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DECENT HOMES FOR ALL End Croydon’s Housing Crisis Now!

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Decent homes for all

Croydon Communists’ pamphlet

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Decent homes for all: end Croydon’s housing crisis now!

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ommunists in Croydon have launched a campaign to tackle the growing housing crisis in the borough. The supply of social housing is woefully inadequate, with many people ending up in sub-standard B&Bs and hostels. Years of neglect by the local Tory council, and central New Labour and Tory Government housing policies, has left Croydon with a smaller housing stock then almost any other London boroughs. Even the Council’s own Housing Strategy admits that Croydon is illequipped to meet housing need. Local politicians are clearly failing those least able to defend themselves: the poor, the vulnerable and the socially excluded. Meanwhile, with the number of new houses being built falling to new lows, the amount of affordable housing is shrinking and prices are effectively out of reach for an entire generation. Private rents continue to spiral out of control, well above the rate of inflation, while the Tory-led Government’s cuts to Housing Benefit (HB) and Local Housing Allowance (LHA) for tenants in the social and private rented sectors, allied to high unemployment, is creating significant homelessness in Croydon.

money. We should be building homes for people. Not forcing them to squeeze in to modern day slums for months at a time.

Instead of trying to solve these problems, Croydon council have been spending more and more money providing ‘temporary’ accommodation in B&Bs. Not only are the conditions often cramped and squalid, but children suffer as they have no place to play or do their homework. This is a massive waste of taxpayers’

Their recent commitments to abolish the bedroom tax, extend the Decent Homes Standard to the private sector and start a rather limited house-building programme (apparently private sector-based rather than via new council housing) are a start. But these are decidedly modest promises and they could do so much more

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Croydon is facing a real housing crisis. We need to take practical steps to campaign for a significant council house building programme, to meet local need and reverse the damage caused by the Tories’ ideologically driven sale of council housing. We are inviting all local campaigning organisations and housing advocacy groups to take part in a joint campaign to develop a better understanding of the problems faced by Croydon residents, raise awareness of the issues and help develop a local action plan to improve housing provision in the borough. Pressure must be placed on the council and Croydon MPs via a coordinated and determined local campaign of protests to do something practical about this growing problem. Such a campaign would also feed into the developing national campaign to force the Con-Dem Government to change tack and encourage the Labour opposition to commit to a range of progressive housing policies.

Decent homes for all


to oppose unequivocally a failed market ideology. In the meantime, we need to focus on what we can between now and the next general election. Together, we can change the terms of the debate in Croydon, mobilise local campaigning groups and focus attention on practical measures to improve housing provision in Croydon.

Croydon Housing Problem in Numbers Housing statistics in Croydon are frightening. Even Croydon Council’s Housing Strategy (for 2011/12 to 2015/16) admits the scale of the problem: ‘…we have a smaller social housing stock than many other London boroughs, limiting our ability to meet housing need…In Croydon the bottom 25% of house prices is more than eight times the lowest 25% of earnings. This affordability ratio has nearly doubled over the past ten years. House-

Decent homes for all

hold incomes in Croydon are lower than London overall and do not allow many households to buy or rent market housing.’ In April 2011, 100% of council and housing association homes in Croydon met the Decent Home Standard (DHA). In contrast a significant proportion of private housing in Croydon is in poor condition. Though not legally required to meet the DHA it still offers a useful benchmark. The Building Research Establishment found that 37% of private housing in Croydon failed to meet the DHA. The supply of social housing in Croydon available each year is only sufficient to help one in ten applicants on the council’s housing waiting list. 280 housing association houses were completed in 2011. 1,378 council homes were sold off between 2000/2001 and 2010/2011. Only 10 new council homes were completed. New Addington and Croydon North are particularly badly off. While BME appli-

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cants made up 65 per cent of those on the housing register. In the meantime, there were 2,962 empty dwellings in Croydon in March 2012.

