Groups in the Network
- Digs – Hackney Renters
- Camden and Islington Unite Community Union
- Transition Heathrow
- SQUASH Campaign
- Defend Council Housing
- People before profit
- Tower Hamlets Renters
- National Bargee Travellers Association
- London Unite Community
- Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth
- Focus E15
- Lambeth United Housing Co-op
- People’s Republic of Southwark
- Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group
- Lambeth Housing Activists
- Grenfell Action Group
- Barnet Housing Action Group
- Our West Hendon
- Fuel Poverty Action
- DC Resists
- Housing Action Greenwich and Lewisham (HAGL)
- UCL Cut The Rent
- RENT STRIKE!
- North East London Migrant Action (NELMA)
- Our Brixton
- Southwark Notes
- Listen NHH
- Genesis Residents
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Category Archives: council housing
Home Truths at the DIY Space for London
96-108 Ormside St, SE15 1TF
Sunday 8th July 1.30pm to 10pm
Organised by the Radical Housing Network and Rainbow Collective
An afternoon and evening of films, discussions, spoken word and music bringing together campaigners on housing and migrant rights, and raising money for the Grenfell people’s enquiry project
Discussing the roots of the current housing crisis, debunking the myths on immigration and homelessness, and learning from our victories in housing campaigns across London.
Food and drink are available at the child-friendly event. Free entry – suggested donations.
Films & talks start at 1.30pm until 6pm and music runs from 6pm til 10pm
We will have speakers and contributions to the discussion from groups including – Save Cressingham Gardens, Ledbury Action Group, Aylesbury Estate, Elephant & Castle shopping centre campaign, Anthony Iles from Tarling West Estate, Southwark Notes, Broadwater Farm, Central Hill Estate, Stop HDV, Professor Paul Watt Department of Geography Birkbeck, University of London, Rita Chadha Migrants Rights Network
• 1:30 -2:00 Film – Failed By The State: Struggle In The Shadow Of Grenfell
• 2:00 -2:15 Q&A with directors
• Spoken word piece
• 2:15 -3:30 Panel discussion: Displacement and dispossession – We won’t go
• Music/spoken word piece
• 4:00- 5:00 Panel discussion: “Hostile environment”- how do we stop the return to the days of ‘no blacks, no irish and no dogs
• 5- 7.00 food, drink, spoken word, films
• 7:00 Anti-racist Rhythms (DJ Set)
Musicians and poets performing include
Potent Whisper, Icykal, Sanah Ahsan, Sashan Flanders,
Iviee Mercutio, Liz Ward, Danny Platinum,
John Pandit DJ set with Visuals by Rainbow Collective
Radical Housing Network submission to Grenfell Tower Inquiry terms of reference consultation
The Radical Housing Network
- The Radical Housing Network is an alliance of over 30 housing groups and campaigns in London. Grenfell Action Group, who consistently brought attention to failures of the council, TMO, and the risk posed by the tower in years preceding the tragedy, are an active member group of the Radical Housing Network.
Introductory Remarks and scope of the submission
- The Radical Housing Network believes that the public inquiry must cover both the immediate and root causes of the fire, and should not restrict itself to a narrow or solely technical framing of the issue. The Chairman of the inquiry has suggested that he is “doubtful” that the inquiry can deliver the “much broader investigation” which those directly affected by the fire want. Our submission is that the terms of reference must be broad and political as well as technical. If the inquiry does not set its terms of reference at this breadth, RHN believe it will fail to address the root and immediate causes of the fire, and to prevent further tragedies. The inquiry must have regard to all matters which can be reasonably said to pertain to the circumstances which led to the fire, and must not restrict itself from doing this at the outset, by selecting narrow terms of reference.
- This submission will not address directly the immediate causes of the fire and its spread (cladding, sprinklers, white goods, and so on). Instead it is concerned to ensure that the inquiry has regard to the social, political and economic factors which has led to these failures. A number of robust submissions have been made which cover the immediate causes of the fire, for example those of the Fire Brigades Union, Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. The inquiry should follow the guidance contained therein.
