Housing offer to Grenfell families

In response to news that Corporation of London has offered social housing to Grenfell families in a luxury block, Radical Housing Network said:

“We’re pleased that Corporation of London is offering homes at social rent to Grenfell residents – but let’s be clear this is the minimum statutory requirement. That Grenfell’s social tenants are offered new housing after their homes have been burnt to the ground following mismanagement and negligence is the least that should happen.

“It’s unclear whether these flats will be available to private renters, homeowners or subtenants of Grenfell Tower. We call on public authorities to rehouse all those made homeless by the Grenfell catastrophe, whatever their status.

“The Kensington Row development had an existing affordable housing quota. In many luxury developments, such as at 1 Commercial Street, residents of ‘affordable’ housing units are separated from wealthier neighbours by being made to use separate entrances and only having access to limited building services.

“We abhor the way developers of luxury blocks meet ‘affordable’ housing quotas by designing buildings in which those on low-incomes are kept out of sight from the rich.

“The key issue is that there are almost 2 million people on council housing waiting lists across the UK – including thousands in Kensington & Chelsea alone. Long term we need public investment in council housing, which will save public money over the long run. Currently, the government spends £23 billion every year on housing benefit which goes directly into landlord’s pockets.

“We need housing for people not for profit – and public investment in secure, decent, genuinely affordable housing for everyone.”

Notes to Editors

Radical Housing Network is a London-wide network of campaigns fighting housing injustice. For all press statements see radicalhousingnetwork.org.

Grenfell Action Group is a member of the Radical Housing Network.

Contact: radicalhousingnetwork@gmail.com // Follow @radicalhousing

 

Grenfell was a preventable, political tragedy – authorities must urgently act on promises to rehouse all residents locally, regardless of status

Government and RBKC must take responsibility to rehouse all ‘who called Grenfell home’ in the local area, regardless of their residential or immigration status, said Radical Housing Network, an alliance of groups fighting housing injustice of which Grenfell Action Group is a member.

Grenfell Tower was home to council and private tenants, homeowners, subtenants, and to many people from other countries including migrants and asylum seekers. Regardless of status, authorities must urgently ensure ‘all residents’ future safety and security’, a spokesperson said.

Radical Housing Network added that tower block architecture should not be a focus of blame, and that only reinvestment in public housing would ensure Grenfell marks a turning point in how we house people.


Radical Housing Network is demanding:

  • That all Grenfell residents be offered long-term and affordable housing in their local area – to meet this need, RBKC should buy private property and turn it into council housing.
  • That not a single unit of social housing is lost following the Grenfell catastrophe – this must not be an opportunity to denigrate council tower blocks with the back-handed intention of privatising homes or for developers to make a profit.
  • That public investigation into the tragedy (via inquest and/or inquiry) is independent, and has the complete trust of those affected. It should leave no stone unturned.
  • Long-term investment in decent, secure, safe public housing. Grenfell is the result of 30 years of council housing disinvestment, deregulation and austerity.

A spokesperson from Radical Housing Network said:

“We’re calling on the government in conjunction with RBKC to act on their commitment to house all Grenfell residents in the local area, in long-term accommodation which meets their needs  – given there are already almost 3,000 people waiting for social housing in Kensington & Chelsea,  RBKC should buy private property and turn it into council housing.

“Crucially, public authorities must commit to rehousing all residents to ensure their future safety and security –.Grenfell was home to council tenants, private renters, homeowners, subtenants, and to many people from other countries including migrants and asylum seekers. The council has a responsibility to all these people. No-one should be left in a worse situation by this tragedy, and the Grenfell community must be allowed to heal together in the local area if they wish to.

“Further, Grenfell should not be another excuse to demolish council housing. It’s concerning that amidst tragedy, tower block architecture has once again become a focus of blame. The problem is not council tower blocks, it’s lack of investment and a shockingly irresponsible approach to public building maintenance, safety, and tenants’ concerns.


“The UK housing system treats those at the bottom with contempt. Those on the lowest incomes suffer substandard, dangerous housing and overcrowding – whoever the landlord is. Tenants have few rights or say in their housing, whether they live on a council estate or rent privately.

