Nelsen Mandela once said: “Poverty is man-made and so can be unmade”. This is as true for housing as it is for poverty, for we really do not have a housing and homeless crisis that can’t be resolved if the political class has a political will to solve it.
Today more people work in the homeless sector than are officially homeless. This sector is no longer about resolving the crisis, but about being a career footpath. It’s another aspect to the third sector that drives this crisis and pushes further away any chance to truly tackle homelessness and what should be a basic right, access to a place called home.
The housing sector has been allowed to spiral out of control driven by greed and almost zero regulation. Today you can rent your home on Airbnb and get tax perks courtesy of the taxman, that’s money from you and me. These are homes that used to be rented to a lodger, key workers who our wider economy needs to fill the staggering numbers of job vacancies, which, in part, are caused by housing that is no longer affordable to key workers, whilst we will never end the Right To Buy. All the time, as fast as new homes are built, the tax man gives homeowners a discount of up to 70% for buying homes that we desperately need. What madness is this that councils have to, by law, sell off homes they need, at a huge discount, and then pay private landlords huge sums in housing benefit. Building council homes could produce income to pay for services, give councils security to borrow the cash to build more and save councils billions a year in rent to prop up the buy to let sector .
When Thatcher launched Right To Buy, she never thought people would want to buy to live or even rent on council estates and, in part, the policy transformed council estates, building more diverse communities, producing huge new income streams for local councils for services via ground rents and service charges, but where it went terribly wrong was that Thatcher never allowed local councils to use the cash to build more council homes. The government also failed to protect social housing by building into the lease that social housing could and should only be let back to local councils to address local need, not corporate greed. Meanwhile the resale of council homes should only have been possible to sell back to local councils, key workers or people on low incomes to stop profiteering from social housing. This is a policy change that should be in place NOW. If the SNP in Scotland was able to stop Right To Buy and Wales has not just scrapped Right to Buy, after it lost almost 50% of its council housing, but is investing in building more and supporting home buying projects to help everyone get on the property ladder or get a council home to rent, why not the rest of the United Kingdom?
So what’s the solution?
1/ Stop Right to Buy as a priority and change the lease to include these recommended amendments.
2/ Stop people renting on Airbnb and getting tax perks for doing so. If people want to use this platform, charge them tax and business rates and only give tax benefits to those people who are housing those on low incomes, such as the key workers we all need.
3/ Stop councils from putting developers’ gold before community need. Ensure homes built reflect what is needed locally. For example they should reflect the housing needs of people with disabilities, but also they should build homes for people living in large houses who would love to move if offered decent well insulated affordable housing, so freeing up the staggering numbers of under-occupied homes in Britain.
4/ Planning consent needs to stop land banks and developers exploiting the housing market by restricting supply. How about, if house building has not started within 6 moths of consent, the council charges full council tax on the homes they have given permission for, cash that should be used by local councils to tackle local housing need.
5/ Empty shops and buildings awaiting development or new tenants should by law be handed over to local councils who then license local housing and homeless groups to create temporary housing to ensure NO ONE sleeps on our streets until the building has a tenant or purpose. Addressing the scandal and negative impact of empty buildings whilst the doorways of these buildings are full of homeless people should be a priority, not an acceptance that this is the way it is.
6/ Every landlord should be licensed in law with every landlord having to put their National Insurance Number on any and every tenancy agreement. If it’s a company, then a director’s details should be listed to ensure that ALL taxes are paid and that any slum landlord can never exploit or access housing benefit until all their properties are of a decent standard for homes. I would include in this local councils , either council leader or mayor, should be held responsible for the quality of the homes they rent out.
7/ Leaseholders get a truly terrible deal in Britain, many are exploited by unregulated management companies who see tenants as cash cows. This needs to stop. Tenants must have both the right to take over their own freeholds and have a full say on any board that makes decisions on any expenditure on the building they call home. Again ALL management companies and freeholders should in law give a named individual to all leaseholders, to be reviewed annually.
8/ As a priority we must start looking to end the housing and homeless issues faced by so many and NOT see the situation as a career footpath. The concept that this type of employment is a job for life for an issue that should not and need not exist needs changing NOW.
9/ It cannot be right that rents have been allowed to spiral out of control, based on greed alone, mortgages have been low for at least 10 years, whilst property prices in most areas have at least doubled in value over the same time frame. How can it be right that landlords are able to see huge property portfolios increase dramatically in value whilst increasing their rents to tenants by, in many cases, over 100% within the same time frame? If Hamburg can introduce rent controls why not the UK?
The way to create fair rents would be to tax landlords on property value increases and rent rises, only offering a discount in tax when they offer homes for rent via local council housing departments.
10/ We need to stop housing becoming a quick cash producing opportunity and ensure housing is about creating homes not a fast buck. We need to stop people buying and selling homes as a business and not paying any tax or capital gains on the home sale, a practice that pushes prices up and stops first time buyers getting a home. If you buy a home and then sell to move or downsize, then you should only get one opportunity when you don’t pay capital gains tax, but doing it as a business should be treated as such and taxed and regulated .
Housing should be a basic human right. Housing is the one issue that affects every one of us regardless of age, gender, faith or economic statues. Should not those in power see it in the same way? Should we ban MPs from being landlords so that policy can be fairly made without any personal interest or personal gain?
The Housing Minister should be one of the most important positions in government. For far too long it has been the case that whoever is in power has appointed a different minister almost every year. It must be right that governments appoint a minister for a full term as we do for the prime minister until such time as ALL of us have a place to call home and do not need to climb over the endless numbers who call the streets and doorways of Britain HOME.
Ray Barron Woolford runs We Care Food Bank 7 is CEO www.Kathduncan-equality-civilrights-network.co.uk Please support We Care by donating via the go funds me link on this site.