Resident and community participation
- It is Radical Housing Network’s submission that the primary means by which a broad inquiry can be achieved is by putting those individuals directly affected by the tragedy, both from the tower itself and the broader Lancaster West community, at the centre of the process. As is well known, numerous members of the Grenfell and Lancaster West community had been highlighting safety and other concerns to both the TMO and RBKC for a number of years. These voices and concerns appear to have been ignored. The inquiry must not risk replicating this. Members of the local community, and representative community groups, must be ‘in the room’ for the establishment of the terms of reference. An inquiry which fails to deliver a process which is satisfactory to those people most directly affected is clearly completely inadequate. The residents have a unique and privileged knowledge of the matters which pertain to the causes of the tragedy, and must be central to the inquiry. This goes beyond involvement at the stage of establishing terms of reference. Residents must also be directly involved in the process of the inquiry, and given ample opportunity within the inquiry to question individuals called to give evidence.
The need to consider social policy
- The deep sense of national outrage which followed the fire was perhaps unprecedented, and flows from both the scale of the tragedy, and its occurrence in the richest borough in the UK. There has been a widespread sense among the general public that the fire was directly attributable to the failings of social policy, and a stark indication that the housing, health, safety and wellbeing of certain people mattered more than those of others. For these reasons, the inquiry must have regard to, and channel, this widely felt anger. The inquiry must not ignore the social policy context which has led to the fire.
- At the very minimum, the inquiry must have regard to those elements of housing policy which pertain to the causes of the fire.
- The inquiry must examine whether social housing legislation and practice in the UK has created a situation in which accountability and responsibility for social housing and its residents have become obfuscated, and housing related service provision less and less transparent It must ask whether systemic changes in the ways that social housing and regeneration is managed has led to a situation in which the views and needs of residents have been sidelined as a matter of regular practice. This will involve asking whether the legislative shift towards outsourcing and for-profit organisations playing prominent roles in the sector has created a situation in which the voices and concerns of residents are not effectively heard, or cared about, due to a prioritising of cost-cutting over the quality of work delivered, as well as a lack of clear channels of democratic accountability. This investigation should include, but not be be limited to, scrutiny of ALMOs and PFI-run housing estates. The inquiry must ask whether social housing should be brought back under direct Local Authority control.
- The inquiry must examine whether the underfunding of social housing is a contributing factor in the Grenfell tragedy. It must ask whether social housing has been adequately funded over recent decades. The inquiry should speak to housing experts and campaigners to examine whether the Grenfell fire was a predictable outcome of underfunding of the housing options available to those least economically advantaged members of society. It must examine whether Local Authorities and other social housing providers have been both properly funded and incentivised to maintain safe and high quality existing social housing stock. It must examine whether Grenfell should be a turning point after which the government once again celebrates and values it social housing stock, and initiates a massive programme of public investment therein.
- The inquiry must examine whether the present housing offer in the UK, for individuals with the least economic advantage, is adequate. Grenfell has starkly illustrated that the housing options for individuals who experience the highest degree of economic exclusion can be lethally unsuitable. By speaking to residents, experts and housing campaigners, the inquiry should investigate whether the current UK housing system is adequately providing for many of the least well off in society. The inquiry should note that at the same time as Grenfell was a tragedy of the social housing sector, almost 2 million households are on the waiting list for this tenure, nationally. The inquiry must investigate whether the conditions for those people, excluded from social housing, and at the bottom of the private rented sector, are acceptable. It must ask whether the £25 billion spent annually on housing benefit, much of which flows to the private rented sector, is an effective, cost efficient means of providing decent housing for low income individuals and families. It must ask whether the dramatic real terms reduction in social housing stock, with over 1.5 million homes lost from the social housing sector since 1980, have led to the ‘residualisation’ of the tenure, whereby it is only now accessible to those at the most severe disadvantage, and who possess the least social and economic power in society. It should ask whether such a ‘ghettoisation’ of the tenure has contributed to social and economic circumstances which have led to the Grenfell tragedy. The inquiry should examine whether Grenfell should be a turning point after which the government once again initiates and funds a massive programme of public house building, to improve the housing offer for those with the least economic and social advantages, and broaden the availability and composition of the tenure.
