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.

Bandwidth and Brexit – A guest posting from Bob Robinson

Do you remember when bandwidth was a problem? A time when you wanted to do things on your computer but were unable to do so. It struck me that Brexit has crowded out all other sensible conversation for ages. Stuff that should be done has not been done – where are the Transport for the North Plans for both the new Road and Railway?

Where is the new housing that we need? Where are the essential reforms for social care?

When facing an existential crisis, even one of your own making, smart managers recognise that delegation is a key coping strategy. Bureaucracy tends to centralise more easily than devolve but often it is the front line customer-facing staff who know more about the organisation’s issues in terms of both breadth and depth.

So why is this government so opposed to meaningful devolution to local government and regional bodies. Why are they talking about respecting democracy whilst not taking steps to reinforce local democracies? This “fingers in their ears – singing blah blah blah” paradigm has got to be challenged. We need a General Election at which this issue is front and centre.