UK Housing – For the many not the few

 

Corbyn in his conference speech yesterday said this:

This is why alongside our Shadow Housing minister John Healey we’re launching a review of social housing policy – its building, planning, regulation and management. We will listen to tenants across the country and propose a radical programme of action to next year’s conference. But some things are already clear tenants are not being listened to. We will insist that every home is fit for human habitation, a proposal this Tory government voted down. And we will control rents – when the younger generation’s housing costs are three times more than those of their grandparents, that is not sustainable.

It was said after mentioning Grenfell and before his policy of stating tenants must be balloted which will undoubtedly and wrongly receive most comment. Homes fit for human habitation is also impossible to argue against and as for rent controls – let’s just say they will be very difficult to achieve and I suspect more an aim rather than concrete policy. Yet this is what caught my eye:

We’re launching a review of social housing policy – its building, planning, regulation and management. We will listen to tenants across the country and propose a radical programme of action to next year’s conference. But some things are already clear tenants are not being listened to.

Let me help start you on that path and the following is not radical in principle but only in that it needs to be done and is achievable.

Firstly, scrap your policy of 100,000 social housing homes per year of all types and double it to 200,000 per year of just social rent level properties.

No ‘affordable’ or ‘genuinely affordable’ or other such term but social rent only to that number (and by all means add other housing products to that but build 200,000 social rent homes per year.)

The policy of allowing local authorities to borrow to build can do that and if all 411 UK local authorities built on average 1 new property per day that is 150,000 of that 200,000 per year number alone.

I doubt housing associations have the capacity or will to build any more than 50,000 homes per year but you need to insist they do build 50,000 per year at social rent levels and regulating the social rented sector is much easier to do than the private sector.

The validity here is that councils can and will build three times the number of new homes than housing associations and that needs to be taken on board by the housing minister who while recognised as knowledgeable and respected in housing matters is strongly perceived as too close to the housing association movement.  Change has to come from within as well as without.

Homes at social rent levels, the lowest and cheapest rent levels, allow the take up of employment and thus social housing is the antithesis of dependency.

The lower the rent the more and more quickly a deposit for a mortgage can be achieved and you will want to move home ownership back to the 71% record high in 2004 and from the 63% and falling under the Tories.

  • 1 per council per day negates the outcry from the NIMBY and other such lobbies
  • 1 per council per day is easily achievable and in the past they have build many more than that
  • 1 per council per day is the ONLY way you can arrest the housing crisis of under supply which is 266,000 per year at Tory figures and private enterprise are building 110,000 per year since 2000 on average.

Every local authority even Tory run ones are crying out to build and the political will and LA economic necessity to build is there.

The job creation aspects of such housebuilding are hugely beneficial to the public purse with increased tax receipts and reduced social security benefit payment

Aim for 200,000 social rent homes per year and when achieved then you can impose as much rent control as you wish in the private rented sector. Then you can insist that in order for any rented property to receive any public money in housing benefit it has to be fit for human habitation and at no more than local social rent plus 10% as rent control policy.  If the PRS flees the housing benefit market then it has no adverse effect

You have to build out the private rented sector current influence and power in the rented market because the higher the rent the more dependency and greater the work precarity; the higher the rent the less home ownership and the higher the insecurity of tenure and the higher the homeless numbers.

The much higher tax receipts and much lower benefit payments can then see a return to capital subsidy of social rent housing again if desired. The regeneration you rightly are against in current form is not just local authorities it is aided and abetted and the preference of the private registered providers, the housing associations, who are on an ever more commercial path and threw the social purpose baby out with the bathwater many moons ago.

You can also stop any more such poor social housing deals that your Mayor of London has done which despite having £60k capital grant are at 14% – 52% higher rent levels than social rent levels and a poor solution. Labour can seek to brand this farrago as “genuinely affordable” or any other such term but they are not – end of.

I warmly welcome the recognition that tenants are not being listened to and applaud the intent to consult more widely with them. In practical terms you have a problem with that and a significant one as the six million adult social tenants who are also six million voters have little stage or voice for their concerns.

