduced by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980’s, today we also have Help to Buy and shared ownership schemes. The assumption underlying these policies – as articulated by Thatcher’s environment secretary Michael Heseltine – is that “Home ownership stimulates the attitudes of independence and self-reliance that are the bedrock of a free society.”
Many countries do not share this assumption. Germany, for example, has one of the lowest home ownership percentages of any European country (51.5% in 2018), thanks in part to its housing policies which make renting more attractive.
But despite the housing crisis, and continued decline in homeownership since 2007 (from 73% to 65% today), the UK continues to be focused on getting citizens on the housing ladder. The stigma of not owning, especially over the age of 45, is going strong.
For some older people, however, renting is the only option – and it’s also a demographic that’s increasing. Data from the 2018-19 English Housing Survey, published in January 2020, shows the proportion of people aged 55-64 living in the rented sectors has risen from around a fifth to a quarter (21% to 27%) from 2008-9 to 2018-19. Of those aged over 65 in 2018-19, 6% were in the private rented sector, and 16% were social renters, which equated to 1.1 million households.
The pressures surrounding housing security have only increased since last year due to the pandemic. Research in October 2019 by Shelter UK suggests that over a quarter of private renters aged over 65 worry about becoming homeless due to rising costs of living. It also revealed more than 8,000 people over 65 became homeless in the 12 months prior to that. Those figures are unlikely have improved in 2020.
Many of the residents in Hopton Court are over 65. They rent from the social housing association One Manchester, which manages this building along with 12,000 other homes across Manchester. “People assume [this block] is student accommodation,” Tina tells me. “Or they assume we’re a community of no importance. Because we’re so small, we’re not recognised as anything and [it’s thought] that things don’t have an impact on us. I asked one of our residents what he thought about living here and he said ‘we’re a community of ghosts’. And actually, the more I thought about it the more it rang true.”
Ignored and overlooked
The bingo is in full flow now. “Sixty-nine, sixty-nine!” is bellowed out to raucous laughter among the residents. “Here we go. Keep it clean. We’ve had the police round here before with this lot”, Tina jokes.
Less funny, however, is the reality that winter is coming, and outdoor bingo will only be possible for a few more weeks of lucky sunshine. “We’ve got a tiny room inside [Hopton Court] that was the caretaker’s office.” This will be used for the weekly sessions when the weather inevitably turns, but who knows how feasible that will be should Covid dominate the colder months like many predict.
For Tina, one of the biggest problems communities like hers face can be social landlords, which don’t always seem to listen and respond to resident’s needs. “We’ve asked [One Manchester] for support and adaptations for older people in Hopton Court, and what they’ve given us is superfast broadband,” Tina explains.
While appreciated, Internet speed isn’t high on the list of things many residents feel they need. Not providing the support and adaptations requested has led some residents to believe One Manchester is hoping they will move out.
When the Meteor contacted One Manchester for a comment, Anna Bishop, Executive Director of Customers and Communities at One Manchester, responded: “One Manchester is concerned with the housing needs, health and well-being of all its customers and recognises that some older people have specific requirements.”
She says One Manchester has eight schemes specifically designed for the independent elderly and are currently carrying out a study with partners on the needs of the elderly residents in Hulme. One Manchester, she explains, doesn’t manage the decision of adaptations, however. This is decided by occupational therapists employed through the Manchester Service for Independent Living (MSIL) process. You can read Bishop’s statement in full at the end of this article.
Since my visit, Tina has informed me that the relationship between One Manchester and the residents is improving. The agency has provided fifteen laptops and some mobile phones for residents, which are used for writing sessions and helps them stay connected, something which is arguably more important than ever during the pandemic.
Covid-19 and Increasing Uncertainty
In Hopton Court the bingo finishes, and the festivities ramp up. Residents take their turns on the mic, belting out karaoke much to the delight of passersby who wave from busses and film on their phones. The joy and sense of community is infectious, and I can’t help but smile.
Tina introduces me to another resident of Hopton Court, who is 67 and wishes not to be named. Despite the convivial atmosphere, our conversation feels bleak.
She describes the situation in her block bluntly. “A lot of people in here, because of Covid-19, have gone into arrears – they’re all scared they’re going to lose their homes. And a lot of people have been here a long time. One Manchester doesn’t cater for old people. They don’t like doing repairs, they take months. You have to pay for some repairs yourself, whereas before it was done by the council. One Manchester is supposed to be not-for-profit, but believe me, no way is it like that.”
She continues, touching on the impact of the pandemic on older renters. “I’ve known people evicted from here, because they got into difficulties,” the resident admits. “A lot of people are going to be homeless. When I was growing up you always looked after the older generation. They don’t now – you’re just forgotten about. You become a number.”
Like most residents at Hopton Court, this resident lives on a state pension. Money is a worry for many, she tells me, with little they can do in the short-term to manage their situation. “If you get into rent arrears,” she explains, “Manchester Money try and help you. But saying that, it takes a long time, so you get more and more in debt. It’s been seven weeks since they told me I was entitled to £341 a month, and I should have had it since last August. It’s September now. So I’ve been paying full rent on my pension, and full council tax, when I shouldn’t have been.”
Tina’s community sessions are very important for maintaining morale, and this resident tells me there’s a silver lining to the pandemic. “Covid-19 has brought us closer – we’ve been playing bingo and the neighbours who don’t usually talk to each other have been coming down and having a chat.”
But as the older residents of Hopton Court turn towards each other for support, she articulates an overarching feeling shared by many: “Nowadays it’s all about the young.”
