Labour needs a socialist housing policy

Submitted by Matthew on 27 March, 2015 - 12:45 Author: Pete Gilman and Gemma Short

Housing is a crucial issue in this general election.

Britain is facing the greatest housing crisis since 1945. There is an acute and growing shortage for those on average and below-average income. Virtually no council housing has been built for decades, homelessness is increasing, private sector rents are soaring, and thousands are being forced to move to cheaper parts of Britain because of the cap on housing benefit.

High rents are forcing thousands of people, especially the young, into dependency, repossessions have risen to 30,000, estate agents are ruthlessly ripping off their tenants, and the slum landlord has returned with a vengeance.

Nearly 50,000 “possession claims” were lodged by private landlords in the first three months of 2014 alone, and increasing numbers are the victims of “revenge evictions” if they dare complain in any way.

The Tories have said they intend to end all secure tenancies and “rotate” council tenants out of their homes to make way for those “in greater housing need.” The Tories do not say what will happen to those “rotated” out of their homes.

They have also that they want to impose means testing on all council tenants. Those above a certain income or with a certain level of savings will be forcibly moved into private rented accommodation. They are “contemplating” legislation compelling local authorities to sell off council housing to developers and private companies.

The response from Labour has been at best lacklustre and anaemic, in part because of the legacy of Blair’s disastrous policies. We need a complete break with Blairism.

The Labour Party is calling for the building of 200,000 new homes a year. But building is a problem. Across London vast new developments are going up but it is virtually all luxury housing. We need council housing, not luxury housing, but the Labour leadership is not saying this. We need a minimum of 100,000 new council homes built every year and we need a programme of renovation. Local authorities need extra powers to take over and make habitable empty properties.

All legislation forcing rents to rise faster than the rate on inflation (such as Tony Blair’s “rent restructuring”) must be immediately repealed and a two year rent freeze must be introduced. After this freeze all rent increases for all social housing both council and housing association, must never go above the rate of inflation. Running parallel with this there must be a cap on all private sector rents.

In the case of scandals like the New Era Estate — and there are dozens of such scandals where property companies acquire whole council estates, usually for a song and then seek full market rents and mass evictions — legislation must be introduced allowing the local authority to apply a Compulsory Purchase Order on the estate, but for the cost of that to be met by central government. Any CPO should not be based on the “market value” of that estate.

We also need a regulatory body with legal powers of enforcement to oversee the entire private housing sector, one of whose functions will be investigating and curtailing the blatant profiteering by landlord companies and estate agents, and especially to deal with slum landlords.

We need a charter of rights for private sector tenants along the lines of “The Regulation of the Private Rented Sector Bill” sponsored by Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn.

All private sector landlords must be required to go onto a central registry which entails them signing up to a specific code of conduct towards their tenants.

These are the kind of policies we need from Labour to solve the immediate housing crisis.

Everyone should have the right to a decent place to live, security of tenure, and a fair rent. Such a policy would also guarantee Labour a victory in the election.

On 17 March the “Homes for Britain” rally was held in Westminster.

The organisers claim it was the “biggest housing rally in a generation” attracting “almost 2500” people” from across the UK. Maybe they have forgotten, or want to ignore, the London March for Homes on 31 March, which attracted well over that number of people — just from London.

But at least another rally was happening to give voice to housing campaigners, yes? Far from it.

Focus E15 Mums say they were approached by Homes for Britain to “borrow their banner” but were told they could not speak. In fact the speakers at the event look more like a networking conference for housing developers and council big wigs than a protest at the state of social housing. The top blog on the Homes for Britain website at the moment is written by the Strategic Land Director at Barratt Developments.

Tory party chairman Grant Shapps and UKIP’s Nigel Farage were both on the platform, and attendees at the rally were warned beforehand not to boo or heckle Farage.

Below is Focus E15 Mum’s response to yesterday’s Homes for Britain rally in Westminster.

“Yesterday there were two rallies to end the housing crisis. One was in Westminster led by Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem, Greens and of course Nigel Farage and his UKIP party – a rally hastily called before the party scramble for the upcoming election.  The other was in an estate in Barnet where hundreds of members and supporters of grassroots campaigns came out to fight for the Sweets Way Estate, debated housing and opened up two more homes for residents to re-occupy. 

“Homes for Britain” had contacted Focus E15 campaign not to speak on their rally alongside these parties, but to ‘borrow’ one of our banners.  We do not exist to legitimise false campaigns.

“These demonstrations represent two different fights in Britain – the fight being led by those who already have a voice and the fight being led by those who don’t. The Focus E15 Campaign call on people not to vote for any party which has pledged to continue austerity. 

“This fight will not begin and end with a few broken pledges in parliament, with a few choice words spoken at a rally in Westminster.  It has already begun with the Sweets Way Estate, Focus E15 Campaign, with New Era, Our West Hendon, The Aylesbury Estate and many more. 

“The fight will continue with every eviction resisted and petition created, house occupied and banner made.  It will be led by those directly affected and it will win.”