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here people are lucky enough to secure a council tenancy, they will no longer be offered "a home for life" under new tenancy agreements planned by the council. The majority will only be offered fixed five-year tenancies. They will also face rent rises as Government moves to bring council rents into line with those in the private sector, up to a maximum of 80%. Average council rent in Croydon in April 2012 was £95.79 a week (an increase of 8% on the previous year). Further above inflation rises are inevitable. The Tory-led coalition Government’s cuts in Housing Benefit (HB) and Local Housing Allowance (LHA) for tenants in the social and private rented sectors introduce caps to the amount of rent people on benefit can claim. The anticipated impact of the housing benefit cuts in Croydon include: ‰‰ up to 580 extra homeless households in 2011/12-2012/13 ‰‰ an increase in single homelessness by up to 300 in 2012/13 ‰‰ increased costs to the council’s housing needs service of up to £1.32m in 2011/12-2012/13 ‰‰ migration to Croydon from more expensive parts of London by around 550 households displaced by the HB changes in 2012/13. A recent report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, ‘The Housing Crisis’, 4

throws a disturbing light on the scale of Britain’s housing crisis and the sharp rise in B&B spending by councils as the homelessness crisis intensifies. The gross cost of temporary accommodation in Croydon has risen dramatically from £1.4m in 2009/10 to £8.1m for 12/13 as Decent homes for all


numbers have soared, with further, significant rises projected for 2013/14. Official guidance says B&B accommodation should be avoided ‘wherever possible’. Lack of privacy, and amenities such as cooking and laundry, means it is ‘not suitable’ for families with children or pregnant women ‘unless there is no alternative accommodation available and then only for a maximum of six weeks.’ This is an avoidable problem. In parallel, London councils are rapidly accelerating the rehousing of homeless households outside their home boroughs. Croydon, by no means the worst case, has seen 911 households relocated to the borough since 2009/10. This is not the fault of these people, who are at the mercy of their ‘home’ councils, themselves under pressure from central Government, but it breaks up families, uproots people from jobs, schools and friends, and adds to existing pressures on already stretched local services in the receiving council.

Why do we need council housing? Council housing for those most in need was introduced in a few parts of the country on a limited basis in the early twentieth century to tackle the overcrowding and unsanitary housing conditions generated in larger cities by the industrial revolution. The scale of building increased after the First World War. It was then ramped up again after the Second World War, under a Labour Government determined to meet wider social needs, rebuild communities destroyed by the war and provide housing for all. Aneurin Bevan, the Minister for Health and Decent homes for all

Housing, and one of the architects of the Welfare State, promoted a radical vision of new estates where "the working man, the doctor and the clergyman will live in close proximity to each other.” Let’s be clear. Council housing has served the country well. It is worth defending. It is a public asset, providing decent, affordable and secure housing that pays its own way. The cost to government is more than returned over time by the rents collected, which, traditionally, were the lowest of any form of tenure. The security of tenure given to tenants promotes stable homes and communities. Public accountability is protected by its ownership and management by local councils. Council housing should be available to all on the basis of general need. That means rejecting means-testing and the deliberate creation of ghetto estates for the poorest and most vulnerable. Despite Tory and New Labour attempts to paint council housing as a throwback to an old-fashioned’ statist’ approach to society, it remains a very relevant alternative to the palpable failure of the private housing market. At its peak in the 1970s, one in three British people lived in a council house. Decades of state investment had cleared slums and reduced overcrowding. Since then, public housing has been starved of investment. But there are still nearly two million council tenants, with 4.5 million on housing waiting lists. House-building has collapsed as property developers and house-builders sit on huge ‘land banks’ and speculate on land values. It is reported that 1.3 million private tenants are facing homelessness 5


or debt as private landlords exploit the housing shortage to raise rents to speculative levels and enforce unfair tenancy agreements. And around 35% of privately let homes are considered to be below minimum standards.

ing are rising dramatically – and that doesn’t include the ‘hidden homeless’ who borrow a friend’s sofa for a few weeks or go back to live with their parents. Meanwhile, the housing benefit budget has risen by £1bn to £23.2bn.

Many young people now entering the housing market, who might have expected a few years ago to buy their own home at some point, are simply priced out of the housing market by the rampant speculation that has taken place since the 1980s, fueled by the deregulation of the banking sector, which has resulted in a hug disconnect between prices and average wages. The nakedly political creation by the Con-Dem Government of yet another housing bubble to fuel their election prospects will only make the situation worse.

