The Independent London Newspaper
26th March 2017

FORUM: Housing crisis looms but opposition to Government Bill mounts

    Published: 11 February, 2016
    By COUNCILLOR SARAH HAYWARD, LEADER OF CAMDEN COUNCIL

    WITH yesterday’s (Wednesday's) publication of the Communities & Local Government Committee’s report on right to buy, it’s clear there’s an increasing groundswell of adverse reaction to the Government’s brutal proposals to change the face of housing policy in this country. The committee has raised serious concerns about the impact of the Housing Bill on communities like ours here in Camden - and not before time. 

    This is something that I have been pressing the Government on since voluntary right to buy appeared in the last Conservative manifesto. The committee’s report completely backs up our position here in Camden and I know that other Local Authorities across the country will be relieved to see that the committee has taken a stand on this issue.  This Bill, if passed unchanged, will be ruinous for our communities, reducing housing options and forcing people out.  We want to nurture and develop our famously vibrant borough to ensure that residents can stay and also so there are opportunities for those who want to move here.

    The committee rightly says that the Government’s proposed extension of right to buy to housing association tenants should be funded by central government rather than through a levy on local councils. In Camden this could mean we would be forced to pay central government upwards of £200million a year from the sale of hundreds of social homes and send the proceeds to George Osborne. With neither the homes nor the funds from their sale, local councils’ ability to deal with housing demand will be devastated. 

    If the Government wants to force this through, councils must be allowed to keep these funds to invest locally, and it should be made a requirement that any home lost is replaced with a genuinely affordable one in the same borough.

    In Camden we could use these proceeds to help solve the housing crisis. We know the only solution is to build more genuinely affordable homes - and we’re playing our part with one of the Capital’s biggest house building programmes. The Government should ensure that money from Right to Buy sales is kept within boroughs so that councils can target much needed investment in housing. 

    This principle should be followed with the high value council properties proposal - the funds from their sales must be kept within boroughs where it’s needed, rather than just within London where the replacements will not end up being where they are needed. 

    Right to buy also ends up adding to the housing benefit bill. We estimate that buy to let landlords renting out former right to buy properties Housing Benefit tenants cost the Department of Work and pensions £2.7million more than they would spend on social rents - just in Camden. 

    The policy simply doesn’t make sense and with over 30% of right to buy owners letting out their properties, is not the route to home ownership it’s made out to be.

    The Committee reports that the funding model for the right to buy discounts is ‘extremely questionable’, and calls on the Government to set out the fully costed evidence for the proposals. We’ve been asking for that evidence too but we don’t think it exists.  I’m calling for a complete rethink of policy and an overhaul of the Bill so that it actually helps people to afford to live in London rather than forcing them out.  

    The Housing and Planning Bill is being forced through and will be disastrous if passed into law.  I’ve joined council tenants, private renters and people trying to get onto the property ladder in opposing the Government’s plans.  Now it seems that the wider political world is waking up to the looming crisis.  The CLG committee focusses on right to buy but there’s much more to contend with.

    As Leader of Camden Council, where we have over 20,000 council homes, I have to start with ‘pay to stay’. The scheme would see tenants with a household income over £40k having to find a market level rent. This would make the difference between the average social rent and average market rent well over £15,000 a year for a two bed in Camden. 

    This is a massive income tax hike that in reality gives people three choices: find money you don’t have, move to a much cheaper area, or lower your income. It’s a brutal approach and Camden is fundamentally against this policy. We’ll continue to fight it and call for MPs and the House of Lords to change the Bill. 

    As for Starter Homes – these simply cannot and should not be classed as affordable. It’s a complete misnomer as most Starter Homes in London would still be too expensive for the average earner. You’d need an income of nearly £100,000 to get a mortgage on one in Camden.  By classifying them as affordable, developers will be let off the hook and they will be the ones who benefit.

    These are just some of the measures that will make the housing crisis worse. This Bill threatens the future of housing in our country, it and we should fight it together. 

    Cllr Sarah Hayward is Leader of Camden Council and is chairing  meeting for residents at Camden Town Hall tonight (Thursday) from 6.30pm