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The Case For A 100,000 Council Homes

With homelessness increasing by 165% under the Tories, the extent of Britain’s housing crisis is only too evident. There is a massive shortage of homes that are genuinely affordable, let alone decent. Nearly a third of homes in the private rented sector fail to meet acceptable standards. But private tenants lack effective security of tenure, making it very risky for them to complain. Meanwhile, the proportion of those who can afford to buy their own homes has been falling, as prices have been rising so much faster than people’s incomes, turning owner occupation into a distant dream.

Only council housing can provide the decent, secure homes that people so desperately need – at prices that they can afford to pay. But the rate of council house building has been minimal in recent years. Worse still, the existing stock has been reducing, through the ‘Right to Buy’ - with 40% of former council homes in London ending up in the hands of private landlords, with higher rents, as a result. This all needs to change as a matter of absolute urgency.

There are Labour local authorities that have been showing what can be done – even now, despite current government constraints. Islington Council, where I live in North London, is a case in point. Islington has taken a firm stand with developers, refusing to be bullied into allowing them to avoid building their share of social housing as part of any new development in the borough. On the iconic site of Holloway Women’s prison, for example, at least 42% of one thousand homes that are to be developed by Peabody Housing Association will be housing for social rent – the result of a successful campaign that the council has very actively supported. 

Meanwhile, the council has also been continuing to build itself, despite the cuts that the council has been facing from 2010, with so many years of austerity. The council has committed to continuing this building programme, promising 550 new council homes between 2018 and 2022.  If Islington can keep building homes for social rent - even in such dire financial circumstances - imagine what could be achieved with a Labour government committed to providing decent, secure homes for the many, rather than standing aside, to enable property developers to continue to generate profits for the few, at their expense.   

Housing campaigners have been working on the changes that we need, to address the housing crisis. The Labour Campaign for Council Housing (LCCH) is a grassroots Labour group, campaigning for the changes that are so urgently required. Drawing on Shelter’s research on housing need, the next government must commit to building 155,000 social-rented homes per year, of which 100,000 should be council homes. This would require a grant of £10 billion from central government if local authorities are to build on such a scale. Most importantly, both current and future social housing has to be protected from the Right to Buy. This must be ended, from day one. 

These demands have been gaining widespread support, up and down the country and support has been continuing to grow, from local authority councillors, trade unionists and housing activists coming on board. Council house building must form the lynch-pin of any strategy to tackle the housing crisis – along with strategies to tackle poor housing conditions and unaffordable rents more generally, as well as ending ‘no-fault’ evictions for tenants who dare to complain to their landlords.

A major council house building has so much else to offer too: providing opportunities for skills training, including skills training for women, enabling trainees to gain access to better jobs, building environmentally sustainable homes for the future. This has to be the way forward if we are to tackle the housing crisis, let alone meet Britain’s targets for a more sustainable Green agenda for the future. 

By Marjorie Mayo, Emeritus Professor of Community Development at Goldsmiths University.