“Grenfell is a human tragedy, but is also a very political, preventable tragedy. It is a product of a greed-driven housing system, in which profit is valued more than the lives of many people.”

Notes to Editors

Radical Housing Network is a London-wide network of campaigns fighting housing injustice.

Grenfell Action Group is a member of the Radical Housing Network. Edward Daffern and Grenfell Action Group ask that journalists do not contact them at this time.

Please direct all press requests for Grenfell Action Group to Radical Housing Network, we will be releasing more information if and when Grenfell Action Group are available for press.

Radical Housing Network aims to ensure that the voice of the Grenfell Action Group is heard, to demand #Justice4Grenfell and for all those who suffer under Britain’s broken housing system.

Videos available

A video interview with Pilgrim Tucker, of Grenfell Action Group, is available hereA video statement from RHN is available hereBoth videos are free to use with attribution to Radical Housing Network.

Contact: radicalhousingnetwork@gmail.com // Follow @radicalhousing

Grenfell Tower must mark a turning point for UK housing

In response to the horror at Grenfell Tower, Radical Housing Network and Grenfell Action Group are demanding:

– An independent Inquest and a Public Inquiry, so that no stone be left unturned in investigating what led to this horrific event, and tenants are able to have a voice
– That public authorities be held to account and criminal proceedings brought against all those responsible.
– That all Grenfell residents be offered long-term and affordable housing in their local area – to meet this need, RBKC should buy local private property and turn it into council housing.
– That not a single unit of social housing is lost following this catastrophe – this must not be an opportunity to privatise homes or for developers to make a profit.

A spokesperson from Radical Housing Network said:
“We demand an inquest and a public inquiry into the Grenfell disaster, so that no stone be left unturned in bringing those responsible to account, and that criminal proceedings are brought.

“For decades, council housing has been run into the ground and council tenants treated with contempt. Now it’s time to go into reverse gear – this has to be a turning point for UK housing.

“The Grenfell community must be allowed to heal together and residents must not be separated from their neighbours. If there is not enough social housing to house residents locally, the council should buy private property and turn this into council housing, rather than lining the pockets of private landlords.

“The UK housing system treats those at the bottom with contempt. Those on the lowest incomes suffer substandard, dangerous housing and overcrowding – whoever the landlord is. Tenants have few rights or say in their housing, whether they live on a council estate or rent privately.

“The UK urgently needs to rebuild its stock of decent, affordable, safe social housing.

“We need a housing system that puts people’s lives ahead of profit.”

Notes to Editors

Justice for Grenfell protest, Saturday 18 June, 12 noon – 2pm at RBKC Town Hall, Hornton Street, W8 7NX, called by Grenfell Action Group and Radical Housing Network.

Contact: radicalhousingnetwork@gmail.com // Follow @radicalhousing

Justice for Grenfell Tower

‘Managed decline’ of council housing and contempt for tenants contributed to fire

Radical Housing Network, a London-wide alliance of groups fighting for housing justice, said the Grenfell fire was a tragic consequence of systematic disinvestment in council housing alongside disregard for council tenants safety and their concerns – and called for #JusticeforGrenfell.

The catastrophe at Grenfell Tower was foreseen by a community group on the estate. Just 7 months ago, Grenfell Action Group, a member of Radical Housing Network, warned that failings in the estate management organisation’s health and safety practices were a “recipe for a future major disaster”. These warnings were dismissed by Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea (RBKC) council.

It’s been revealed that Gavin Barwell, Conservative Chief of Staff and ex-Minister for Housing, ‘sat on’ a report warning that tower blocks were vulnerable to fire. Last year, Barwell was one of 312 Tory MPs who voted against making properties ‘fit for human habitation’.

Radical Housing Network called the fire a horrendous example of the consequences of a combination of government cuts, local authority mismanagement, and sheer contempt for council tenants and the homes they live in – and an indictment of London’s stark housing inequality.

A spokesperson for the Radical Housing Network said:

“The fire at Grenfell is a horrific, preventable tragedy for which authorities and politicians must be held to account. Grenfell’s council tenants are not second class citizens – yet they are facing a disaster unimaginable in Kensington’s richer neighbourhoods.