Far from benefiting tenants, this is simply a direct subsidy to private landlords, who continue to raise rents year-on-year, charging whatever they think the market will bear, while taking little or no action to improve and maintain properties.

Unsurprisingly, private sector rents mirror these increases, and continue to rise. The cost of a basic room in Croydon, sharing facilities, is in the region of £400 per month or more, while costs for a two bedroom flat start at around £800. It is unlikely that DSS housing benefit would come even close to covering these costs. Homeless applications and rough sleep-

Investment in council housing is the fastest and most cost-effective way to build the homes we need where and when we need them. Britain needs 3 million new homes by 2020. Let’s use the government’s power to borrow at historically low rates of interest to fund a massive home improvement and house-building programme for genuinely affordable rents now! This would create jobs, support local communities, end homelessness and underpin the development of a ‘greener’ economy.

What do Croydon Residents Think? The Communist Party undertook a small survey earlier in the summer to ask local people what they think about housing issues, help make residents’ voices heard and to help us decide where to focus our campaign activity. The key messages from the survey are that: ‰‰ families in private rented accommodation are clearly not

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Decent homes for all


happy with the standard of their housing or the levels of rent they are forced to pay ‰‰ problems with rogue landlords are common ‰‰ the Government should launch a significant council house building programme to tackle housing shortage ‰‰ private landlords should be registered and rent controls re-introduced ‰‰ social housing rents should be set an affordable level.

council homes to a housing association or under ‘right to buy’ constitutes a loss to government as a public asset is swopped for a short-term cash boost 2. ‘Housing benefit is over-generous.’ The housing benefit bill is soaring because more and more people are forced into private rented accommodation, often ex-council, and, with limited supply and in the absence of rent controls, landlords charge whatever they think the market will bear. The additional money doesn’t go to tenants, but straight into landlords’ pockets.

The responses should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the extent of 3. ‘Migrants are jumping the housing the housing crisis in Croydon. They unqueue.’ In 2012, only 9% of social derline the importance of raising awarehousing went to people who were not ness of the main issues, developing a British citizens (and half of this group broad-based action plan and responding were EU citizens). Most recent mito people’s needs. grants are barred from social housing because of the way the rules operate. Housing Myths Where migrants have long-term immi1 gration status, they can apply, but are Debunked treated the same as British citizens. The Con-Dem Government and right-

wing media have consistently stigma4. ‘Selling off council housing redistised council housing and council tenants tributed wealth to working class as they seek to privatise what remains of people.’ Some people did make some council housing, reduce the housing bencash in the short term. But houseefit bill and indulge in a form of ‘social holders were then often faced with cleansing’ which drives out the low-paid, high service and other charges and, the sick and the vulnerable from wealthif affordability proved difficult, risked ier areas. The myths cynically used to repossession and homelessness. The promote this agenda include: sell-off also added to the speculative housing boom and many homes 1. ‘Council housing is unaffordable quickly ended up in the hands of ‘buy and heavily subsidised.’ Most counto let’ private landlords. The significant cil homes were built many years ago. reduction in the publicly owned housTheir construction cost has been reing stock has forced many people into covered many times over by the rents the private rented sector, where they received from tenants. Selling off face significantly higher rents and

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poorer quality housing.

