More than half of the 1,900 ultra-luxury apartments built in London in 2017 failed to sell, so overcrowded London has dozens of “posh ghost towers”.
Meanwhile, some 320,000 people are homeless across Britain (on the streets or in temporary accommodation). On-the-streets homelessness has doubled since 2010. Millions more are stuck sharing with parents or friends because they can find nowhere affordable.
Other millions are in insecure, often expensive, often squalid privately-rented accommodation. The private rented sector has increased from 2.6 million households in 2007 to 4.7 million on the latest figures, and is now a bigger sector than social renters, mortgage-payers, or outright home-owners.
The basic answer is to build very large amounts of high quality council housing so that more and more people can live in good homes, with security of tenure, at low rents. Private tenants should have secure tenure and tribunals to set fair rents.
The existence of a large and growing council housing sector will make this more effective by putting landlords under pressure.
Deliberate policies pursued by governments since 1979 – removing funding for councils to build homes, severely restricting their ability to raise money themselves, and encouraging council tenants to buy their homes at cut price (“Right to Buy”) — have reduced council housing drastically.
That “Right to Buy” sounded good at first, but many of those who bought their home had a hard time covering the repair and maintenance costs which now fell on them. The majority of those homes eventually fell into the hands of private landlords.
Much of what council housing remains is falling increasingly into disrepair, particular with the cuts to councils’ funding since 2010.
This year’s Labour Party conference in September passed a clear policy that would allow a Labour government to start seriously improving the situation.
Firstly it said that Labour should set a target of building 3.1 million new “social homes” (homes owned by councils or housing associations rather than private landlords, with council-level rent) over 20 years – an average of 155,000 a year. Of these 100,000 a year must be council homes.
Secondly, a Labour government should provide councils with a £10 billion a year grant, ring-fenced for building council houses.
Thirdly, “Right to Buy” should be abolished.
These policies are something like the minimum needed to make a substantial difference. To put the figures for new homes in context, 1.8 million council houses have been lost under Right to Buy since the policy was introduced; and in the 1950s, under Tory governments, something like 300,000 council houses a year got built.
The Labour Party conference motion rightly said that a large, properly-funded council house building plan should be combined with policies to help private renters like limits on rent levels, open-ended tenancies, an end to “no fault” evictions, and tough new standards for the quality of housing.
We call for the party to campaign for those conference policies and a Labour government to carry them out.
Sadly, many Labour councils have become cosy with landlords and property-developers, and promoted local policies which worsen rather than slowing down and resisting the Tories’ assault on council housing. Some have also actively taken measures to criminalise homeless people. That needs to change.
And Labour councils and the party more generally have done little to oppose and fight to reverse cuts to local government funding – allowing local services to fall apart instead of demanding the government restores the money necessary to rebuild them. That needs to change too.