The Housing and Planning Bill: Showing Tenants the Door

It is hard to tell how much the Housing and Planning Bill is the result of blind belief that the capitalist market will solve everything or downright self-interest and class spite. [196 MPs have declared income from rent.] Either way, it’ll destroy what remains of social hous­ing and exacerbate the general housing crisis.

So what’s it going to do?

It will extend the right to buy to housing association ten­ants. Great if you can afford to buy, disastrous if you can’t. For many people, a housing association home is the only chance of decent affordable housing. Once that goes, most of the families on the waiting list won’t ever be properly housed. And as with council housing, once they’re gone, they’re gone. After decades of the right to buy, 40% of ex-council properties are now in private hands, and flats and houses are filled with ten­ants paying several times the original council rent to private landlords. The average monthly rent in London is £1,500 pcm with a 12.5% increase across the country over the past 12 months. This has pushed the housing benefit bill to astronomical levels (£24.6 billion and rising) and has created a group of landlord mil­lionaires. There’s always a lot of talk about benefit fraud, but this legal con is off the map, and we’re all paying for it.

It will introduce ‘pay to stay’ charges for tenants in social housing earning more than £30,000 per household a year or £40,000 in London. After criti­cism from the Local Government Association that this would force tens of thousands of families out of their homes and “represent a disincentive for people to take on extra work”, the government is now prepared to have a slid­ing scale so that tenants with an income not much higher than £30,000 will only face ‘modest’ rises in rent. The full increase will only apply to those with a house­hold income of over £50,000. Even so, the intention is clear: to push up social housing rents to ‘market rates’. And if you don’t pay to stay the chances are you’ll be forced to move into the already crowded private sector, pushing rents up even further.

It will phase out secure tenan­cies, replacing them with lets of between 2-5 years. Social housing in Britain was founded on the notion that decent hous­ing be made available to workers at an affordable price and with a security of tenure, which would no longer leave families to the whims of private landlords. You get rid of secure tenancies, you get rid of the cornerstone of social housing and nobody has any security any more. Last year a government survey found that of the 5.1m households renting privately more than half had moved home in the past two years.

It will force councils to sell off valuable homes once they become empty to fund the sale of housing associa­tion homes to ten­ants. In London, ‘high value’ covers just about eve­rywhere. Areas like Camden and Islington are now favourites to be ‘socially cleansed’ since 60% of Camden’s stock and 70% of Islington’s now qualifies as ‘high value’. It’s a complete double whammy; stock will be lost when HA tenants buy, and council stock will be lost to subsidise it. Anywhere between 80,000 and 200,000 homes could go, and again, tenants will be pushed into the private rented sector. The Local Government Association estimates the cost to the Housing Benefit Bill will be an additional £210m a year.

It will grant planning permis­sion for over 100 housing estates, condemned by the government as “magnets for poverty” to be demolished. This will lose us at least another 7,000 socially rented homes. The gov­ernment boasts that ‘redevelop­ment’ will add 31,703 homes, but these will be either high rent properties or so-called starter homes (and those priced at £450,000 in London will be classed as affordable). These new houses will be magnets of money-making for a lucky few. The subsidy amounts to a tax-free windfall of up to £112,000 to those who’ll buy in London if they sell after 5 years. The scheme is being subsidised with £2.3bn in direct grants, part of an overall package worth almost £20bn. So there is state subsidy, but it’s certainly not going to help the 68,000 people living in temporary accommodation who are desperate to be re-housed, or the 1,240,000 people on local authority waiting lists in England, or to tackle homelessness (where numbers are already up by 30% a year in England alone).

This is a shameful, bare-faced piece of anti-working class leg­islation aimed at dismantling social housing and subsidising those who need it least. It’s pushing workers out of London and ‘socially cleansing’ vast areas (teachers are only one group of workers already being priced out of London). But some are fighting back. Last year, pro­testers occupied empty flats on an estate in Elephant and Castle. They were evicted using riot police, but the Aylesbury Estate is typical of what’s hap­pening in London; people are being forced out of their homes to make way for private develop­ments. Groups like the Focus E15 Mothers, Save the Sutton Estate and Barnet Action Group are facing similar attacks with cour­age and determination. If this bill goes through, more and more tenants will discover that capital­ism is unable to provide decent homes, and if tenants want to keep what they have, they’ll have to join together to fight for it, and take on a system that’s increasingly depriving them, and future generations, of any hope of a decent place to live.


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Aurora (en)

Aurora is the broadsheet of the ICT for the interventions amongst the working class. It is published and distributed in several countries and languages. So far it has been distributed in UK, France, Italy, Canada, USA, Colombia.