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From: The Socialist issue 516, 17 January 2008: Fight for a living wage

Search site for keywords: Housing - Market - Nationalisation - Sub-prime

Free market causes...

Growing crisis in housing

HOUSING IN Britain is an example of 'market failure'. The free market cannot, and will not, solve the current housing crisis. It is quite able, however, to provide multi-millionaires with penthouses in ex-Local Authority tower blocks and old waterside warehouses. It can build houses where it can still see the money rolling in.

Steve Wootton, Bristol Socialist Party

A market requires people who are able to buy what you have to sell. But a high cost of living, and pay deals that do not keep up with it, prevent many workers from affording a home. Now the credit crunch is also having an effect.

And if you can't afford the open market, even the 'part rent, part buy' schemes can't solve the problem. The 'buy' bit is still so expensive, and in some cases the service charges can bar members from this option.

And if you get through this, means testing rears its head as with all New Labour initiatives. So if you've worked to save a deposit and are in the First Time Buyers Initiative/ New Futures, all your money must go into the pot to purchase a share, with little flexibility to keep some back for unforeseen bills once you've moved in.

Own a home? More like 'own an ever-increasing debt' if you are not careful. Workers should be free from the worry of debt. A decent, secure and affordable home should be a right.

If the private market cannot provide that right, then there should be a massive public house-building programme planned, built and financed by the public sector.

The resources are there if the necessary land, the banks and the building industry are taken into public ownership, with compensation only on the basis of proven need. But the government has been more interested in shoring up Northern Rock bank so more private speculators can be subsidised at public expense.

The government claims that it doesn't matter who owns the housing or who will provide it, availability should take precedence. But we must not surrender to the free market idea that denies people the right to a decent home. It divides workers depending on what availability is in their area.

We hear this argument in the NHS, delivered by the Free Market Party's three wings - Labour, Conservatives and Liberals; that it doesn't matter who owns the service, so long as services are delivered and provided free.

But look at what PFI has meant in the NHS. Hidden charges, deficits, debts and even closures. For private housing that idea means repossessions where the private landlord is king.

As my trade union's journal CWU Voice said recently: "Our experience of private capital in public services is entirely negative". The CWU argues to keep the Post Office in public hands; and says that Telecoms should be brought back into the public sector.

Many workers are now caught in the trap of 'free market' control of housing. The CWU and other trade unions should also campaign hard to defend and expand public ownership of housing, along with land nationalisation, to solve the housing crisis.

Is this 'affordable' housing?

I AM on the council housing waiting list with my partner. We have had to start looking at 'part rent, part buy' "affordable housing" as we are considered as "Band 5" on the council list, ie no hope of getting anything else. First we were asked to consider the private market due to a high demand on remaining council stock.

The cheapest mortgage we found worked out as payments of 1,000 per month; before council tax and other bills. This was ruled out, it would totally swallow up my partner's monthly take home salary while bills would start to eat into mine.

Then we looked at the government's so-called "affordable" First Time Buyers Initiative. The latest letter from one housing association shows exactly what they think is "affordable."

For a one-bedroom apartment in Bristol, a single wage earner would need to be earning a minimum of 25, 365 or have a joint income with a partner of 31,465. For a two-bedroom apartment in Bristol, you would need to be earning 30,359 or a joint income of 37,809.

Steve Wootton

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