Changes in housing provision in the last 30 years by D Preece.

As the 1990s began, the UK was facing housing challenges. Not only was there a shortage of homes for the poor, there was a critical shortage of homes for low and middle income wage earners. In addition to this, the numbers of homeless people in the cities were rising. Higher home prices in the middle of economic recession, plus a reduction in low income housing led to a greater demand for rented accommodation, which resulted in fewer and higher priced rented accommodation. In addition, the needs of people changed. The changing social mix of cities led to variation in demand and type of demand. Cultural, social and technological changes have also changed the demands for housing. The response to the challenge has been mixed. In Birmingham, like in all other cities across the UK, the change in housing demand has been away from the family house towards the home for the single person or couple. This has been brought about by various factors, including the rising divorce rate, the greater proportion of people in the higher age range and the increase in people living alone before marriage.

Reflecting national governmental policy, the focus has been on redeveloping the brownfield inner city areas. In Birmingham, the main inner city redevelopment has been centred around Gas Street Basin. Known as Brindleyplace, the development caters for affluent singles or couples who are especially desirous of a 'designer address'. Such a label can artificially inflate the value of a house if it is in the 'right' area. Other examples of this in Birmingham include the B90/B91 postcode of Solihull and Knowle.

The regeneration of the inner city, whilst attracting high income occupants, does not address the whole problem. Those on low incomes will not be able to afford the high prices of Brindleyplace, Britannic Park or Dickens Heath. These examples are high price high quality homes, with designer postcodes. They are also private developments. The village of Dickens Heath - a high quality purpose built commuter village is being developed by a multitude of the leading developers, including Bryant. Likewise, three developers share the development of Britannic Park. These developments, then, are led by market factors. There must, as we have seen, be a demand for these homes, and indeed a market has been established such that only one of the Britannic Park apartments remains unsold.

The redevelopment of the council owned and former council owned homes over recent years has changed the image of these areas. The data from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions shows that much Government investment has occurred in the last few years. Over the last two years, the Department has made an extra 3.6 billion available to help local authorities reduce the investment backlog in housing renovation. Over 1997-1999, approximately 750 million was made available to local authorities for investment in housing or regeneration work under the Capital Receipts Initiative (CRI). About 75% of this has been spent on related regeneration work, and the CRI has also helped to fund more than 10,000 private sector renovation grants. 570 million has been allocated for the CRI for 1999-2000. In 1998-99 5.2 million was spent on helping the elderly and disabled, as well as those on low incomes, to carry out improvements and adaptations to their homes through local councils. This could include the installation of access ramps or lifts and stair lifts for the elderly.

The migrant influx has also altered housing demands. The migrant populus tend to be low-middle income but have a significantly higher birth rate than the indigenous population which means that they need larger homes at a similar price. Efforts have been made to redevelop the Lee Bank area from the tenement blocks which existed previously to provide multiple roomed flats which can accommodate such families.

The increase in proportion of people in the higher age ranges has led to an increase in the demand for small flats or apartments which are easier to manage. In addition, it is useful for these flats to be on a single level, and to be warden controlled. The higher the quality of the flats, the higher the cost, and the less likely that the flats are council owned. However, the council are making an effort. In the traditional council estate areas of the inner city and the outer ring, the council of Birmingham have rejuvenated the areas.

Whilst the majority of the changes are purely cosmetic, for example the reglazing of the tower block opposite Moundsley Sports area in the Druid's Heath area of South Birmingham, the effect on the residents can only be positive. It adds a much needed 'feelgood' factor to the area. This area has benefited from its proximity to the 50 Showcase Route, and money has been invested in the local Maypole area. The area has received a new modern library and the redevelopment of the immediate shopping area around the library. Similarly, the Balsall Heath area of Birmingham has been rejuvenated to improve local confidence in the area.

It is almost guaranteed that within the urban area there will be inequalities. Despite proclamations of racial equality, there exist stereotypical racial/religious zones within Birmingham. A case in point would be a simple comparison between two suburbs of Birmingham. In King's Heath, the dominant religious group would be Christian, based purely on the numbers of religious buildings in the area. In comparison, an area like Handsworth or Sparkhill would be predominantly Eastern religions (Sikh, Moslem, Hindu). Such divisions are ingrained and are not affected by the change in housing provided.

However, social distinctions become more readily apparent when considering housing. Those who are of lower income tend to occupy the council estates of the inner city or the outer ring council estates, e.g. Druid's Heath. In comparison to the two bedroom terraces or maisonettes of these areas are the luxury penthouses of Britannic park or the vast houses of Edgbaston, Moseley, Knowle and Solihull. These areas are divided by profession and wealth combined. Some people have worked their way in to these areas, and these tend to be professional who have high salaries, for example a surgeon or a lawyer. Other occupants of these areas occupy them purely because of the inherent wealth of their family. The divide here has been exaggerated because of the specific building to target the more affluent sections of society.

Opposing this is the fact that the majority of expensive developments are private, whereas the majority of the Council's money is spent on the less expensive Council estates. Therefore, the argument of unfairness cannot be seen to be true. The cultural mix of Birmingham means that there are very few racial segregations and divides. The housing provision will not have affected these divides should they exist. Generally, the population of Birmingham is a multi-cultural and tolerant society. The inequalities, whilst not necessarily liked, are tolerated. There are very few divisions between the younger generation of people, who have grown up with people of different faiths and ethnicity. If this is so, then the difference in housing provision will not have affected the divides much.

Amongst the older generation, who have less experience of ethnicity, there is some resentment at 'noveau riche' people from other cultures, and to some extent the housing provision can exacerbate this problem. Judging purely on material grounds is becoming an all too common facet to our society. No longer are people considered on their merits, but their background and where they come from. This is only true of some part of society. If this was more representative, then the housing provision would be a problem. However, it is my belief that the house that you occupy is not representative of who you are as a person and your value to society.