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!
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
2 Billion Pound Gamble campaign
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 email@example.com.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Barnet Housing Action:
Sian Berry: https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/final_estate_guidance_response_sianberry_mar2016_0.pdf
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/
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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
Up against powerful vested interests and a government that supports (or shares) them, campaigning for a better housing system can often feel like fighting a losing battle. But not this week!
On Monday, the government quietly dropped its controversial ‘Pay to Stay’ plans to impose unaffordable market rents for social housing tenants on incomes above a stingy minimum. This policy was introduced earlier this year as part of the regressive Housing and Planning Act, which members of Radical Housing Network (RHN) joined with the Kill the Housing Bill campaign to organise against.
We occupied a building in Kensington and helped build a march of thousands in protest against the Housing Bill
Then in yesterday’s budget, it was announced that letting agents will be banned from charging fees to tenants. Letting agent fees can often be £500 or more, making the already high costs of moving house impossible for renters to afford.
RHN members have for years have been calling for the law in the rest of the UK to be brought in line with Scotland, where this form of profiteering is already outlawed. As Hackney renters’ group, Digs, wrote yesterday:
“To be a renter is very often to feel totally powerless. But today’s announcement shows what can be achieved when communities get organised and turn up the heat on those who hold power.”
F*ck fees! Digs’ action against letting agents’ fees, discrimination and other dodgy dealings in July 2013
These changes come hot on the heels of other local victories across London. Following concerted campaigning on the Aylesbury estate in south London, Southwark council have been prevented from evicting leaseholders after the government refused to grant compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) to force them to leave. In west London, the local council recently refused a planning application by housing association Affinity Sutton which would have seen the Sutton estate demolished, resulting in a loss of social housing. And last week, RHN’s meeting was hosted by the inspiring campaigners on the Butterfield estate in Walthamstow, who shared how they have fought off evictions and attempts by their landlord to make huge rent rises.
Of course, there’s still a long way to go. Social housing is still under attack on many fronts, and millions are stuck renting sub-standard insecure and unaffordable homes from private landlords, while Southwark council are appealing against the decision to block their CPOs on the Aylesbury estate (you can donate to the residents’ crowd-funder to fight it here).
But this week shows that by organising together we can win victories that make real differences to people’s lives – and the bigger we can build our movement, the more we will win!
Right now, our government is trying to legislate the beginning of the end for council housing, whether that’s a home rented direct from the council, through a housing association or as part of a co-op.
Tomorrow, MPs will again meet to debate the Housing and Planning Bill, a debate which could end with them voting the bill into law. Not only will the bill force councils to sell off council homes, whilst even more are lost as right-to-buy is extended to housing association tenants, it will pave the way for more council estates to be demolished.
The government is smearing council estates as run down ‘sinks’ of crime, and trying to persuade us that the bill will make it easier for everyone to have a home. But we in the Radical Housing Network know that council housing is one of the best ways to provide people with safe and secure homes, and that the bill will worsen the housing crisis for the majority and only benefit investors, developers and the rich. Here’s why people across the network love council houses.
They’re *actually, actually* affordable
“For someone earning just above minimum wage, I have a secure family home at an affordable rent and don’t need to claim benefits. This is a proud tradition in the working poor.” Linda Taylor.
Council and housing associations tenancies are designed so that people can afford them, 70% of a property’s rent is based on average local wages. Private rents are based on how much a landlord can squeeze out of a tenant. Surprise, surprise then, that the average social housing rent across London for a two bed is £104 a week, whereas privately it’s £320 a week.