“This Government, and many before it, have neglected council housing, and disregarded its tenants as if they were second class. Nationally and locally, politicians have subjected public housing to decades of systematic disinvestment – leaving properties in a state of disrepair, and open to privatisation. Regeneration, when it has come, has been for the benefit of developers and buy-to-let landlords, who profit from luxury flats built in place of affordable homes. Across London, regeneration has meant evictions, poor quality building work, and has left tenants with little influence over the future of their estates.

“The chronic underinvestment in council housing and contempt for tenants must stop. It is an outrage that in 21st Britain, authorities cannot be trusted to provide safe housing, and that people in council properties cannot put children safely to bed at night.

“We support demands for a public inquiry into this disaster – there must be Justice for Grenfell. We call for the immediate resignation of Gavin Barwell, Theresa May’s Chief of Staff, alongside anyone else whose negligence has contributed to this tragedy.

“All Grenfell Tower residents must be offered secure, long-term local housing by RBKC, and the estate must be fully rebuilt so that no social housing is lost – this should not be an opportunity for the council to privatise homes, or for someone to make a quick buck.”

Notes for editors:

Grenfell Action Group outlined concerns on their blog over a series of posts, but were ignored by authorities. The group repeatedly warned the estate landlord, Kensington & Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation (KCTMO) of serious issues with fire safety in the blocks, highlighting the absence of basic fire protection measures including fire extinguishers and a building-wide fire alarm system. The local council, Royal Borough of Kensington Chelsea (RBKC), dismissed residents’ concerns as it pushed through a £8.6 million regeneration scheme.  

Radical Housing Network is a London-wide network of campaigns fighting for housing justice. Grenfell Action Group is a member group of RHN.

@radicalhousing

Contact:
Joe Beswick – 07873557040
Harriet Vickers – 07817724556

info@radicalhousingnetwork.org

 

 

 

 

Video

Seven reasons the Tories will never fix the housing crisis

As we gear up for the general election, here’s a reminder of why the Tories will never, ever fix the housing crisis.

Want safe, secure, and genuinely affordable housing for everyone? Kick out the Tories!

Video by Harriet Vickers for RHN.

Defend the Housing Rights of Boat Dwellers

Check this new leaflet from the National Bargee Travellers Assocation

Homelessness, health and housing

Check out this brilliant new report where RHN members Focus E15 took part in some participatory action research all about how HOUSING IS A MENTAL HEALTH ISSUE!

 

A £2bn gamble with public assets

Written by RHN member, Doug Thorpe

In July 2017 Haringey Council is proposing to sign a contract to hand over its land, property, and buildings including much of its Council Housing to a private company created jointly with private development company Lendlease. The Council and Lendlease will each own and control 50% of the company.

Councils have a genuine problem with providing housing. The Right to Buy has led to the selling off of much of the existing housing stock. Cuts in funding, restrictions on the use of money from the sales, and government caps on the amount councils can borrow has all but stopped any new council house building, and restricted the money available to refurbish estates falling into disrepair.

For the Tories this is a deliberate strategy to eradicate social housing. But 13 years of Labour Government also failed to reverse this process, or even to try. Instead, what funding there was, was channelled towards Housing Associations. These are increasingly moving towards the private sector. The majority of Labour Councillors in areas such as Haringey have either embraced the mythology of a third way, where private developers work jointly with local authorities on public projects. (PFI anyone?) Or, they are so demoralised they see no alternative to the market.

HDV

The significance of the Haringey plan is its vast scale – £2billion of public assets being handed over – and the loss of control over the venture. The ownership will be 50:50. No other Council has risked a local development venture on this scale. It is wholesale privatisation of the Council’s housing and public assets. If it goes ahead it may provide a model for the abandonment of Council housing in other areas, particularly other London Boroughs.

The principal is that the Council will put land and property assets into the deal – 17 housing Estates (including large estates Northumberland Park and Broadwater Farm), Schools, Health Facilities, Library, and 500 commercial properties. The private partner will match that with finance and “expertise”. In theory they will share the profits and risks equally. The idea is that 50:50 control will create a ‘deadlock’ in decision making if the partners cannot agree, preventing the private developer making decisions the Council disagrees with. The Council hopes to develop new ‘affordable’ housing and to share in profits that can be ploughed back into Council services. The practice: on housing, profits, risks, and control is likely to be very different.

