Housing bill: the fight goes on
A generation has grown up in a world where houses are just assets for investment. We need to express a vision for housing’s future, argues GLYN ROBBINS
IN THE face of growing opposition, this week the Tories will try to force their battered Housing Bill through Parliament.
After a mauling by the Lords, who inflicted several defeats on the government, we don’t know what the final, amended, form of the legislation will be.
But the intention remains the same. Dodgy Dave and co want to turn back the housing clock by destroying council housing and forcing more people into unregulated, extortionate, sub-standard private renting.
Tenants, trade unionists, politicians and housing activists have united in a grassroots campaign to Kill the Bill.
Threat to working class communities
Whatever happens this week, the threat to working-class communities posed by the Bill won’t go away.
Nor will the opposition to it. But as we reject the Tory ideology that sees housing as an individual commodity ripe for speculative investment, it’s essential the labour movement develops robust alternatives.
Council housing must be the cornerstone of future policy, but that’s an argument we need to win again.
Those with longer memories understand the benefits of municipal, profit-free housing.
But there’s an entire generation who have only seen council housing in retreat.
Relentless underinvestment and stigmatisation have taken a toll.
Private renters would probably take a secure council tenancy if it was on offer
Most of the nine million (and rising) private renters would probably take a secure council tenancy if it was on offer, but we need to make that a positive choice based on a revitalised vision for council housing.
Our Housing Bill would free councils from artificial restrictions on borrowing so they can build again, but build better.
As well as state-backed providential loans, housing investment could be supported by the billions of pounds currently tied up in bank bail-out operations.
We’ll build the homes we need on the thousands of unused acres of public land.
Collective, publicly accountable approach to planning
If we need more intensive building in some areas, that can be democratically decided, but only once we’ve removed the perversion of the thousands of empty homes that litter our cities.
Only a collective, publicly accountable approach to planning and construction can make our homes genuinely energy efficient and prevent overdevelopment.
We need to return to the principles of local face-to-face housing management, with proper maintenance and repair services through direct labour organisations providing decent jobs and apprenticeships.
Independent tenant organisations will be the forum for keeping landlords accountable and developing community activities.
Secure tenancies and affordable rents
Secure tenancies and affordable rents for all will provide the bedrock for people to bring up their children,explore their potential and enjoy a life freed from the tyranny of the housing market.
In older age, no-one will be faced with the choice between a decent home and decent care. Council housing will be lifetime housing.
The Right to Buy will wither on the vine when cash incentives are removed and replaced with encouragement to stay as a council tenant, like living rent-free after 30 years so people can build a nest-egg to pass on and have a decent pension that’s not reliant on the vagaries of the market.
Long-term commitment to council housing will drive the slumlords out of the market like it did in the past, but our housing policy shouldn’t be “one size fits all.”
Housing as a human right
We need to have an open mind to alternatives like co-operatives, tenant management and self-build.
Housing associations can continue to play a role, but only if they return to their original social purpose.
Some people may still want to buy and own their own home. They shouldn’t be penalised for doing so, but nor should they receive the tax-breaks and government inducements that currently distort the market.
There may still be a role for small private landlords, but only with strict rent control, enforcement of repair standards and more protection from eviction for tenants.
By treating housing as a human right, a social asset and a collective responsibility, we can solve the housing crisis.
The Tory Housing Bill will do the exact opposite.
Stop the Housing and Planning Bill
Theirs is a recipe for perennial insecurity, spiralling housing costs and homelessness for many, while the property vultures feed on their misery.
We need to retake control of our housing policy for too long dominated by corporate vested interests.
But we need to stop the Housing and Planning Bill first. If it becomes law this week, we should see that as only the beginning of the campaign against it.
We need a national network of local Kill the Bill groups.
Role of local councils critical
There will be at least a year during which a host of practical and legal issues will arise.
The role of local councils — and their willingness to resist the Bill alongside local people — will become critical.
Together we can make it unworkable, just like the Housing and Finance Act of the early ’70s and the Poll Tax.
If it hasn’t gone or become a dead letter by the next general election, an incoming Labour government must repeal the Bill and offer a new vision for our housing futures.