I know that, traditionally, becoming a homeowner is meant to make people more small-c conservative, but it seems to have had the opposite effect on me. Perhaps it’s because I’m acutely aware that buying my flat is much more due to luck than hard work: I had a conveniently timed redundancy, which coincided with a small inheritance from a great uncle I never actually met. Without those factors, I would still be living in insecure (often dangerous) rented properties and trying to scrape together a deposit. Over the years I encountered, variously: a creepy landlord who used to let himself into my bedsit while I was sleeping; a recurrent rat infestation; windows that fell out if I tried to clean them; a flat that had holes in the wall, floor, and ceiling; a landlord who refused to replace the heater when it broke, then charged me for the damage ultimately caused by the cold and damp; a letting agent who left my front door open a few days after someone on my street was stabbed to death; and a mains-based smoke alarm that the landlord refused to replace – the year after Grenfell Tower – despite the fact that it was twelve years out of date. These are the things that have stuck in my memory, but there are many others. Moving into my own safe, warm, blessedly rat-free flat has shown me the gulf that lies between private renting and home ownership. This has radicalised me on the issue far more effectively than another decade in terrible flats would have done.

It was with this in mind that I picked up A Home of One’s Own: Why the housing crisis matters and what needs to change, by Hashi Mohamed. Mohamed is a planning lawyer with a history of homelessness – he arrived in London in the early 90s as a nine-year-old Somalian refugee. This slim volume is effectively a long-form essay that draws both on his experiences of being insecurely housed, on his expertise in planning law, and on his experiences as a homeowner. Being generally of the opinion that discussions about policy are more constructive than arguments about politics, I’ve been trying to understand the different options that are proposed for solving the housing crisis. Mohamed gave a very good interview on the New Statesman podcast recently talking about the planning system, and I found it interesting enough that I thought I would give his new book a go.

The first part of this book, which is an analysis of the current situation and how we got here, is very good. In some respects, it’s a distillation of Municipal Dreams (which I read earlier this year), insofar as it covers what has happened to council housing in recent decades – but Mohamed’s focus is broader, so he also covers topics like the financial crash of 2008. Mohamed also relates changes over the past three decades to his own journey from homelessness to homeownership. In his acknowledgements, he thanks his family for allowing him to share so much of their early circumstances in the hopes that other people will benefit from it – and I imagine that was quite a difficult choice on their part, because a lot of what he shares is very grim.

Above the North Wembley train station, in the London Borough of Brent, was a small three-bedroom flat where 18 people lived. This was the start of 1994, and I was one of the many children who belonged to the three households sharing this crowded space, waiting for the local council to do something about it.

My own start in life was much pleasanter (and even during the bleak decade of private renting I never lived anywhere like this), but when he talks about the impact home ownership has had on his wellbeing I related to it very strongly. (He is careful to point out that there are plenty of people who don’t want the burdens or responsibilities that come with ownership, and still deserve decent housing – but in this country, which confers so many extra protections on owners over renters, it makes sense that it is still something many of us aspire to).

There was a genuine shift in my emotional state: no more measuring time and the stability of my residence according to the next tenancy agreement cycle; no more thinking about what to do when the estate agents tell me it will cost £100 for them to reprint the same agreement with only the date changed; no more thinking about how to convince a landlord to spend money they do not want to spend on a problem that they care little about… It meant being completely present in my own surroundings, and slightly daunted that I was responsible for every nook and cranny, but also excited at the fact that the option of calling the landlord to fix something no longer existed.

The problem with books like this, of course, is that anyone who reads them already agrees that the housing crisis is an urgent situation that needs to be resolved. No-one currently trying to scrap legislation against no-fault evictions, or actively reduce the amount of affordable homes, is going to pick it up. (Incidentally, while I’ve not been a particular fan of any recent PM, Liz Truss is the first one in my political memory to be making the housing crisis worse on purpose*). I was hoping this would have specific advice about how to engage with local government, contribute positively to planning processes, etc. Unfortunately, this is pretty vague on details. While this is well-written, there is nothing here that people interested in the subject don’t already know. There are also one or two sweeping generalisations: at one point, he says that people whose parents have helped them get on the housing ladder have also inevitably been brought up in an atmosphere of stability and security (“a double-whammy financial and emotional inheritance of riches”). Yet there are plenty of dreadful parents who have done great emotional damage to their children, but are still able to help them make up a deposit, because families are complicated.

The other issue, which isn’t Mohamed’s fault at all, is that this was written earlier this year and published sometime around the start of Liz Truss’s premiership, and I read it in the dying days of that same premiership. Comments about artificially low interest rates, for instance, feel like they are from decades rather than weeks ago, as do some of the stats about how many people will be in fuel poverty this winter. Now, it’s not unreasonable to write a longform essay about a particular time in the political landscape and expect it to remain current for at least a year or so – but the problem is already so much worse than the one Mohamed was writing about that it feels intensely dated. There’s a cheery thought.

Basically, this book is strong on rhetoric, and on its analysis of the situation, but the conclusions are not supported by the preceding arguments. I don’t disagree with much in it, but I don’t feel any better equipped to make changes either. Mohamed’s concluding remarks appear to be, basically, “fix politics”. Which would be nice (and he does lay out in a lot of detail what qualities a political system that improved housing would have), but by stating that there is no solution to this problem other than the kind of sweeping political change we saw in the immediate postwar period, he basically disempowers the very people he claims have the power to help: middle-income homeowning professionals who have a decent amount of free time on their hands, like me. I cannot fathom anything I would like less (and am less suited for) than entering politics. (I couldn’t even handle being a member of my local Labour party for longer than a couple of years. I am not cut out for such shouty environments). I don’t actually believe this is the only way to make change to the system, if only because that’s too bleak a prospect to contemplate – but I would have liked some detail about how to engage with it.

Overall, this is well-written and engaging, but I don’t understand who it’s for. There’s nothing in here that’s new for someone who’s thought about the issue in any kind of depth, but nobody else is going to pick it up. Maybe it would be effective as a gift for a well-intentioned friend who is a bit of a nimbyist? It’s well-argued enough that it might convince someone who’d never really thought about the consequences of constantly blocking developments – and I can only hope that politicians and councillors will pick it up.

*Look, when I started this post, she was still PM, okay? At least the scrapping of legislation to scrap no-fault eviction has itself been scrapped…