Samantha Erin, Tower Hamlets Socialist Party

The big picture

Rental prices are far too high, the conditions of properties do not match the premium that landlords are charging, and things are getting worse. Rents and mortgage repayments have skyrocketed, way beyond an affordable rate.

The average UK rent is £1,190 a month. And the average in London is a staggering £2,500. Compounding this problem is the biggest increase in energy costs since 1988.

Council tenants are also treated with no dignity. A special investigation by the Housing Ombudsman found a “culture of apathy” at Labour Haringey council, in north London, that has led to a “lack of ownership, accountability and intrinsic motivation when handling complaints”.

And it’s not just in London. In February, tenant satisfaction with Sheffield council’s repair service dropped as low as 26%.

Unsurprisingly, housing associations are providing a worsening service as they’re increasingly run like businesses for profit. In our borough, Tower Hamlets Community Housing has been downgraded to the lowest status by the regulator after breaching economic standards.

What we hear locally

I’ve been working with other Socialist Party members in my branch to campaign for decent and affordable housing. We’ve organised campaign stalls and a public meeting on housing. We also supporting a local campaign to oppose the transfer of one fat-cat housing association to an even worse corporate association. 

This has all attracted so much interest from people across Tower Hamlets. Residents want to talk to us on the doorstep about their anger at things like lack of repairs and maladministration.

We meet a broad range of people, from students to single mothers, to local supermarket staff.

A taxi driver told us that he has been requesting a permanent parking space for his vehicle for years now. Instead of listening to his concerns, he’s forced to pay to park in different spots across the borough every single day.

The common thread across all the things we’ve heard on the streets, on doorsteps and in meetings is that profiteering is more rife than ever in the housing sector. People’s rents are increasing, and so is everything else, including the cost of food, bills, parking and council tax.

What we need to change

  • A mass programme building council homes. Take over empty properties
  • Democratically decided rent control to cap rents
  • Independent, democratic tenant and resident associations, with genuine accountability and control
  • Sell-back option and ‘portable discounts’ for current leaseholders and shared-ownerships to escape the trap. End any future leasehold and shared-ownership – we need council housing and cheap mortgages instead
  • End the commercialisation of housing associations. Take them into democratic public ownership. This could include the option to return to council ownership, with independent tenant democratic control, or coops
  • Nationalise large building companies, land, and banks
  • A democratic socialist society could plan and provide decent homes, jobs and services for all

Only socialist planning can fix the housing crisis

Aaron Smith, Enfield and Lee Valley Socialist Party

The housing crisis has affected me my whole life. Me and Mum lost our house in Edmonton, North London in 2009 when I was 14. This was during the credit crunch. My parents bought the house for £39,000 in 1992, solely on my dad’s income. That modest two-bedroom house backing out onto the Meridian Water development is worth well over £400,000 today! Meridian Water’s new apartments will not be for social rent and are just as unaffordable. If they were council-owned it could wipe out Enfield’s council house waiting list which has 4,000+ families on it currently.

We ended up in temporary accommodation for eight uncertain years; it took a large toll on our mental health. Today the crisis is far worse, with councils putting families and vulnerable people in hotels without suitable facilities for months at a time before uprooting them to towns hundreds of miles away; or homelessness if they refuse to move.

Housing is very insecure, and I have seen large and unaffordable increases in rent as a student, often in mouldy, cold and poorly maintained accommodation. Where I live now is mouldy and has poor ventilation, the council has shown no interest in fixing it. The poor standard of housing is causing a major health crisis and the lack of planning, maintenance and poor infrastructure increases inequality.

Housing can’t be seen in a vacuum, it needs to be connected by transport, services and anything people need on a daily basis. This week, my aunt lost her privately rented accommodation as the landlord decided to sell up, showing the lack of rights tenants have. She, like many in this situation, is forced to sofa surf or face homelessness. There’s no quick solution to the housing crisis, but councils should repossess empty homes, cap rents and start a mass council house-building programme. There are 35,000 vacant homes in London alone but most are owned by the super-rich as investments. We need houses that are affordable and sustainable, as well as accessible, and with fully funded public services to improve people’s health and quality of life.

London Socialist Party meeting:

Fight to end the housing crisis! Socialist planning to provide homes for all

Wednesday 18 October, 7pm, 34 Great Smith St, London, SW1P 3BU