This is a transfer of public and community assets built up over generations into the private sector – the property, including any new development will be owned by the HDV not the Council. It will be private property.

All the details about how the ‘sharing’ will work have been kept secret (Commercially ‘privileged’ under the tendering process). We do not know how the Council’s property has been valued. You would think that the Council would want to maximise the valuation of its assets, so Lendlease would have to match that with finance. But the Council fears a high valuation would scare Lendlease off. So they are likely to be selling the community short. For instance Northumberland Park Estate has been valued at minus 15 Million (ie the Council effectively will be paying the developer £15 million to take the estate!)

The Council says 40% of new properties will be “affordable”. But that includes “affordable” properties for sale. “Affordable” rental properties will be a much lower proportion, maybe 25%. In reality, experience shows that private developers eventually deliver much lower levels of “affordable” housing than the original plan. They argue the development needs to be viable. In planning terms this means the developer is entitled to take at least 20% profit from the development before passing any on to the Council. They will also use this requirement to ratchet down the amount of social housing well below the current targets. Most of the new build will be private housing for sale at market value.

“Affordability”

“Affordable” housing is itself a misnomer. It can mean up to 80% of market rent or property sale value. Local Housing Allowance average rent valuations for Tottenham are £255.34pw for a two bed flat, £315.12pw for a 3 Bed – 80% of these is £204.72pw & £252.09 respectively, actual market rents are higher. The Council may ‘try’ to offer lower rents – but this shows what could be considered ‘affordable’. Worse however than this, the whole profitability of the venture is based on development forcing up property and rental prices in the area still higher. So the eventual ‘affordable’ levels will need to be even higher, or the project faces losses. Existing Council tenants are not guaranteed that they can return on the same rent and security of tenancy. The Council only says it will make best efforts to ensure this. But if it means what it says, it could write this into the contract with Lendlease. The reason it won’t, is it knows the need to make profits will be the driving force in the project, and Lendlease will not agree “guarantees” that would restrict its ability to make those profits at the expense of any other consideration.

Risk

The risk is huge. Post Brexit, and with London property ‘overheating’ slowing down, a continuing rise in property prices along the lines of recent years is not sustainable. The projections for this have not been audited. The Council’s own Scrutiny Committee recommended further evaluation. But the Cabinet ignored this. If the venture fails, 50% of the losses would have to be paid by Haringey Council Tax payers. Croydon Council Urban Regeneration Vehicle (CCURV) was a similar 50:50 project expected to be about half the size of Haringey’s. But Croydon has backed off from the agreement and is instead using its own housing company for current development. A smaller 50:50 Joint Venture by Tunbridge Wells with John Laing collapsed after 4 years with Council Tax payers having to pick up the debt.

So if the plan works, working class residents won’t be able to afford the new housing; and if it fails, the people of Haringey will be saddled with an unpayable debt. A two Billion Pound Gamble where the existing working class community loses, whatever the outcome.

To add insult to injury, the Council has just confirmed its preferred development partner is Lendlease. A simple Google search reveals Lendlease to be embroiled in corruption cases in Australia & New York. One of its other London developments is at Elephant & Castle – the former Heygate Estate, perhaps THE classic example of social cleansing and dispersal of the community. Lendlease has a history of blacklisting unionised building workers. It claims this was only related to Bovis, a company it swallowed up. But there are more recent reports of Lendlease itself using the blacklist.

Democratic deficit

There has been no meaningful consultation. The Council claims it has consulted through planning and strategy consultations. This buries the question in much larger documents. Effectively what emerges is that residents were asked whether they wanted better housing. Of course they want better housing, better spaces. But nowhere have residents been consulted on demolishing their estates and moving them to a private company.

There has been no ballot of tenants. Even the Council decisions are being made by the smaller Cabinet. The HDV has never been put to the full Council.

The proposed control structure for the HDV is a board of 3 from Lendlease; and on the Council side: only one elected councillor + 2 Council officers. This is supposed to provide a ‘deadlock’ where neither partner can make a decision without the other’s agreement. But few believe that the Council representatives will be able to match the expertise and legal resources Lendlease will have to argue their case, and ensure it skims off the profits it wants to ensure the ‘viability’ of the project.

