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Will The Housing Bill be the Final Nail in the Coffin for Social Housing?

Hidden behind the smoke and noise of issues like Brexit and the budget, the House of Lords is reviewing a Housing Bill that builds on the Thatcher legacy of moving social housing into the private sector; increasing costs and leaving the poorest out in the cold.

The overall effect of the legislation will be to inflict further harm on those already suffering, and drag more people into the housing crisis. It will decrease the amount of social housing, fail to bring down sky-high rental and purchase costs in the private sector, and do nothing to keep people warm in their homes.Affordable Housing

While other Councils in Gloucestershire shifted their stock of social housing to private charitable associations, Stroud chose to maintain and build good, energy efficient homes for families, the elderly, people with disabilities and others who cannot afford to climb the expensive housing ladder. Stroud District Council is continuing a new build programme that will see 236 houses built for the people of Stroud, but the future of the programme is uncertain if the Government’s Housing Bill is approved in Parliament.

Under the guise of promoting home ownership, housing associations will join local authorities in being forced to lose valuable housing to a Thatcherite “Right to Buy” scheme. Housing Associations will be forced to sell at a 20% discount for first-time buyers. A salary of at least £70,000 would be required to get a mortgage eliminating buyers with low incomes including minimum wage earners.

Understandably, housing associations objected to the 20%-off “fire sale” price. So the Conservative Government has generously offered to compensate them with funds raised by forcing local authorities, like Stroud, to sell off their best houses to private buyers at market rate prices!

When the most attractive homes become vacant, Stroud District Council will have to put them up for sale. And the Government’s Housing Bill ensures that these homes will become vacant by:

  • Ending secure lifetime tenancies
  • Limiting Council tenancies to five years
  • Imposing a “pay to stay” tax on households in council homes earning a combined income of more than £30,000 (e.g a couple on the living wage)

The housing crisis is biting hard, renting is unaffordable, and Stroud’s social housing stock is certain to dwindle under this bill. Buying a home is still an impossible dream for many; and as with so many challenges our society faces, it is the young who suffer the most.

There are a few good measures in the Bill. The provisions on rogue landlords, letting agents and the introduction of the brownfield register are welcome, but simply don’t go far enough to protect renters or encourage the building of truly affordable homes. The bill should have looked at ways to make rents fall, but does not even go as far as bringing in smart rent controls to keep rents in line with inflation.

The Government ignores the opportunity for climate change mitigation by not seizing the moment to ‘eco-fit’ homes across the UK: solar panels on every suitable house (as well as on public buildings) or even a mass-insulation scheme across the UK would create jobs, cut heating bills and keep people warm in their homes. There is no guarantee in the Bill that new homes will be energy efficient and no commitment to desperately needed retrofitting schemes.

Stroud District Council could be a model for the provision of social housing to meet the needs of vulnerable residents. We have made over 600 existing council houses more energy efficient, benefiting tenants through warmer and cheaper-to-run homes. We have continued to build good quality, energy efficient houses for the public good and not private profit.

The Housing Bill punishes the people of Stroud by pushing social housing into the private market, out of reach of those most in need of a secure and affordable place to live. It will destroy another important area of locally managed social provision, largely replacing the right to a decent home with the so-called right to buy – but only if you earn enough. Never mind the elderly, low wage earners, young families, disabled people, single parents….

Jonathan Edmunds
Stroud District Council Ward member, Randwick, Whiteshill and Ruscombe (Green Party)
Vice Chair, Community Services and Licensing, and member of Housing Committee