We need mass house building

Not more subsidies for lenders and landlords!

Paul Kershaw

All the politicians say we need more housing. But new home ‘completions’ in England fell 8% to 107,910, in the year to September according to Homes and Communities Agency figures issued last month.

The number of ‘affordable’ homes completed fell 16% in the first six months of 2013/14. Even these ‘affordable’ homes are much more expensive than social rents, making them unaffordable for most in many parts of the country.

When the Con-Dems came to power they cut spending on housing but promised that the private sector would fill the gap. But they have found more money for private housing initiatives.

The government’s ‘help to buy’ scheme that subsidises low deposit (higher risk) mortgages on houses worth up to £600,000 is budgeted to cost £12 billion. As much as £130 billion of mortgages could be financed by the scheme over the next three years with the government underwriting them in the event of default.

Apparently Chancellor George Osborne cynically joked to the cabinet that it would create a housing boom in time for the election.

If rising prices were enough to create an increased supply of housing, the house price inflation of recent decades would have produced a mega boom in house building. Instead the Tories want to secure the vote of current homeowners.

Even capitalist commentators warn of a new bubble. Economist Nouriel Roubini said: “What we are witnessing in many countries looks like a slow-motion replay of the last housing-market train wreck. And, like last time, the bigger the bubbles become, the nastier the collision with reality will be” (project-syndicate.org, 29 November). Mark Carney, bank of England governor has warned borrowers of the impact of future interest rate rises.

‘Build to rent’

The government have also put £1 billion into the ‘build to rent’ scheme that subsidies growth in the private rented sector by incentivising institutional investors. Both parties support the private rented sector with Labour making some noises about longer tenancies but not putting forward a real alternative.

The Intergenerational Foundation calculates that private landlords get £5 billion subsidy in tax relief. A quarter of Tory MPs and 12.5% of Labour’s are private landlords themselves.

A recent report by the mainstream pro-capitalist ‘think tank’ the Social Market Foundation concludes that governments of the last 35 years have failed to boost house building. At the 1966 election both Labour and Tories promised to build 500,000 homes a year. In 1968 426,000 homes were actually built. Now Labour’s ‘ambition’ is to build just 200,000 homes a year by 2020.

No serious capitalist commentator projects the sort of growth in housing supply needed to address the crisis.

Rather than inventing new subsidies for the bankers and financiers, we need to nationalise the banks and run them democratically in the interest of the 99%. That, as part of a wider socialist plan, would allow resources to be mobilised for a massive programme of building truly affordable housing and improving existing housing and providing proper insulation.

  • Since 2012, 10,954 council homes have been sold under Right to Buy, with only 1,597 replacement homes being built – not quite the “one for one” ratio promised by Housing Minister Grant Shapps. Last year, the total number of new social homes built fell by 50%, to 17,580

London’s young workers stuck in battery hen conditions

Suzanne Beishon

When you’re young and say ‘I never want to grow up,’ you don’t really mean it. But that is the new reality for graduates in London today – a lifetime of living out of a cramped room.

The alternative that many young people are resorting to is moving in with whoever you’re in a relationship with earlier than you would chose to, ironically, get some space. Or as the Financial Times has named it, ‘hutching up’.

Except ‘hutching up’ makes it sound cute and cosy. Young people aren’t snuggled up like bunny rabbits.

They are being forced like battery farm hens into unregulated, poor quality, sometimes even windowless rooms or sheds in the capital for extortionate prices.

While the latest round of graduates to enter the workplace earn 12% less than their pre-economic crisis counterparts (with 60% more student debt), rents have continued to soar – 10% in the last year alone – as ‘investors’ continue to exploit London’s housing stock.

Young Londoners face the crazy catch-22 of needing to work in London to make their degree pay, only for fat-cat landlords to swallow up that wage in rent.

As more social housing is demolished in inner London to make way for luxury flats, the situation is only being exacerbated.

The government offers ‘help to buy’ as a solution. But for young workers paying a huge proportion of their wages in rent, saving for even a 5% deposit is a pipe dream.

And to use ‘help to buy’ in outer London you are likely to need a household income of over £35,000 to qualify for – and be able to pay – a mortgage that in many cases would be even more expensive than renting.

If the government was serious about housing it would cap rents to stop parasitic landlords who suck wages and the benefits system dry solely to line their pockets.

  • Over 20,000 luxury homes could be built in London in the next ten years, according to a group of consultants. EC Harris said in this year alone, over 4,600 high priced properties, worth several millions of pounds each, have been built, approved or planned. Shelter have said over 62,000 London children are likely to be homeless this Christmas

Waltham Forest: Standing up to the racketeers

Waltham Forest Socialist Party made a splash with a campaign stall targeting sky high rents and rip off landlords on Saturday 30 November.

Thousands of Waltham Forest residents are spending more than 70% of their income on rent. So it’s no wonder that our demand for the council to take urgent action gained broad support.

One supportive young couple had recently been forced to leave neighbouring borough Hackney because of the rapidly increasing cost of housing there.

They are now facing being forced even further out of London as rents in Waltham Forest also spiral.

Many others who came to show support expressed disgust at the inaction of the Labour council, who are rightly held responsible for both leaving rents completely unchecked and failing to address the dearth of available social housing.

That’s why the Socialist Party are encouraging anti-cuts and community campaigners to stand in next May’s local elections as part of TUSC.

If Labour councillors lack the backbone to stand up to racketeer landlords and letting agencies, they need to stand aside and make way for those who will!

Claire Laker-Mansfield

‘Housing 4 All’ campaigner to stand for TUSC

Housing campaigner and mother of five, Isabel Counihan Sanchez, will be standing in next year’s local elections for Brent Trade Union and Socialist Coalition.

Isabel and family were made homeless in April 2012 when their benefits were dramatically cut by the London borough’s council.

Despite her husband Anthony working full-time as a bus driver, the family were still reliant on these benefits to pay the staggering rent of £690 a week for their home in Kilburn. After being evicted they were placed in inadequate temporary accommodation in Ealing with an unaffordable rent of £500 a week.

After a determined 18-month campaign, the family finally achieved some success, being placed in a suitable home in Brent this year. Throughout the campaign Izzie has come into contact with other Brent residents at the sharp end of benefit changes and cuts.

Izzie launched the ‘Housing 4 All’ campaign with demands including no evictions due to benefit cuts, more council housing at affordable rents and rent controls.

Brent TUSC believes local councillors should put up a fight against this government and not just passively carry through cuts.

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is an electoral alliance that stands candidates against all cuts and privatisation. It involves the RMT transport workers’ union, leading members of other trade unions including the PCS, NUT and POA, and socialist groups including the Socialist Party.