More social housing would actually save the government money too. Housing benefit costs us £24.4 billion a year, much of which is going into private landlords’ pockets, and homelessness and health problems caused by housing problems are expensive, as well as immoral. Management of council housing is paid for by rent, and extra profits stay as public money. Selling off public land to private developers may bring in a quick buck, but building council homes on it is an investment that will pay us back for decades, even centuries, to come.
You can settle in
Hackney renters group Digs protesting against private renters being discriminated against because they’re on benefits.
“I’d love council housing because it would provide me with my own secure and affordable flat, unlike the room I rent in shared accommodation, where I can be kicked out with two months notice and which costs the same amount.” Glenn McMahon, Tower Hamlets Renters.
Councils or housing associations have to have pretty good reasons from evicting you, such as not paying the rent or illegal activities, but a private landlord doesn’t even have to say why they’re kicking you out.
Council tenancies are given out based on need rather than wealth or anything else, and if you lose your job and have to go on benefits, you won’t be discriminated against and can keep your home. If you rent privately, it’s a different story, and many landlords or letting agents will turn you away.
You don’t have to lock yourself into a lifetime of debt
With the average house price for a first time buyer in London getting on for £400,000, and with KPMG figuring out last year you’d need to earn £77,000 to get on the property ladder here, for most people owning a home is a joke. But even if you do somehow manage to scrabble onto the bottom rung, you’re locked into a mountain of debt, and risk losing your home if interest rates shoot up, you lose your job, or for whatever reason you can’t pay.
They let people build communities
Barnet Housing Action Group protesting evictions at Sweets Way Estate.
“Cheap rent and life long tenancies are what people need in order to thrive and be part a community. Social housing means children can access regular schooling, people can hold down jobs if they are not moving all the time and they can receive health care from local services if needed. This is what housing stability brings – it enables us to get on with life.” Ayesha Taylor, Focus E15 campaign.
A tenancy for years to come or for life means you don’t have to worry about being forced to move away from your job, family and friends just because rising property prices or rents in the area have got too much.
When times get tough, a secure home can be a life saver.
“I have been lucky enough to have a council/social housing tenancy for 30 years. It has been the bedrock of my life and has given me the safety and security I needed to beat addictions, attend further and higher education, bring up my daughter in a safe and secure environment (I was able to swap tenancies and move to escape a violent partner) and to manage my mental health when diagnosed with ADHD and bipolar disorder. My home has always been my sanctuary, a place to be calm and to heal; a place I can shut the door on the world and feel safe.” Janette Walsh, Barnet Housing Action.
They’re quality (at least, more so than the private sector)
“My council home had three decent sized bedrooms, decent ventilation, a lovely back garden where me and my brother could run around, and it was always warm. When something broke, or if we got a leak, the council fixed it. Even though I grew up very poor, I never really experienced terrible housing conditions until I lived in the private sector.” Rebecca Winson, GMB Young London.
Council homes must meet certain standards to ensure they are safe and in reasonable condition, covering the dire stuff like dangerous electrics, to just making sure your bathroom’s been upgraded in the last 30 years. Private landlords don’t have to make sure their properties are up to the standards, but according to Shelter, if they did over a third of private rented homes would fall foul of them, and tenants and councils have few rights and powers to force private landlords to make repairs.
Council estates can be really nice, safe places to live
“Council housing can be wonderful places to live with strong communities. Every so-called ‘sink estate’ is an estate that was either badly designed or more likely has been poorly maintained and actively neglected.” Christine Clifford.
Heard David Cameron talking about Broadwater Farm estate recently, saying it’s the one of the causes of the Tottenham riots, and full of ‘criminals’ and ‘anti-social behaviour? Our friends at Architects for Social Housing (ASH) have blogged about the estate, highlighting that since it’s regeneration in 1985 it’s had one of the lowest crime rates of any urban area in the world, and now has a community centre, neighbourhood office, children’s nursery and health centre, social projects, sports clubs and youth programmes, murals and communal gardens.