One of the main campaigning demands against the HDV is for a ballot of all tenants and leaseholders before any estate is put into the scheme, or scheduled for demolition.

Residents

Existing Council tenants will be offered Council tenancies somewhere else in the borough away from their existing community. Even if a right to return is offered, by the time new properties are built the tenants will have put down roots elsewhere. The new rents are likely to be prohibitive. Experience from the Heygate Estate in Southwark was that of 1200 tenants with a ‘right to return’ only 46 did so. The rest were dispersed around the borough or moved away.

Compensation for leaseholders will not be enough to buy one of the new flats, or anything comparable in the area. Private tenants renting on the estates will have no rights and will be made homeless.

The scheme is based on forcing up property prices and rents, meaning even working class private sector renters will be forced out of the area. The Council’s own Equalities assessment says that most black residents will need to ‘get better jobs’ if they hope to remain in the area.

The existing Council tenants needing to be rehoused on other estates will take up all the available vacant properties for years. This will further reduce properties available for housing homeless applicants or those on the housing register. Homeless families will increasingly be exported to temporary accommodation outside London, away from their support networks. Even when new housing is eventually built, it will be beyond the financial reach of homeless applicants.

The plan amounts to social cleansing on a massive scale.

Opposition

A broad based campaign against the HDV has formed that Left Unity is part of. Called ‘The Two Billion Pound Gamble’ it has united tenants, both Constituency Labour Parties, a third of Labour Councillors, Momentum, Trade Unions, the Green Party, housing campaigns and Resident and Leaseholder organisations against the scheme.

10 Labour Councillors who signed a call in of the scheme to the Council’s Scrutiny Committee have been threatened with disciplinary action by the Labour Group leadership. Both local MPs (Catherine West and David Lammy) have expressed concerns.

The campaign has organised several lobbies of the Council and a march, Public Meetings in the areas affected, door-to-door and tube station leafleting and street stalls. It is putting out information about the HDV that the Council has tried to hide, or lied about. Increasingly tenants and residents are joining the campaign.

The District Auditor has been contacted and is launching an investigation into the financing of the scheme. Applications for Judicial review of the Council’s decision making process are being lodged, and the barrister advising judges these to have a good prospect of success.

But all this takes money, an estimated £25,000 for the legal cases alone. The campaign is seeking donations to this JustGiving Crowdfunding Page to help make the legal challenge happen: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/Haringey-2bn-gamble?utm_id=2&utm_term=y6QAPnqnG

The campaign is organising more events, including public meetings on 18 and 25 April and a May Day event. Details of these and other campaign actions can be found on the 2 Billion Pound Gamble facebook page https://www.facebook.com/2billionpoundgamble/

The Haringey HDV has drastic implications for council housing in other areas, particularly across London. Any assistance that can be given in fighting it, either in people’s time or money, will help defeat it.

 

Doug Thorpe

2 Billion Pound Gamble campaign

 

 

 

 

Estate Regeneration and Good Practice

Last week, the GLA’s window for responses to their ‘Estate Regeneration Good Practice Guide’ – which can be found here – closed. The final document will set out principles that local authorities, housing associations, city hall and developers should look to when considering estate ‘regeneration’ projects – and the ways in which residents can hold them accountable.

Residents, community and campaign groups within the Radical Housing Network, and from the wider housing movement, sent in their responses. This blog summarises some key issues that came out in the responses from groups within and outside of our network. If you sent a response to the GLA which you’d like featured here, get in touch info@radicalhousingnetwork.org.

2x1_housing_regeneration_oceanestate

The (Draft) Guide

The guide sets out three key areas: the purpose of estate regeneration, recommendations about how to consult with residents and the overall ‘deal’ that tenants and leaseholders can expect in regeneration projects.

Responses: Some Key Issues

Demolition Last Resort 

Though the guide does outline demolition as one of a range of options for regeneration – it doesn’t do enough to push back against the current practice of ‘demolish first, ask questions later’ that developers are carrying out all over London.

