Housing - A desperate situation

Housing Crisis - Fabian calls for Policy and Swift Action by the next Labour Government

At the 2013 Party Conference in Brighton the Labour Leader Ed Milliband MP made two profoundly important promises in his landmark speech for a future Labour government.

"We'll say to local authorities that they have a right to grow, and neighbouring authorities can't just stop them. We'll identify new towns and garden cities and we'll have a clear aim that by the end of the parliament Britain will be building 200,000 homes a year, more than at any time in a generation. That's how we make Britain better than this.

David Cameron was the Prime Minister who introduced the bedroom tax, I'll be the Prime Minister who repeals the bedroom tax."

Face to face with anxiety and misery

Fabian meets countless constituents each year who visit him at his advice surgeries in distress over their housing. Many people are often desperate and sadly are symptomatic of a situation that is in crisis and completely dysfunctional. The commitments made by Ed Milliband are crucial steps in the right direction to address the problem. Fabian wants the policy of a future Labour government to go much further but recognises that some of the ideas he holds could tread on a few toes.

Housing - what has gone wrong

Buying a house has for generations been seen as a security to have somewhere to live but also as an investment. The terminology that we use indicates how deeply ingrained some ideas have become. 'To get a start on the housing ladder', reflects the long established expectation that owning a house was also the way to see money grow. Once on the ladder 'trading up' would become possible and the property owner would see its value increase rapidly. Encouraged over the years by many mortgages granted too liberally and a housing supply that was inadequate for the demand, house prices rose faster than inflation. For the vast majority of home owners the the process worked and house prices soared above income levels. Even when demand abates, the normal market mechanisms do not work. Houses that do not sell are taken off the market by owners rather than see prices tumble and so the cost of buying a home has never really come down in living memory.

The Conservative Legacy

In this context, the rented sector has been distorted by intolerable strain. The sale of council houses, that flagship policy of the Thatcher government, responded only to the aspiration of many tenants to own their own home. In prohibiting councils from spending the receipts building more council houses, Thatcher's government showed that it did not care about meeting overall housing needs - all it was doing was stoking a prejudiced belief that the new owners would vote Conservative rather than Labour. and helping house prices to rise. The net result was to sow the seeds of homelessness and misery for generations and for years to come.

How it has all gone wrong

In former times families, unable to purchase a home, were able to turn to their local council for help. Leeds used to have an enviable reputation as being a city where there was a genuine choice between renting a council house or buying a home with a mortgage. Now we are on the edge. Selling council houses and not building new ones means most people hoping for a house cannot get one, least of all in many of the areas within Fabian's constituency. The private rented sector exploits their vulnerability charging high rents for small, low standard accommodation and the council very often picks up the bill providing housing benefit. The cost of housing benefit nationally has soared to £21 billion and could reach £25 billion by 2015 and the Conservative led government's response is to reduce benefit for some council tenants through the aptly named 'bedroom tax'. But very often there are no smaller council houses to move to for those affected and, ironically, a move to the private sector can increase the benefit they are eligible to receive.

Fabians Six Proposals

Speaking after a recent brainstorm with his constituency team Fabian has put forward some radical proposals to start to free this log jam.

"The disastrous housing situation cannot and must not continue. On day 1 of the next Labour government we should start to implement the following reforms.

1. The vast majority of the 200000 houses that will be built each year must be new council houses.
2. Council houses should be commissioned by local authorities either allowed to borrow the finance or to be funded by the government.
3. Barriers to house building must be taken away. This means brown land and sensibly located green land must be made available quickly for construction to start.
4. Developers must not be allowed to hoard undeveloped land.
5. We must end neighborhood NIMBY objections to new development.
6. Housing for those in need of a roof is the most important concept of all and must take priority over other considerations."

Fabian has long been frustrated at the inaction in his constituency. For example Miles Hill Primary School closed some years ago and yet the land lies idle. Together with the Beckhills area where much housing is unfit for purpose, the site would would be an ideal start for new, energy efficient, eco friendly council houses to be architecturally designed to build a cohesive and vibrant community. More council houses could be built on that one site than Leeds has been able to build in the last 10 years.

Fabian visited this unused site on Friday 11 October 2013 and recorded his views on the current housing situation.

"I ask key local players to identify and become involved with my personal campaign on housing and be part of a local study of just what we might achieve locally with the current constraints loosened."

Fabian went on to say,

"I was angry when I saw a recent Channel 4 television programme about the legal behaviour of some private landlords who rent properties to subdivide into tiny apartment or studios offering minuscule accommodation to those with housing need and making a fortune in the process. Sub letting council houses is illegal. However, no such controls exist in the private sector and uncaring entrepreneurs are able to exploit the chronic housing shortage for mean and undeserved personal gain. When laws are unjust and the system unfair, the weaker or poorer sections of our communities always get exploited."