Grassroot campaign groups such as Ledbury, HDV and others only come to the fore after major decisions are made that exclude them and then presented a fait accompli for consultation purposes. That is too little too late and the word consultation has no legal meaning or power it is merely a device for saying we asked but we are doing what we please because we ticked the box of consultation.

As you correctly say over Grenfell, residents groups when they raise issues before the fact are ignored and that is all to common. What is worse is that the overwhelming number of tenant associations or groups are controlled and manipulated by their landlords, are not representative at all and simply act as a buffer between landlord and tenant. They require independence and independent funding is the only way that can happen.

A precept of no less than 0.2% of the rent roll should be a part of rent regulation for the social rented sector. That would raise almost £46 million per year for an independent social tenant body and for comparison purposes the largest social tenant national body today has a £1.5 million turnover and this would be 30 times the size and have 30 times the influence.

That is the only way to get true independent and meaningful tenant involvement; the many would have a say not the few. It is radical only in its departure from what has gone before and it is a simple and viable model. An empowered tenant lobby is the only way to check the excesses of government and social landlord.

Last year a UK social tenant household was evicted every six minutes of every working day, ten every hour and 75 per day for 260 working days and social landlords evict in the same relative proportion that private landlords do. They have 47% of UK rented housing and account for 46% of all recorded evictions and despite having to jump through hoops to evict in comparison to the ease of no-fault evictions of the private landlord.

We see a report by the Chartered Institute of Housing and the University of Sheffield saying last week that social landlords are refusing to house new social tenants who are caught by welfare reforms particularly the overall benefit cap. That will happen to low paid full time workers too with the Tories LHA Maxima Cap policy from April 2019. Labour has voiced no public opposition to either the overall benefit cap or the LHA Maxima Cap housing benefit policies of the Tories which both directly create homelessness.

In England alone some 385,000 new social tenancies occur each year and 75% of them are benefit households so how many hundreds of thousands of prospective social tenants will not be housed and go direct to the homeless queue? That is nothing more than social dumping by housing associations who have abandoned any semblance of social purpose.

Much has been written about and much attention has been given to the private tenant and rightly so with the perverse private rent levels in the capital. Yet little if any writing or attention is given to the social tenant and their lot. Between 2010 and 2015 average social rent levels increased 34% while average private rent levels increased 16% and the social tenant has been attacked and used as a cash cow. CPI inflation in that period was 13%.

We now see housing association chief executives with salaries of over £500,000 yet they manage fewer rented properties than the former directors of housing they once were in local authorities on salaries of no more than £130,000 per year. Four times the salary yet far fewer new properties being built and way in excess of inflation rent rises for the social tenant much of which is the age old tactic of letting Housing Benefit take the strain.

Is that why the IFS said in January 2015 that all the Conservatives cuts to housing benefit of bedroom tax, benefit cap, LHA cap and SAR age increases and more have cost the housing benefit bill £1.1 billion more per year and in real terms than the £2 billion per year they were aimed at saving?

A national social tenant lobby would ensure a brake on those and similar ideological policies many of which were also aimed at the perverse London rented housing market yet had ‘unforeseen’ yet very predictable consequence to the 87% of UK rented housing that is not in London!

It is easy to focus on the horrendous yet perverse private rent levels in London and easy to play to that gallery of loudest voice and very much easier to take attention away from what is and has happened in the provinces in social housing.

Stop grandstanding Mr Corbyn. Stop playing to the London private rented tenant and look at the facts of all UK rented housing and see the many problems that exist – many of which are in the 87% of rented housing outside the perverse London housing market and in socially rented housing not private – as then and only then can you get anywhere close to solving the UK ‘housing crisis.’  

The facts remain and will always remain and your aim and ambition is clearly to prevent London mirroring Paris in that working class will no longer be able to afford to live there. Yet the quickest way to prevent that also requires a national social tenants lobby which by ensuring a true independent voice for social housing ensures it will be built and arrests the power of the private landlord and foreign investor in the capital and prevents any such build-up in any other city in the UK.

