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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Dennis-Harburg

An avoidable housing crisis

The government's decision to press ahead with extending right to buy to housing association homes grabs headlines, but under the surface it's not the magic bullet to solve the housing crisis.

1.98 million council houses were sold from the start of the scheme to the end of March 2020. This is often heralded as a success by the Conservatives, however this neglects acknowledging the scheme took 1.98 million affordable homes out of the public sector, and successive governments have failed to deliver new affordable homes (really affordable, not the government definition) for people to buy.

Housing associations provide support to some of our most vulnerable people. Local authorities, unable to replenish their housing stock, rely on them to provide accommodation to those unable to secure a mortgage, priced out of the private rental sector, fleeing abuse, leaving care, at risk of homelessness, or being rehoused after being homeless. There isn't enough supply to meet demand. As of September 2021 Doncaster had 8,000 people on its social housing waiting list. North Herts has 3,800 families waiting for homes.

In addition to the pressures from their own communities, local authorities are under pressure to resettle refugees under various government schemes in low cost, high quality, accommodation. A mashup of hotels, hostels, bed and breakfast and homeless support organisations are used to bridge the gap and help people stay safe. This costs councils significant sums, and does not deliver the best outcomes for those in temporary accommodation. Housing uncertainty impacts on mental health, ability to find and keep work, and children's education.

With the end of the eviction ban, and mortgage leniency as covid restrictions were eased more people are struggling to afford private housing, placing more pressure on an already stretched resource. Removing property from the housing association pool will increase pressures, and add to our housing crisis, not resolve it.

This isn't the first time the Tories have pushed for housing associations to sell their properties. David Cameron included this policy in his 2015 manifesto. And the proposal to give local people priority when new affordable homes come to the market is a Labour policy announced in September 2021. Once again, where Labour led, Boris Johnson's government follows.

Polly Neate, the Chief Executive of housing charity Shelter said “The prime minster’s housing plans are baffling, unworkable and a dangerous gimmick.”

When my grandmother exercised her right to buy her home in Pontefract she obtained funding from a private individual who owned the house, and she paid him rent. This isn't what the scheme envisaged. Many former council houses are now owned by private landlords charging commercial rents for profit. We do not need more of this. We need a plan that delivers genuinely affordable housing, not for more landlords or second homes, but for ordinary working people - nurses, electricians, delivery drivers and care workers - currently priced out. of home ownership and struggling to pay sky-rocketing bills.

The government's plans will not deliver this. Analysis by Shelter shows just 5% of homes sold under the last right to buy scheme were replaced by affordable homes. Under the Conservatives, the number of new social rented homes has fallen by over 80%, so we are now building 27,000 fewer socially rented homes each year than under Labour. That’s over 190,000 homes in England lost since the Tories came to power in 2010.

It's unsurprising there's a housing crisis. And it's one which was entirely avoidable - for every social home sold there must be a replacement genuinely affordable home. Now is not the time for a rebranded Tory vanity project. Charities are warning of increasing homelessness. To proceed as the government intends will add to the crisis, something we have a duty to avoid.

Labour’s plans will put councils and communities in the driving seat, with tough new powers to develop land for more affordable housing, and revitalise high streets and town centres, by reforming arcane and out of date land purchasing powers. Labour reforms will reset the housing market, taking action to give families the security and opportunities they deserve. We will give first time buyers first dibs on new developments, and stop foreign buyers from buying up homes off plan, before local people get a look in. At conference last year we set out an ambition to re-establish the link between genuinely affordable housing and average earnings, bringing affordable rents and the dream of home ownership closer for those locked out of the system today.

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