have no statutory basis, while rents and charges are significantly higher than 5. ‘Housing benefit mostly goes to council rents as they are allowed by law the unemployed.’ 93% of new claims to charge 80% of market rents. In addifor housing benefit in 2012 were from tion, public accountability is non-existent. people with jobs. Overall, a quarter of They are not subject to Freedom of recipients are retired and many are Information legislation, their boards of disabled or carers. directors are bound by secrecy and are legally accountable only to the company. The Dangers Behind the Many ALMOs use talk of ‘communityPrivatisation of Council run’ organisations or co-operatives as Housing cover for moves towards privatisation. But ALMO tenants are fighting back and Around 50% of council housing stock voting to bring the control of the housing is managed via what are called Arm’s stock back into the council. Length Management Organisations (ALMOs). These are not-for-profit comRogue Landlords panies that provide housing services on behalf of a local authority (who norMany of us will have personal experimally retain ownership of the properties). ence of unscrupulous landlords, charging There are serious concerns about the extortionate rents for shoddy properties, accountability of ALMOs, their tendency that don’t meet statutory health and safeto drive down staff wages to meet govty standards, let alone the requirements ernment performance targets and their of most of us would regard as a decent role as a Trojan horse or a stepping home. These modern-day Rachmans2 stone towards privatisation. are on the rise, as people are forced into the private rented sector by the lack of he Con-Dem Government contincouncil or social housing and the simple ues to push for full privatisation of unaffordability of homes for purchase as council stock and ALMOs, and as wages fall and house prices rise. the additional funding that was available to ALMOs has now dried up, many are As Shelter have reported, “The private reviewing their future. rented sector is blighted by a large number of amateur landlords failing to offer Any move towards the transfer of this good standards to their tenants, and a housing stock into the housing associasmall minority of rogue landlords who tion sector must be resisted at all costs. deliberately prey on the vulnerable. Local Housing associations are, in law, private authorities have told us they are aware of companies, driven by the search for some 1,477 serial rogue landlords. Yet, profit. They are increasingly run as big in the past year only 270 landlords were businesses, based on land speculation, prosecuted and tough enforcement activhousing built for profit and excessive ‘fat- ity made up a small proportion of local cat’ salaries for those at the top. Claims authorities' activity. Many landlords are that they offer tenant rights comparable therefore not receiving a clear message to council tenancies are illusory as they that bad practice will not be tolerated.”3

T

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They reported that local authorities dealt with more than 86,000 complaints from private tenants in 2010/11, but found that over 350,000 private renters experienced housing problems in the same year. These figures are likely to have got worse. So what is to be done? Private sector tenants deserve to be treated fairly and protected from the impact of rundown or unsafe housing. Legislation should be passed to enable local councils to expropriate properties owned by slum landlords that fail to meet minimum standards and take them into council ownership. In the meantime, councils should be forced to: ‰‰ enforce the laws that already exist to stamp out rogue landlords ‰‰ prosecute rogue landlords when they do not comply with the law ‰‰ publicise their tough stance on rogue landlords in the local press ‰‰ give renters the support they need to bring complaints to the council ‰‰ proactively inspect properties to make sure that they are appropriate homes for renters.

The Letting Agents Scandal

charged significant ‘administration fees’ to secure a home in the first place, and additional, clearly unreasonable, fees, to renew terms or change a tenants name on a contract These fees are usually opaque and are over and above standard deposits and rent. In fact, as letting agents are already paid by landlords, and usually charge a significant commission for handling their properties, the levy of any fee on tenants is an outrage. Bizarrely, letting agents are subject to less regulation or control than estate agents. Predictably, the Government is refusing to take action. We should follow the example of Scotland by making letting agents fees illegal.

What Do We Need to Do Nationally?

We need to end the scapegoating of council house tenants and kick-start The grossly unfair, hidden fees charged by many letting agents for private rented a national council house-building prohomes, which can cost tenants hundreds gramme. The national shortage of housing has been caused by successive of pounds, is a growing national scandal. It is not uncommon for tenants to be governments’ failure to invest and build in new housing. To meet demand, we Decent homes for all

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need to build about 230,000 homes a year, but we're barely achieving half that rate – and end the sale of council houses fostered by the Tory Government in 1980 with the introduction of the national ‘Right to Buy’ scheme.

