My grandfather, the housing officer

In the old days before my generation was born the very idea that a working man could own his own house, or even borrow the equity to attempt to eventually own his own house was incredible, beyond comprehension – and the thought that a woman would work and have the means to borrow money to try and eventually own her own house was, well, laughable.

And so was born social housing.

In the days before my generation it was taken for granted that if you were born to a working class family then you’d rent a working class house on a working class estate and probably pay your rent to your local council, chances were that you’d have been brought up on that estate and you’d live on that estate until you died, life was simple, go out to work, bring home a cash wage packet at the end of the week, pay the rent to the council rent man every week and, erm, that’s about it then.

At some point in time shortly after I was born someone got it into their heads that actually, it might be good if your average working class man could aspire to use that rent money to pay off a mortgage on a house and in doing so would one day own an asset far and beyond his wildest dreams, and that’s when things started to get complicated.

My grandfather was a housing officer for Leeds City Council, I have no idea how far up the line his job of responsibility led him for he died when I was only six and my memories of him are faint but I have a photograph of him sat at his desk writing in a ledger, he’s wearing a smart suit and tie and seems to have an office to himself so I’m jumping to the conclusion that he was fairly well up the path of hierarchy in the Housing Office.

He was a handsome bugger too, bald, (well that explains something then), but with a kind face and yet an authoritative face, the sort of man who would ask you to do something and you’d do it for him just because he had asked, that’s how I like to think of him, I haven’t a clue whether this is a true representation of him for the only thing I can definitely remember about him is that he rolled oranges on the floor under his foot to make then soft before peeling them, I do the same even now and when my all-growed-up children point and ask why I tell them “Because my grandad did” and that’s all the explanation they get.

If you wanted to rent a house from Leeds City Council in the north of Leeds I’m guessing that you had to go to my grandfathers office and fill in a form and somewhere in the process I’m guessing that he got to read your form and think about which house you could have from the councils extensive stock, whether you’d be able to afford it, whether you’d be a good neighbour and cut the grass and trim the hedge regularly or whether you would just spend all your wage in the pub and not pay his office the rent, let the grass and hedge grow until he had to get a bobby to come and throw you out onto the street and mark you off the council register with a big red pen – I’m guessing that was his job, I could be wrong.

There is one thing that makes me think I’m not wrong though, one thing that still stands fresh in my memory and makes me think that my grand-dad held a position of influence at the council housing department, its this…

When he died there happened to be built a small development of very nice council old persons bungalows for rent to old persons, so few were built that for any old person to be considered to live in one of these bungalows would indeed be an honour for only the very best and most highly regarded of old council tenants would be lucky enough to gain the keys to one of them, maybe there was even a lottery for they must have been many times over-subscribed.

Guess who got the first one ?

Yep, his widow, my grandmother.

I like to think it was just a coincidence, but I don’t think it was.


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