Recent discussion about migration has focused almost entirely on the numbers of people coming into the country, but debates about numbers don’t respond to the issues that emerged in the areas where migrants had gone to live and find work. While London continues to be the most attractive destination, the biggest increases in the percentage of migrants has been in regions or towns unaccustomed to these changes. Many have accommodated new arrivals without any difficulty, but in others tensions have occurred, usually at neighbourhood level and often on issues about housing.
The government’s policy on integration has started recognising the importance of work at neighbourhood level, and Ed Miliband has argued that the last government failed to anticipate the pace of change in communities. But there is still inadequate attention to the stresses that can occur in the neighbourhoods where migrants have found accommodation, where existing residents are often on low incomes, there is competition for jobs and housing, and public services are both under pressure and subject to cuts.
In a new guide from the Housing and Migration Network, published by the Chartered Institute of Housing, we aim to show how local authorities and housing providers can work at neighbourhood level to tackle many of the issues that arise.
Many poor neighbourhoods, often those with a lot of private rented housing, suffer from ‘crime and grime’ issues. These can get worse if migrants who need low-cost accommodation are housed in multi-occupied properties, especially if they previously housed single families. In Manchester, Northwards Housing had a community warden project that partly covered private housing areas of this kind. One of the wardens who spoke Czech and Polish was able to help migrant workers in bedsits to integrate by tackling issues such as getting their bins emptied and avoiding rubbish accumulating. In Leeds, the Canopy project renovates empty properties that are an eyesore in the area, using volunteers who include migrants and then providing housing opportunities.
Community facilities are important to bring different communities together and facilitate integration. Bolton runs six ‘urban care and neighbourhood centres’ aimed at sustaining communities, promoting learning and employment, and combating crime. The centres bring together people from different groups within a neighbourhood or estate and provide services such as teaching English, driving courses and healthy eating guidance. One centre has a specific migrant worker integration project.
Social landlords can also work with communities to help to resolve tensions as they occur. In Dudley, one of the towns that accepted asylum seekers a decade ago, Muslim tenants in council estates were subjected to racist attacks after the 2005 London bombings. One of the tenants’ organisations realised there was a need to tackle these by promoting more contact between new arrivals and long-standing residents. This led to the ‘5 Estates Project’, which organises social events, training courses and conferences, supported by Dudley’s housing department. These events work by bringing people together and breaking down barriers, whether through a seminar or a skittle evening. They are planned by a mixed group of residents and often tackle issues such as what support asylum seekers receive and why.
Everywhere we visited in preparing the guide, we were struck by a paradox. Where housing organisations have got stuck in they have often done very effective work, helping to bring together migrant groups and established communities. But these organisations stand out from the vast majority who don’t realise the role they could play. There is no reason why all housing organisations shouldn’t support this type of work.
Original post and comments: Guardian Housing Network