Why can’t I play in their garden? This is a question my daughter Eleanor asks me every time we visit her nanny.  Nanny, you see lives in a mixed tenure community, and her social housing home sits right next to some communal gardens. I tell Eleanor that because nanny rents her home from the local council, we’re not allowed to play in the gardens. They are only for the children of residents who own their property. Why can’t we go in through that door mummy? I don’t want to walk around the back. It’s dark, the street lights are still not working, and the lock is broken again on the door. No one will see us if the monsters get us. Why do we have to wait for Jessie to come down to us, why can’t we use the lift to go up to her floor? I explain to Eleanor that because our home is shared ownership and not owned like Jessie’s parents, our key fob doesn’t allow us to use the lift to go the floors above where Jessie lives. If you want to go to her house to play, we need her to collect us.

The discussions I am describing relate to something called ‘mixed tenure communities’. This is a term adopted throughout the UK, and worldwide to describe housing developments, estates, and communities which include more than a single tenure type, for example, social housing, private rental, and owner-occupied. The problem you see living in a mixed tenure community is a little different, depending on which one you live in. There is currently no statutory definition for what a mixed tenure community is in the UK or anywhere else.  Often, there is a range of dwellings from apartments, houses, maisonettes or bungalows, but who lives where and through what percentage levels can differ depending on factors such geographical location, size of development and stakeholder involvement. At least nine definitions are reported by Tunstall (1998) in use across UK policy, including planning agreements, local plans, and regeneration projects. Because of this, knowing the most successful strategy of tenure mix is not well understood. The only common factor is that they contain more than a single tenure type.

Mixed tenure communities exist on the premise that they increase the social mix of neighbourhoods, increasing interactions between different social groups, adding role models of behaviour, sustainable regeneration and the provision of better facilities that everyone shares. The research evidence, however, tells us a different story. There is often a clustered layout of dwellings, dependent on tenure type, different tenures exist on different floors, in a single building, or a separate block of buildings altogether. Tenure residents are segregated and do not share communal play areas, gardens, hallways, bin stores, entrances, car parks, or atriums. Social exclusion is created by keeping tenures separate and not allowing them to mix. Social divisions are manifested with symbolic physical barriers, different entrances, facilities, and access controls, even in the lifts. Residents rarely report mixing with tenure groups other than their own. Repairs and maintenance differ depending on tenure type, and whether you have crime prevention measures. Furthermore, it is often the poorer, social housing tenure residents who report the most dissatisfaction and negative lived experiences of residing in a mixed tenure community.

My PhD thesis, of which I am in the early stages, intends to explore the lived experiences of all tenure groups of residents who live in mixed tenure communities, specifically in London. There are several questions the existing literature indicates ought to be asked such as are mixed tenure communities spatially mixed throughout their physical buildings and surrounding physical environment,  and is it safer to live in these places and what are residents’ experiences of crime? I will be carrying out walking interviews with residents of every tenure group, observing spatial layouts, crime data, undertaking fieldnotes of architecture, physical environments and provisions of crime prevention across five separate mixed communities in 2020/2021. Why? Because I think we need to know more. In recent weeks, the UK has seen several articles negatively portraying the experiences of social housing tenure in so-called mixed tenure communities. The use of the phrase ‘poor door’ has been offered in numerous news media, although not a new critique or unique to the UK, it does suggest a number of concerns for the actual lived experience of residents of all tenures, specifically social housing tenure which may be segregated from their more affluent and owner-occupied tenure residents.

Moreover, existing primary research is limited, weak, and sporadic. There have so far been few primary research studies conducted within the UK. The little research that has been carried out has taken place in Scotland and Northern Ireland, less so in England, with none conducted in Wales. Of just six primary studies conducted in the UK, only two have been held on English case study data.

It is troubling that mixed tenure has dominated new housing developments because issues such as design decisions, safety, security and layout specifications and cross tenure resident tensions surrounding the lack of agreed definition of mixed tenure communities are becoming increasingly visible (Chaskin and Joseph, 2010; Goodchild and Cole, 2001; Lelevrier 2013; Tunstall, 2018, Monk, Clarke and Tang, 2011) and reported in news media (Grant, 2019; Rogers, 2019; Tingle, 2019). One of the most widely publicised debates in UK, American and Australian research is the extent to which mixed tenure communities create a higher social mix or spatially segregate residents according to tenure type (McCormick, Joseph and Chaskin, 2012; Arbaci and Rae, 2013; Kearns, et al. 2013). The controversy over ‘poor door’ entrances had received a great deal of attention during 2018 with many news articles reporting on experiences of residents living in mixed tenure communities both in the UK and America (Osbourne, 2014; Ovieodo, 2014 Pasha-Robinson, 2017). More recently, in 2019, news media, including Leading Britain’s Conversation (LBC) held some call-in interviews during a radio broadcast where many residents echoed problematic features of MTCs (James O’Brien, 2019). These included elements of spatial segregation such as the presence of separate entrances, communal facilities, gardens and play areas, car parking and crime prevention measures for residents of different tenure types in a mixed tenure housing development. There are, however, insufficient studies exploring these problems related to social-spatial segregation.

I hope at the end of my project in 5 years’ time that I can understand what implications exist for mixed tenure communities, and that I will be able to respond to another question from Eleanor who is just four years old and recognises the concerning underpinning of this PhD project but mummy, if the government wants me to play with Jessie and you to make friends with her mummy and daddy, why can’t I play in their garden?

(Ayten) Natasha Kinloch is a PhD Researcher at the University of Surrey.