Get A House For Free
Hello everyone. Yesterday evening I was flicking through the programs on telly when I came across Chanel 4’s Get A House For Free.
The basis of Get A House For Free was simple. It focussed on Marco Robinson is a self-made millionaire who came from very humble beginnings. Having amassed a fortune in property development Marco decided to give something back to society by giving away a free home.
Get a House For Free has come under a lot of criticism from people on social media for being exploitative and making light of the current housing crisis for example this article from the Guardian.
Had I actually seen the write up of the program before I probably would have agreed. However I stumbled on the program by chance, and watched it without any preconcieved ideas about the programs. I actually thought it handled the different issues related to the housing crisis in a very considered way.
There were over 8000 applicants to get a house for free. Marco and his mother scanned through them and chose a number of familys and individuals to view the flat and talk to them. The program showed a number of the viewer’s and focussed on them telling their stories related to their current housing situations.
Out of all the viewers, Marco selected 3 to find out more about them and their individual situations. The programs critics say the program disreguarded the stories and experience of the other 8000 applicants. I agree that the program did little to help the general housing problem and Marco could have spent the money to better effect. However his choice of applicants did cover a broad range of situations people find themselves in relation to housing and I think he should be given a bit of credit for raising awareness of those situations.
Jo – full time worker, private renting
Jo was the first applicant Marco saw. Representative of many working people today she was working 60+ hours a week in order to afford the private rent on her bungalow. Jo’s situation was made worse by a condition she has that is causing her to go blind. There will come a time when she is unable to work and therefore pay her rent.
Holly – Single mum on benefits
When the second applicant was announced, Holly an 18-year-old single mum on benefits I thought the program was going to adopt the typical ‘bash the unworthy single mum’ approach often sèn on telly these days, but they actually presented her story in a fair and unbiassed way.
Holly had been getting ready to start university to study journalism when a bad kidney infection and subsequent course of antibiotics caused her pill to fail. When she found out she was pregnant she chose to keep her baby. She ended up living in the worst of private rented accommodation. A one bedroom flat with no proper bathroom and damp and mould problems. Both her health and that of her daughter were effected by the living conditions.
Mahmoud – Syrian refugee living on the streets
Mahmoud and his two sons were the most controversial applicants on the program. A former school teacher, Mahmoud flex Syria with his sons when the war started. The area he lived in was a site of fierce fighting and his home has been destroyed.
Mahmoud currently awaiting the results of an appeal on his failed asylum application. Although originally been housed by the government with his boys, recently they had been split up. Rather than let his boys live alone he chose to live on the streets to keep his family together.
Who won ‘get A House For Free’?
Marco went to each applicant individually to tell them the decision he had made and why.
Mahmoud didn’t win the flat. Marco explained that he couldn’t give the property to someone who was not currently legally allowed to stay in the country.
Marco did however provide accommodation for Mahmoud and his boys until such time as their appeal succeeds or they have to leave the country. I thought this was the right decision and the fairest offer.
Jo also didn’t get the flat. Marco decided to help her become a homeowner by putting up the deposit for her to buy a home. The initial benefit of this was a saving of over £300 a month compared to her current rent.
Despite this very generous offer, not sure this was a good decision for Jo. It did not take into consideration her failing eyesight. Jo’s fears for her future related to being unable to work and pay her way. If she becomes unable to work with a mortgage she is at risk of losing her home.
Holly was the lucky winner of the flat. She can now live closer to her family in a safe environment for her and her daughter. Although she was no less deserving than the others, I don’t think being given the flat will help her situation. Holly’s ability to provide for herself and her daughter have not improved through winning the home. With the additional costs of running a three compared to a one bedroom flat she may still struggle financially.
What would I have done?
If that had been my decision I would have awarded the house to Jo and sorted better rented acomodation nearer to her mum for Holly. This would have dealt with the problem of the poor accommodation and distance from her mum for Holly and also given proper long-term security for Jo as and when he eyesight gets worse.
Did you watch Get A House For Free? Did you think it was exploitative? Would you have changed who the house was awarded to?
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