04/02/2014 05:43 GMT | Updated 05/04/2014 06:59 BST

Getting Angry About Billionaire's Row Won't Solve the Housing Crisis


This weekend, a Guardian investigation went out to Kensington with a camera and came back with a fresh bunch of hackle-raising pictures to dangle in front of us.

As reported, "Billionaire's Row", last year ranked as the second most expensive street in Britain. A third of its houses stand not just empty but derelict, with moss creeping up marble staircases and ceilings falling around dust-laden chandeliers. Despite this, the owners will still make profits from their sale.

The anger with which this was reported and received is understandable to anyone with a soul. It sums up perfectly the unbelievable absurdity of the crisis we're in: millionaires hoarding empty, flooded ballrooms; the poor struggling in overpriced house shares or in boxes on the streets.

This anger is permeating the debate around the housing crisis as fast as black mould permeates the over-crowded sinkholes the poor are forced into. It is understandable anger. It is just anger. But it is not useful.

Discussion is increasingly triggered by divisive headline-grabbing. Billionaire's Row, Fergus Wilson, lazy stay-at-homes. With every snapshot horror story, we get further away from a solution, because this crisis cannot be dealt with by picking on dodgy landlords or distant mansion owners, or by weeping over lost generations. It can only be solved by looking at all of that at once, and by saying to whatever suits are in charge of us that enough is enough.

Its off-putting to do this because its not easy. The crisis has been caused by such a multitude of problems that its terrifying to even list them.

Lack of council housing thanks to the disastrous right-to-buy policy and its even more disastrous continuation. Lack of new housing builds thanks to underinvestment by government and the private sector. Landlords made greedy out of necessity due to buy-to-let being an infinitely more stable a pension prospect than, well, a pension. Landlords kept lazy by the fact that councils are completely toothless when it comes to getting them to maintain their properties. Demand outstripping supply in almost any area with jobs, thanks to the North/South and urban/rural divide.

Cherries on this festering mass of a cakewreck? The bedroom tax and the vicious cuts this government is inflicting on legal services and anything else a poor person might have even once looked at.

So yeah. Pretty overwhelming. But it starts being obvious how you solve all of that when you look at what created all those individual stinkers: someone, somewhere, forgetting that in the grand scheme of things we are all in this together.

Forgetting that the worst way to make a decision is to think only of the effect it will have one oneself. Forgetting that we will always rely on and live in communities, with all their beautiful booming music, joyful yells of children, quiet lawns and the way the sun sets over the trees on the park. That communities are what build us, teach us, nurture us. That they are worth sustaining not to keep house values rising, but because if we don't look after others, if we don't have something we feel part of, then what the bloody hell is the point of anything?

A fix for this crisis won't come from the selfish, sniping, tit-for-tat behaviour which caused it in the first place. Just this week, right-wing think tank Civitas has started bleating that we should stop foreigners buying houses, and some prankster in Islington has been wasting their time vandalising estate agents boards, presumably with the aim of having some moderately blameless employees self-flagellate in penance. All that's come out of either act is ill-feeling, and no change.

What will change things is working together, is sitting down to think about what will work for the many, rather than the few. How do we get to that sitting down point? We just bloody do.

There are plenty of groups who take the cohesive, community-centred view needed, and they need your support. Few people have heard of tenant's organisations, but they exist up and down the country, fighting to protect and improve rights for both the private and social sector. If you don't own your own house, join.

Then there's charities like Shelter. which was hugely responsible for one of the only good pieces of housing regulation to happen in years - the Tenancy Deposit Protection Scheme. Sign up to their campaigns.

Last but not least, there's self organised groups like Defend Council Housing, fighting for an increase in social housing, and Priced Out, who demand affordable homes. There's also a just-to-be-launched housing campaign coming from GMB Young London, who apart from being dedicated to improving people's knowledge of their housing rights, are all extremely good-looking and intelligent (COI - I'm their Secretary).

In short, get involved with your community and get it back. It will mean tiresome public meetings in dusty social centres, aching arms from holding placards in the rain, and - even if you're not a big shot landlord - being a bit less selfish, which is never easy. But it sure as hell beats sobbing over click-bait photo galleries of some millionaire's busted up ballroom.

Image by Images_Of_Money, used under a Creative Commons Licence.