“Delivering on Labour’s target of 100,000 council homes a year can provide the essential non-market alternative ripped off renters need.”
By Eileen Short, Defend Council Housing
Awaab Ishak died before his second birthday because of a lethal mix of black mould, institutional neglect, racism, and Tory housing policies. Whatever Michael Gove, back as a Minister, now says doesn’t change that.
Awaab’s death is, with those who died in Grenfell Tower in 2017, a direct consequence of Tory policies pushing market values and stripping out social values in housing. And too often, Labour has gone along with, or actively delivered those policies.
Today we have record numbers of homes in disrepair, poorly ventilated, with damp and mould. At least 9,793 tower blocks in England are still ‘unsafe’ due to dangerous cladding and other associated fire risks, according to government figures.
The National Housing Federation in 2019 found 8.4 million living in unsuitable housing in England. Since then, Government has continued to pour subsidy into private market housing: £14 for every £1 funding for housing associations or council housing: £29 billion on the deeply-flawed “Help to Buy” scheme that’s another back door subsidy to private developers.
The landlord who failed Awaab’s family was Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, a Private Registered Provider (PRP, as housing associations are now designated) of Rochdale’s privatised council housing. Where Labour fell for the ALMO and stock transfer bribes, tenants are left to pay the price.
Most PRPs have become housing development businesses, bloated on public funding but unaccountable to councillors or MPs. Large escalating land deals involve major demolition threats to existing homes. Most are building for the private and ‘intermediate’ market, and behave like speculative property developers, building unaffordable homes, and raising income through luxury developments.
Despite huge leaps in service charges, PRPs like other private landlords redirect resources away from staffing, repairs and maintenance, to service loans, inflated executive pay and ‘surpluses’. Meanwhile more tenants’ and leaseholder homes are deteriorating fast, despite paying soaring rents and charges.
Valiant campaigners are challenging this. But tenants’ collective organisation, in alliance with trade unions, is the essential and only reliable check on this abuse. Both have been undermined by council and housing association bosses, backed by politicians intent on smoothing the way for cost-cutting and outsourcing.
Now Michael Gove wants to pose as the tenants’ champion, rein in landlords (and salvage an election).
Gove is talking up new Social Housing Regulation. The Social Housing Regulation Bill was promised after the Grenfell fire five years ago. The new Regulator can enforce repairs, one home at a time. Some are keen on the proposed Ofsted-style inspection, though DCH warns this may be used to drive privatisation and create more wasteful and irrelevant bureaucracy.
An end to no-fault eviction and other rights for private renters, promised in the Conservative 2019 Manifesto, is now delayed to 2023, if it isn’t further sabotaged by landlord interests.
The Tory record since 2010 has been an unrelenting attack on tenants and working class homes and communities.
The Localism Act 2011 attacked tenancy and homeless rights and redefined so-called ‘Affordable’ at up to 80% market rents. They cut levels of housing benefit through the Bedroom Tax and other cuts leaving tens of thousands without enough to pay their full rent.
The strong united ‘Kill the Bill’/Axe the Act campaign successfully derailed most of The Housing and Planning Act 2017. But Gove’s allies wanted ‘pay to stay’ compulsory means tests to push up council and housing association rents, to end secure tenancies, and to sell off council homes to finance right to buy for PRP tenants.
Let’s remember what we can achieve when we organise effectively!
Now an escalating rents crisis is biting. Private rents are rising faster than inflation, with an average 18% increase in London. Four million council and housing association tenant households face a 7 per cent rent rise next year on top of this year’s 4 per cent.
A renters’ day of action is demanding a rent freeze, in line with the Scottish freeze won by Living Rent and backed by Labour.
Trade unions and councillors need to join in making this a united demand on Government.
The current dire situation is the consequence of a rampant housing market, driving rents and evictions up, and living conditions down. Any real answer requires enforced standards, regulation and rent control for all private and PRP landlords, with housing associations accountable for every penny of public money.
Alongside and immediately, delivering on Labour’s target of 100,000 council homes a year can provide the essential non-market alternative ripped off renters need. We need serious investment in existing and new council homes, energy efficient and fit for the 21st century.
No amount of tinkering with private delivery models will create these secure and really-affordable homes. The shameful record of PFI, stock transfer, and councils going broke due to speculative property deals is all the evidence we need.
Investment and an end to the debt rip off of councils’ housing revenue accounts are essential to improve existing council homes and build new council homes on the scale needed.
And independent tenants’ organisation has to sit at the heart of this, with recognition and funding. In the fight for the homes we need, tenants have again and again spoken truth: at Grenfell, in Rochdale, and in the fight against privatisation.
- Eileen Short is an organiser for Defend Council Housing. You can follow her on twitter here; and follow Defend Council Housing on Facebook and twitter.
- The Arise Festival National Conference: Solidarity * Struggle * Socialism takes place this Saturday December 10th at Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London, WC1R 4RL.
- Join Eileen Short from Defend Council Housing, alongside John McDonnell MP; Sarah Woolley, BFAWU General Secretary; Richard Burgon MP; Mick Whelan, ASLEF General Secretary; Nadia Whittome MP Zita Holbourne, Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC); Lord John Hendy KC; Hilary Schan, Momentum; Heidi Chow, Debt Justice; Holly Turner, NHS Workers Say No and many more. Register here.