Gentrification and older renters
The impact of gentrification on older people is often overlooked, particularly the impact on older renters who can’t profit from rising house prices and may be forced out of the area after rents spike.
As Manchester continues to attract new, young and more affluent residents, areas like Hulme will become unrecognisable to the residents who have lived there for decades.
The karaoke is still underway and some have taken to the impromptu dance floor. As we watch the socially distanced dancers, I speak with two residents about how Hulme has changed. Sally Casey received an MBE for charity work and has lived in Hulme since 1969. She feels the area has changed for the worse, with long-term residents overlooked in the process: “The way we are treated by organisations is disgusting. I was so glad when the university [of Manchester] came in. I thought it would be good for the area and it would be lovely to see young people – it would be a lively place to be in again. But the university got greedier and greedier, buying up most of the buildings in Hulme.”
She points out some examples and describes how she feels residents aren’t being included in development plans, “The pub opposite [once The Gamecock], they want to demolish it and build an eight and a twelve storey block for students. They built a huge hotel [The Hyatt Regency] – the university is well involved in it – and we had to put up with it with no consultation. I don’t see any of the locals ever go into it”.
Will things ever change for the better, I ask her? “I cannot see a good outcome for the residents of Hulme. I keep asking the councillors to go to One Manchester and demand of them on behalf of their residents, what their long-term plan for this area is. You can’t get an answer from them. When the managers come to talk to us, all I ever hear is ‘let me take that back’. They take it [developments proposals] back but never come back to us.”
Joe Tierney is 77 and also feels Hulme is increasingly a place only for the young. He keenly feels the disappearance of local businesses that cater to his generation. “All these pubs are student pubs. I used to go to The Salutation, but they’re not for me anymore, they’re all for students. They’re nice people but it’s a different generation.”
What’s affecting him most right now is the isolating nature of Covid-19. Like many other older residents he feels somewhat helpless: “I’ve got seven great grandkids down in Nottingham, but I haven’t been able to see them. You can’t go near kids at my age at the moment.”
He succinctly sums up how many seem to feel: “It’s upsetting but you can’t do nothing about it.”
As I walk away from the singing, the socially distanced dancing and the laughter that clearly brings so much joy to the residents, Joe’s words stick with me. In the short hour I spent with them, it didn’t take long for the laughter to give way to worry and reveal a persistent underlying fear.
Older communities, especially in rapidly expanding cities, are often forgotten. Ruthless in their quest for progress, cities like Manchester are constantly seeking to become ‘vibrant,’ ‘creative,’ ‘exciting’ places to live, with new bar openings, restaurant pop ups and leading universities all hungry to attract that most lucrative of demographics: young people. But how do our older generations fit into this, and more specifically, how do older people who rent ensure a secure, stable future in a living situation that is largely out of their control? For now, it doesn’t look like there’s an answer.
By Charlie Thomas
Follow Charlie on Twitter. Visit his photography website here.
*This article originally stated the Junction Pub was to be developed into luxury apartments. It was updated on 12th October to clarify the Junction Pub will be retained as a community pub as part of the development plans.
This article is part of the ‘Raising the Roof on Housing‘ series. The housing investigation theme for this series was voted as the winner of a shortlist by Meteor Community Members. To find out more about becoming a member – click here
The Meteor contacted One Manchester for comment. Anna Bishop, Executive Director of Customers and Communities at One Manchester, responded:
“One Manchester is concerned with the housing needs, health and well-being of all its customers and recognises that some older people have specific requirements. We have eight schemes across our stock, which provide 245 homes specifically designed for the independent elderly, alongside two multi-storey blocks with 132 homes restricted for the over 50s, and a number of bungalows.
“In addition, we provide adaptations to help support people to remain in their existing homes through the Manchester Service for Independent Living (MSIL) process. We are currently working with a Hulme based resident group, a charitable organisation and other partners on a study of the needs of elderly residents in Hulme and the potential housing options available.
“However, we don’t manage the decision on adaptations, customers apply for adaptations via MSIL, who send out an Occupational Therapist to undertake a medical assessment. Depending on the Therapist’s conclusion, we then carry out any adaptations that have been approved.
“Our tenancy agreements are clear about our responsibilities as a landlord and those of the tenant. In line with other housing associations, we carry out nearly all repairs for our social housing customers. The main exclusion to this is damage caused by the customer’s household or their visitors. Different rules apply to leaseholders or shared owners.
“Our timescales for completing repairs are 24 hours for emergencies, within 20 days for other routine repairs and more than 20 days for major repairs. We have an excellent record in achieving these timeframes.
“The national lockdown due to COVID-19 prevented housing associations from attending all repairs apart from emergencies and servicing required for safety. Since 1st June, One Manchester has been working through the backlog caused by the lockdown restrictions, and we have been attending new, routine repairs since 20 July.
“One Manchester is not installing high-speed fibre. As a landlord we can’t unreasonably refuse fibre installation and following a lengthy wayleave negotiation, we have agreed to give permission to a third party to install the infrastructure so residents can access high speed fibre should they wish to.
“We fully support the installation of high-speed internet, as digital connection has many benefits for our customers including social connection, financial benefits and access to public services. We were recently approached by a residents group in Hulme asking for digital access and have provided 15 tablets and tethering devices for a resident-led project to help support older people to get online.
“In terms of our plans for Hulme, we are currently finalising our Place Plans, which we have created for each of our areas individually through working with customers, community leaders and partners. These plans outline our commitment to continuing to work with our customers, improving the services we offer, supporting community groups and delivering social value.“
The University of Manchester was also contacted for comment but did not respond by the time of publishing