Submissions, like that from Demolition Watch, stressed that other options for regenerating estates – like upgrading and improving homes, funding the community and repairing local infrastructure should always come first. Demolition should always be a last resort. And when demolition does happen – no social housing should be lost. The guide does make some commitment towards this – but says only projects funded by the GLA will be beholden to the rule of ‘no loss to social housing’ – this needs to be broader and the terms set out clearly for residents to know what kind of power this commitment really has.

The London Tenants Federation pointed out the demonisation of estate residents as scroungers, embodied in policies like ‘Mixed and Balanced Communities’ (London Plan) – where areas with a high number of social housing residents have to be ‘diluted’ with wealthy neighbours – went unchallenged. Policies like these embolden developers to demolish people’s homes without accountability.

Resident Ballots

Several submissions addressed the vague commitments to residents’ democracy, and the importance of resident support for regeneration projects. Though the guide dismissed ballots as an ineffective way of gauging resident support, several submissions pushed back and demanded resident ballots on all regeneration projects. This practice would make concrete commitments to ‘democracy’,  ‘support’ and ‘consultations’ that have systematically failed estate residents thus far.

Demolition Watch even set up a popular petition to the Mayor demanding resident ballots. They still need a few more signatures – and you can sign here.

Clarity – What’s the Use and Application

Sidestepping concrete commitments like these, and trading in vague language, the guide left little clarity about how the final document will actually be used – and what kind of power it really gives residents at all. How will developers be sanctioned if they don’t comply, for example? Several submissions, including that from Fuel Poverty Action,  covered different areas of this topic – something Sian Berry’s submission to the guide also looks at.

Transparency was also raised – with groups arguing that data around the plans and implementation of regeneration projects must be made public.

Impact 

Submissions criticised the guide’s lack of commitment to monitoring and addressing the impact that regeneration has on communities –  Barnet Housing Action, for example, argued that councils should keep a duty of care to residents after they leave a borough if they have been driven out by regeneration.

Environmental and social impact – from the exploitation and environmentally damaging practices of energy companies to the destruction of the social and cultural fabric of an area, were also highlighted, and calls for the GLA to address these issues, with creative solutions for how they could do, were also raised.

Including All Residents

The guides’s focus on particular types of tenure – leaving out freeholders, for example – was challenged, particularly by Barnet Housing Action – who highlighted that this left people with particular types of tenure vulnerable, and encouraged splits in the community – something the guide said it wanted to avoid.

Displacement

Demolition Watch, among others, pointed for the need to monitor the well being of people displaced by regeneration – so that data on the impact of regeneration of people’s lives can be made clear, and councils and developers held to account when people under their care are suffering.

A right to return to their areas, and cash compensation for those whose lives are disrupted, or who are permanently displaced – were also pushed for.

The expertise and campaigning work of grassroots groups affected by regeneration projects came out to shape the guide. Groups provided case studies, critical analysis and pushed for creative and simple policy the GLA could commit to if it really wants to support communities, regenerate rather than destroy areas, and commit to social housing , not social cleansing.

Watch this space to see what happens when the final guide comes out, later this year.

List of all submissions here:

London Tenants Federation: https://thtf.files.wordpress.com/2017/03/draft-response-london-mayor-regeneration-good-practice.pdf

Axe the Housing Act Letter to Mayor:http://www.axethehousingact.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/AtHA_letter_LondonMayor_Jan2017_A4_2pp_web.pdf

Demolition Watch: http://media.wix.com/ugd/395633_86a8c7e0ed214958b1bef55aeb9ed1be.pdf

Fuel Poverty Action:

http://radicalhousingnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Fuel-Poverty-Action-response-to-GLA-Estate-Regeneration-consultation.pdf

Barnet Housing Action:

http://radicalhousingnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Barnet-Haction-1.pdf

Sian Berry: https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/final_estate_guidance_response_sianberry_mar2016_0.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

Briefing on the Housing White Paper

This is a re-post from our friends at Axe the Housing Act. For the original see here: http://www.axethehousingact.org.uk/news/briefing-on-the-housing-white-paper-2017/

Introduction

The government’s Housing White Paper released on 7 February, is called ‘Fixing our broken housing market’. We welcome the admission that the housing situation needs ‘radical’ action. But what the White Paper really says is ‘We know what we’re doing doesn’t work, but we’re going to carry on doing it’.