The UK will culturally never see the acceptance of private renting that is so common in Germany and very well regulated and accepted there and prevents Berlin replicating Paris in a no go housing zone for low paid workers. That is not radical it is unachievable.

All the above suggestions are radical in their simplicity and all are achievable and all are right for the many not the few. They are all in the long-term interest of the many and not the few as they not only correct the feudal imbalance we have now they prevent it from rearing its ugly head ever again.

They address the most dangerous aspect of the “housing crisis” which is affordability and not supply yet 200,000 social rent homes plus whatever number of other social landlord products to add to the 110,000 homes per year built by private enterprise is 50,000 more per year than the minimum accepted number of 266,000 just to stand still with that supply issue.

It is housing for the many not the few and home ownership rates will increase and fuel your economic growth model and do for Labour in political terms what RTB did for Thatcher in at least two elections.

The UK housing crisis is not a retractable problem and it can be solved by relatively simple means and it needs to be solved for the many not the few, yet like all problems it can only be solved if you correctly and fully see what those problems are. Seek to just regulate the private rented sector which are the strongest calls on young people in the capital and you will end up with a much greater housing crisis and one that is intractable as more social landlords will use the market rent level to ever increase social housing rent levels and claim they are still ‘sub-market.’ That is a recipe fro disaster and increasing the scale of the UK housing crisis.

For the many not the few is a politically clever phrase and no more so than in UK housing terms. The 11% fall in home ownership that British cultural paragon from 71% to 63% shows that home ownership is for the few not the many.

The 6 to 19 fold increase in average mortgage deposit needed that Savills released last month for the 2007 to 2017 period also shows that starkly and it takes 15 years for the average London household to save for a mortgage. Even with the bank of mum and dad getting on the ubiquitous ‘housing ladder’ fades by the day for the many.

200,000 social rent levels homes per year changes that and helps the many not the few. The lower the rent the greater the speed of saving for a mortgage deposit. Two million more social rent homes over a ten year period allows that and also allows a stronger hand to regulate the excess power of the private landlord and foreign investor and is for the many not for the few.

Yet for the many not the few also constrains you as it engenders hope and if that hope and expectation is not met with the housing actions described above then you will fail and fail spectacularly.

There are no half measures here and all of the above suggestions are based more on economic necessity than morality or political leanings. When you get hostility for them from the housing association sector I am sure the electorate can readily be persuaded that they are just as bad for the country as the privatised railways which is the classic example of economic not moral decision making in today’s political environment.

Yet it will not even be needed as councils will build three times the number of homes than housing associations are willing to do so housing associations claimed power to be able to be the solution to the UK housing crisis of under supply is false.

The solutions to the many aspects of the housing crisis are bold yet simple and not radical at all. They are easily justifiable on economic grounds much more than political and moral ones and they are what is needed for the good of the country, they are what is needed … for the many not the few.

UPDATE

Surprising that Inside Housing confirms the all too cosy relationship between John Healey Labour’s Shadow Housing Minister and David Orr the chief executive at the National Housing Federation within a few hours of this being posted as they did here

When Inside Housing arrives five min­utes early for our interview with David Orr it is no surprise to find him deep in conversation with a politician. The National Housing Federation (NHF) chief executive is standing behind a sofa in the green room at his organisation’s annual conference.

He is engaged in a muttered conversation with Labour’s John Healey – who Mr Orr has both collaborated with and clashed with over the span of his 12-year stint at the helm of the NHF. Both lower their voices when they notice a journalist lurking nearby.

When you consider that John Healey has never denounced that housing associations have built a record low number of social rent homes year on year and last year that was less than 1000 of them between 1500 UK housing associations and thus it takes the average UK housing association 18 months to build one social rent property and in the context that the average local council could easily build 1 per day then the only thing these two clash over or collaborate on is their taste in ties

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