If you’re lucky enough to have a place in a council housing co-op, you have even more control in building your community.
“Housing Co-ops are vibrant, autonomous communities. Members are responsible for setting their own rents, rules and policies, they are self-governed and democratically run. It’s not always easy or straightforward but co-ops can provide great examples of groups of people living and working together.” Claudia, London Cooperative Housing Group.
They can help fix the housing crisis. THEY CAN HELP FIX THE HOUSING CRISIS EVERYONE.
Private rents taking nearly all of a pay packet. Homelessness going up and up and up. No hope in hell for the majority of owning their own home. Slum living on the rise, with people forced to live in smaller and smaller spaces, and in conditions so poor they cause ill health and even death.
Sounds familiar? It’s 2016, after decades of decline in council homes, but it’s also the early 1880s up to 1919, when councils started building homes after years of campaigning and action from tenants, workers and activists against dire housing conditions.
We need more council homes, not less. Homes that are built for the people that live in them, and for not landlords, investors, or developers. The Tories’ Housing Bill aims to destroy them, and will hit everyone trying to rent or buy on low or middle incomes. It condemns millions to a lifetime of insecure, expensive private renting.
That’s why we in the Radical Housing Network love council housing, and hate the Housing and Planning Bill. That’s why we’re protesting at the bill’s reading tomorrow, fighting evictions and demolitions, reclaiming public spaces, supporting tenants, and demanding that council homes are saved today and for the future.
The Conservatives’ plan to extend the so-called ‘Right to Buy’ has exposed their choices very clearly. They tell us there’s no money, but want to spend up to £8.5 billion on the biggest social housing giveaway in living memory.
Social housing is not theirs to sell. Generations of taxpayers’ money has created the social housing stock we currently have, and this comes just two months after the Tories’ plan to hand out homes for free to handpicked people – slammed by experts as a ‘breathtakingly stupid’ idea.
A sell-off will benefit no-one but the few. It is a charter for buy-to-let landlords, housing loan sharks and a tiny minority of tenants well-off enough to afford property (which is eye-wateringly expensive even when discounted.) The Tories talk about localism, but they want to order councils to flog off their most valuable houses forcing those on low-incomes further from city centres.
Last time they introduced Right to Buy, they forced councils not to spend money gained through Right to Buy on replenishing social housing. The fallout from past Tory and New Labour housing failures has led us to a crisis where 1.8million people languish on social housing waiting lists; for all the talk of a “property owning democracy”, home ownership is now at a lower level than before the introduction of Right To Buy.
They talk about helping people with mortgage deposits, but millions of people can’t even afford a rental deposit. This government has seen rough sleeping go up by over half, hundreds of thousands of working families made homeless, and its MPs have blocked a vote on stopping landlords from evicting tenants at random.
It is scandalous that homes lie empty, either abandoned, unaffordable or hoarded as assets by plutocrats.This is the real cause of the housing shortage and removing even more housing from the public sector and democratic control can only worsen the crisis.
On housing, the Tories are not for ‘working people’ but for unscrupulous landlords. And Labour have shamefully spent a great deal of time giving Tory policies a free rein. We say that decent shelter is a universal human right, one attainable in the world’s sixth richest economy. We will resist any attempts to sell our homes by any means necessary. We call on all parties to reject this transparent wealth transfer and invest in the good quality, genuinely affordable social housing that people so desperately need.
Radical Housing Network
Lambeth Housing Activists
Lewisham People Before Profit
Lambeth United Housing Co-op
People’s Republic of Southwark
Save Earl’s Court Supporters Club
Trade Unionists for Housing
Michael Edwards, UCL Bartlett School of Planning
Bev Woodburn, Unite the Union Community Branch
Louanne Tranchell, Hammersmith Community Trust
Ben Beach, Concrete Action
Sibylle Mansour, Brixton Housing Co-op
Mary Robertson, University of Leeds