‰‰ compulsory requisitioning of long-term empty properties ‰‰ a significant council house-building programme to build homes for all classes, end homelessness, cut housing waiting lists and eliminate unfit private sector housing

In 1975 more than 80% of public expenditure on housing went on supply-side ‰‰ the re-introduction of council direct capital funding (building homes and labour departments which can deliver their upkeep), with rent support and maintenance and refurbishment of rebates low. By 2000, this was reversed existing council homes economically with 85% of spending going on housand quickly ing benefit. What was the Government’s response? To further stoke demand, with ‰‰ bringing housing association homes state-backed mortgage subsidies, which back under the democratic control of will intensify the problem of unaffordabillocal authorities ity, by inflating prices, rather than tackling ‰‰ giving councils the right to compulsoits cause. rily purchase and refurbish long-term empty or substandard properties for The Communist Party has developed a social use. comprehensive housing policy designed to offer a genuinely progressive alternaThese policies could easily be paid for by tive. We stand for: a two per cent wealth tax on the richest ‰‰ an end to evictions from council, so10 per cent of households who own an cial landlord or private rented housing estimated 44 per cent of Britain’s wealth (revenue £90 billion a year); a 10 per ‰‰ the re-introduction of rent controls in cent ‘Robin Hood’ tax on City transacthe private sector tions (revenue £112 billion a year); and ending tax dodging by the super-rich ‰‰ security of tenure for all tenants and big business (revenue c.£70 billion a ‰‰ axing the bedroom tax year). ‰‰ ‘no interest’ loans to those threatened with housing repossession ‰‰ reversing the cuts in Housing Benefit ‰‰ an end to council house sales and housing stock transfers to the private sector ‰‰ registration of private landlords to enforce minimum standards 10

What Can You Do Locally? We are not helpless! Collective action can make a huge difference. As supporters of council housing and anti-bedroom tax campaigners are already demonstrating around the country, there are a number of things we can do locally to fight for our rights. These include: ‰‰ putting pressure on Croydon Borough Council not to implement Government Decent homes for all


attacks on council housing, to refuse to evict anyone who is in rent arrears because of the "Bedroom Tax", and to consider opportunities to reclassify homes from, for example, three to two or two to one bedroom units, to take residents out of the bedroom tax trap entirely ‰‰ lobbying the Council and social landlords not to implement the new fixedterm tenancies or up to 80% market rents pushed by Government ‰‰ organising local meetings of tenant groups, councillors, trade unions and campaigners to raise awareness of the issues, mobilise people and build solidarity. Getting together with neighbours and others in the community to look out for each other should the worst happen, by, for example, standing up to bailiffs or attending court with those facing legal action and attempting to resist Council or social landlord sanctioned evictions ‰‰ contacting your local law centre or housing advice solicitors, who can help you fight against possession and eviction. Housing associations will be wary of getting involved in lengthy Court proceedings, which will cost them time and money ‰‰ considering rent strikes. This tactic is already being used successfully in places like Glasgow and Liverpool to fight the bedroom tax ‰‰ organising against any attempts by the Council to transfer remaining council stock to ALMOs or housing associations. If you would like to develop a joint campaign to tackle Croydon’s housing crisis Decent homes for all

please get in touch with us at:- Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Rd, Croydon CR0 1BD; Tel: 020 8686 1659; E-mail: croydon@communist-party.org.uk. Or visit our website: croydoncommunists.org.uk

Resources

A number of housing campaigning groups or advice services exist, nationally and locally. They offer useful resources, provide a helpful way of keeping up to speed with developments in this field and, in some cases, can provide advice on individual problems. They include: ‰‰ Defend Council Housing: www.defendcouncilhousing.org.uk/dch/ ‰‰ Shelter: www.england.shelter.org.uk/ ‰‰ The Anti-Bedroom Tax and Benefit Justice campaign: www.antibedroomtax.org.uk/ ‰‰ Croydon Law Centre: Tel - 020 8767 2777; Email - croydon@swllc.org ‰‰ Croydon Citizens Advice Bureaux 020 8683 5206 1 This section draws on Red Pepper’s Mythbusters’. 2 Peter Rachman was a notorious slum landlord in the Notting Hill area of London in the 1950s and early 1960s, who became a symbol for the exploitation and intimidation of tenants, and evasion of rent controls. The word “Rachmanism” even entered the Oxford English Dictionary as a synonym for the exploitation and intimidation of tenants. 3 Shelter, ‘Asserting authority: calling time on rogue landlords’, 2011.

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Decent Homes for All - End Croydon's Housing Crisis Now  

Pamphlet produced by Croydon Communists on the local housing crisis created by decades of neglect by successive New Labour and Tory administ...

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