The Prime Minister’s preface says ‘our broken housing market is one of the greatest barriers to progress in Britain today…particularly for ordinary working class people’. But this government is attempting to push up rents, end secure tenancies and force councils and housing associations to sell-off social rented homes. The proposals in the White Paper would accelerate the privatisation of housing and the domination of property developers and speculators.

The government’s housing policy is in chaos. Under pressure from the campaign against the 2016 Housing and Planning Act, ministers are trying to introduce another wave of housing legislation and backtrack on significant aspects of the 2016 Act less than a year after it was passed (though mostly still not implemented). That Act remains a threat and the White Paper only adds to the layers of confusion and uncertainty.

These contradictions undermine the government’s suggestion that councils will be allowed to build homes again. We want to see this happen: it requires serious, long-term investment and all the threats in the Housing and Planning Act to be repealed. The main reason we have a housing crisis is that we’ve stopped building council homes and instead looked to private developers to build so-called affordable homes. This approach has failed miserably, but the White Paper continues to see the private sector as the solution.

There is one thing in the White Paper we fully support. It explicitly states that the housing crisis is NOT the result of immigration or because the country is ‘full’. We hope this will stop politicians using racist scapegoating to justify the lack of genuinely affordable and secure homes.

Below are some more detailed points from the White Paper.

Responses by 2 May 2017: email to planningpolicyconsultation@communities.gsi.gov.uk

housing

housing

Housing Associations 

The government says ‘Housing associations have been doing well’ and confirms a £7.1 billion budget for HAs to build ‘affordable’ homes, on top of the £23 billion they’ve received since the early 2000s. But HAs have not been building the homes we need. Throughout the 1970s, local authorities consistently built over 100,000 council homes a year. In 2015/16 HAs built 40,000 homes, but only 14% (5,464 homes) were for social rent. The remainder were ‘affordable homes’ at up to 80% of the market level (18,592) and shared ownership (8,767). HAs built more homes for private sale (5,205) than they did for social rent!

They’ve moved away from their founding ethos as ‘social’ landlords and increasingly resemble private developers in their culture and practice. The White Paper will continue that trend. It confirms that HAs will now be regarded as part of the private sector and will allow them to charge higher rents to existing tenants from 2020. This comes on top of the changes in the Housing and Planning Act which make it easier for HAs to switch between social and private housing sectors, weakens the level of regulation and ends the requirement for them to have local councillors on their Boards.

 

Local Councils, public land and regeneration 

The White Paper says it wants to ‘encourage local authorities to build again’, but gives no commitment to the money needed for them to do that. It does say that £45 million will be available through a ‘Land Release Fund’ to build 160,000 homes on public land by 2020, but alongside the clauses in the Housing and Planning Act about the use of ‘brownfield’ sites, this could mean allowing private developers to use faster planning permission to build on public land homes that are unaffordable to most people. The White Paper also gives only vague commitments to protect the interests of residents living on estates ear-marked for large scale regeneration projects, where experience shows they are at risk of losing their homes.

 

Private Renters 

The government says it wants to make renting fairer for tenants, but the White Paper gives no indication of how. It talks about ‘encouragement’ for longer tenancies, but there’s nothing specific to guarantee renters security or rent controls. The government is stalling on its commitment to end lettings fees, talking about ‘consultation’ instead of immediate abolition.

 

Private Investors and Developers 

While it’s vague on commitments to protect tenants’ rights and build the homes we need, the White Paper says it wants to create ‘a long-term framework for investment’ for property speculators, particularly in the private rented sector. This opens the door to the kind of large scale institutional investors who dominate the housing market in the USA and elsewhere. The government says it wants to ‘diversify’ housing provision, but in fact it’s allowing big developers to control housing policy.

 

The Planning System 

The White Paper suggests the slowness of the planning system is the main reason we have a housing crisis, but its own figures show that even when they have planning permission, private developers often don’t build. There are lots of ways the planning system could be improved, by making it more transparent, democratic and insisting that targets for social rented homes are met.

 

For the White Paper itself, click here. 

For the consultations associated with the White Paper, see Housing Law Consultations. 

