|Housing was a key question at the Palace & Penge WI hustings|
It is an issue that affects my students and my family and friends too. My son's friend and mother were recently offered a place to be rehoused - but in Birmingham. The difficulties facing homeless families was highlighted in a moving BBC documentary "No place to call home" featuring a Lewisham family.
Below, London housing worker Paul Kershaw, and a supporter of TUSC, sets out the level of the crisis - and TUSC and the Socialist Party's program to solve it (edited from an original article in this week's 'The Socialist' paper):
All the indicators of homelessness are on the rise. The number of children living in temporary accommodation has risen by nearly 10,000 in the last 12 months. One in 25 children in London are now homeless.
A series of grassroots campaigns against social cleansing and in defence of decent rented housing have caught people's imagination - for example the campaign of the residents of the New Era estate in Hackney, east London. They give a glimpse of the growing anger at the housing crisis and the potential for housing campaigns based on action by working class people.
The mainstream parties have to respond to this anger and talk about housing but they have no solutions - their commitment to cuts and big business policies make that impossible.
The housing workers branch of Unite the Union has produced a short housing manifesto summarising Unite policy. It starts with opposition to the cuts and points to a real solution, including building council homes, capping rents and nationalising the banks.
The branch is encouraging its members to challenge election candidates to support it. TUSC has endorsed the manifesto. Unfortunately these demands are a long way from Labour's policy.
Far too few new homes are being built. One of the first actions of the Con-Dem coalition was a 60% cut in the social housing grant. None of the major parties calls for reversing this cut.
It is estimated that at least 240,000 new homes per year are needed just to keep pace with the growth of new households, let alone dealing with the backlog. Labour has set the aim of building just 200,000 homes per year by the fifth year of a new government.
So even if this was achieved, the housing shortage would still be getting worse after five years. Members of the Lyons commission - set up to by Labour to advise on its housing policy - have been reported as doubting whether even this is possible in the context of austerity.
Scandalously, rather than supporting more genuinely affordable and secure housing, Labour councils have been behind 'regeneration' schemes which result in reductions of social housing.
Time and time again this 'regeneration' is carried out without proper consultation and in a way designed not to benefit local working class people but to drive them out of areas they have inhabited for generations. Most of the anti 'social cleansing' campaigns have had to fight Labour councils - a grim warning of what to expect from a Labour government.
If there was any doubt, a host of Labour luminaries contributed to the recent IPPR think tank's report 'City Villages' which advocates working with property developers to redevelop inner city estates. The report ignores the question of what homes Londoners can actually afford. The recent 'Strategic Housing Market Assessment' demonstrated that 52% of households in housing need cannot afford market rate homes - Labour has nothing to offer them.
Unite - and TUSC - policy of supporting a massive programme of council house building is essential. The 'big four' property developers are sitting on enough land to immediately build 1.4 million homes. Their profits have risen by 557% since 2010. The wealth, including land, of the super-rich 1% should be nationalised and used for common good such as social housing, with compensation paid only on the basis of proven need.
As increasing numbers are forced to live in the private rented sector permanently, rather than a temporary staging post, affordability and security are more important.
Homelessness due to the end of 'short hold' tenancies (the most common private renting tenancy) is on the rise, now accounting for 30% of all homeless 'acceptances.' That is an increase of 26% since the end of 2013. As an immediate measure, we need rent control in the private sector.
People need homes - and that means people will fight for them. There have been occupations and demonstrations by angry tenants and strikes by angry workers. Those campaigners need a voice at the ballot box.
If a mass party campaigned on policies to change things in favour of the 99% rather than supporting big business, banks and property developers, it would get a massive echo. This May only TUSC can be a platform for what working class people are fighting for on estates and outside town halls across the country.
My program to end the housing crisis is:
- Use councils' powers to compulsorily register private landlords and set-up council-run lettings agencies, as the means to tackle repair standards, high rents, over-occupancy, extortionate letting fees etc for private rented homes.
- Build council homes now. By using councils' borrowing powers for capital spending to build council homes, while campaigning for the government to divert its subsidy for private developers to finance a mass programme of public housing and renovation to meet demand
- Rent control now! Democratic rent councils to decide fair levels in each area
- Hands off our homes! Bring all ex-council housing association stock and housing services back in-house
- Housing benefits that reflect the real cost of renting
- Councils should use their compulsory purchase powers on long term empty properties and use them as council housing
- A new mass workers' party to fight for affordable housing for all. Support TUSC's candidates in May's general and local elections to fight for these policies
- Nationalise the banks and biggest corporations. For a democratic socialist society that puts the needs of the majority, including decent, affordable housing, before the profits of the tiny minority.