Housing Crisis – However you look at it the real issue is the lack of social housing

How many times have we watched politicians of all colours wringing their hands in an attempt to look like they are tackling our nationwide housing crisis? Far too many times.

We’ve had ‘Help to Buy’ and all the other incentive schemes to get young folk onto the housing ladder but there’s strong opinion that these initiatives do little more than put more money in developers pockets whilst probably keeping house prices high! But however you cut it none of these politician’s schemes are addressing the real problem – the huge lack of social housing.

Yes, we all know that this crisis had it’s seeds set back when 1980’s Thatcherism brought in ‘Right to Buy’ for council houses because the money raised from the sales was not used to build new council/social housing. It’s now generations since that policy was brought in and each year that passes we fail to build enough social houses for rent.

Not everyone wants to own their own home but many who do will sadly never afford it due to our low wage culture.

The effect of all this has been an explosion in the private rented housing sector, but with rents often much higher than the cost of a mortgage. Of course, those who want to save up for a deposit can’t do so in part because they are paying such large amounts to their private landlords! A housing trap indeed and those who are the poorest suffer the most with poor housing conditions, landlords not doing repairs and eviction when the rents outstrip their ability to pay them. At this point local councils have to pick up the problem of homeless people and this becomes a bigger problem week by week, month by month…..

And let’s not get all rose tinted spectacles about how council housing used to be because in many cases it was poor and it led to the Decent Homes Standard that Blair’s government brought in. Trouble is there are still many homes in the social housing/council housing/housing association sector that still don’t meet those standards.

The regulation of housing associations also looks to be far too light touch with some of them, particularly we are told the larger ones, not delivering decent homes or doing repairs in a timely way. Government only seems interested in scoring housing associations over how many new properties they build and no one is keeping an eye on the standards by which they manage their properties. There’s also a worrying slide towards not having strong tenant participation in the running of housing associations.

So we don’t have anywhere near enough social houses and those we do have are at best patchy in terms of their management/maintenance. At the same time we are sacrificing more Green Belt and high grade agricultural land to build houses, which will be almost all privately owned/privately rented thereby not meeting our real housing needs. And that’s not even adding into the pot that the houses we are building are often 3, 4 & 5 bedroomed properties when we also need 1 and 2 bedroomed houses, bungalows etc. for our aging population.

Housing crisis, we certainly have one, but our politicians have their heads firmly in the sand with their fingers in their ears so what they won’t see and can’t hear is not happening.

Council housing, social housing, housing associations – What’s gone wrong and why we have a housing crisis on our hands

I was taken by this recent speech by Lord Tony Greaves in the House of Lords where he squarely nails why we have a housing crisis on our hands:-

Lord Tony Greaves – For all the faults of local authorities over the years and some of the major mistakes that were made, council housing is one of the great success stories of the last century. The more that that is said, the better. I remember when social housing was a new term introduced from America and we did not like it, because in America it meant housing for the down and outs and people at the bottom of the pile. Council housing at its best was housing run by and provided by the local community for the local community. It provided so many families with a decent quality of life.

The same was true of local housing associations when they started. They were set up as locally controlled and relatively small, providing for local needs. Nowadays, a lot of housing associations have simply turned into large non-profit-making housing companies. Why it is thought that affordable and social housing should be provided by companies like this, rather than by democratically elected local authorities, is a mystery to me.

Yet many local authorities, including my own I regret to say, were bribed and bullied—by the Labour Government in our case—into a stock transfer to a housing association. We were bribed because of the vast amount of money the Government gave us. Some of it was for housing improvement, renovation and repairs, which was fine, but a lot of it was just money handed out to the council to bribe us to do it. We were bullied into doing it because, if we did not, we would not even get the money to repair the housing. Initially, it was okay, and it was a local housing association with local representation, but it has now become part of a large north of England housing company.

There are two major scandals associated with [what has happened with social housing]. One is the fact that something like two out of five houses—probably more now—sold under right to buy are owned by private landlords. This is not a property-owning democracy where people own their houses under owner-occupation. It is simply a policy of the Tories handing over all this stuff to their mates and to private landlords. I have mates who are private landlords, and there are lots of good ones. But the large private landlord companies, particularly in the big cities, are responsible for a shocking deterioration in the housing stock occupied by the poorest people.

I do not have time to discuss the second scandal, the question of land. Until the question of land is sorted out—in the cost of a new house in London and the south-east, something like 70% or more of that is for land; it is payment for nothing other than the uplift to the people who own the land—it will remain an absolute disgrace. The land ought to belong to the people. It does not, but we need some policies that move in that direction.