For a House of Commons Library briefing in respect of the planning aspects of the proposals in the White Paper, click here

For the response of the Local Government Association, click here

For the response of Shelter, click here

For the response of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, click here

For letters to The Guardian in response to the White Paper, click here

Housing White Paper – A Dissappointment

Three Radical Housing Network members respond to the Housing White Paper:

“The HWP is a huge disappointment, tinkering round the edges while London’s housing system burns. The Government needs to get real, stop listening to the Developer-lobby and put plans in place to fix our broken housing system. Until they recognise that the only way to solve the housing crisis is by massive public investment in public rental housing, affordable to people and families on low incomes, the housing crisis is only going to get worse.

In London more people in poverty live in the private rented sector than any other tenure, enduring the worst renters rights in Europe, and being squeezed by private landlords for most of their income. And the government and taxpayer spends billions subsidising this insanity through housing benefit, driven by a blind commitment to a free market in housing. The case for council housing – economically, socially and politically – is overwhelming, and yet this Housing White Paper continues to fiddle with the dials, expecting a different outcome. It’s beginning to look like the Government doesn’t care.”

“Today’s statements on ‘housing market failure’ not only fail to acknowledging the severity of a housing crisis that traps millions in poverty, but betray the free-market thinking of the Conservative’s solutions which lies at the root of the problem. This is not a case of ‘market failure’ but of four decades of political failure, which has seen Neoliberal governments allow a wealthy few to exploit the housing of many for personal profits. Any serious attempt to address this must – as a bare minimum  – introduce  immediate rent controls and a moratorium on evictions, with a long-term program of community-led, fully-funded social housing construction to return this basic human right to democratic control”

‘It’s good that the government is being forced to bend to campaign pressure and is making more u-turns on last years ridiculous Housing and Planning Act. But we need more than policy sound bites. We need decisive action to repeal the 2016 Act, to control rents and invest in a new generation of first class council housing for rent.’

No Khan Do

A guest blog from our friend Glyn Robbins at Axe the Housing Act.

Sadiq Khan said he would make his 2016 election campaign a ‘referendum on housing’.  When he needed votes, Khan talked about the importance of council housing, the need to curb private landlords and property speculators and pledged to ‘fix the Tory housing crisis’.  Less than a year later, there are already signs that Mayor Khan is retreating from some of his manifesto commitments and adopting policies that are worryingly close to those he claims to challenge.

Criticisms of Khan’s emerging housing policies arose almost as soon as he was elected, in particular his drooping of a pledge to push for a rent freeze.  But this is just one of several examples of Khan seeming to care more about developers than people in housing need.  His original aspiration to make 50% of new homes ‘affordable’ (even allowing for the elasticity of the term) has already been dropped to 35%.  Promises to protect residents and social rented homes on estates faced with ball and chain regeneration projects have been diluted.  Meanwhile, despite the enormous threat it represents, Khan has been virtually silent on the Housing and Planning Act.

A closer look at Khan’s policies give further cause for concern.  He has a budget of £3.15 billion to deliver 90,000 new ‘affordable’ homes by 2021.  But 65% of these will be ’home ownership products’ targeted at people with income well above the London median (£30,000).  His much vaunted London Living Rent will be available to those with income up to £60,000, will be let on short-term tenancies and provide landlords with significant flexibility for increasing rents.  People with income up to £90,000 will be eligible for his London Shared Ownership, a tenure that research (including by the GLA!) has repeatedly found fails to make a significant contribution to reducing housing need.  Nowhere in Khan’s blizzard of new policies is there any commitment to build and invest in council housing, the only source of a genuinely affordable, secure rental home for most Londoners for generations.

Alongside his repeated civic boosterism of London as ‘the greatest city in the world’, it’s clear that Khan is preparing the ground for a continuation of the kind of social (and ethnic) cleansing of working class neighbourhoods that has characterised the last twenty years.

The Axe the Housing Act campaign is calling on Mayor Khan to do better.  We want firm commitments to build the homes we need, which means thousands of new council homes, particularly on public land.  We want him to fulfil his promise to help all private renters, not just a few.  And we want him to get involved in the campaign against the Act which would make the housing crisis worse.

A copy of the open letter to Sadiq Khan is here.  Please sign, share and return to info@axethehousingact.org.uk