It sounds as though Bristol City Council is already selling off council houses in order to raise the money needed to pay the massive discounts that the Government has promised to housing association tenants wanting to buy their homes. If this is true, it should be possible for Labour councillors to obtain tangible evidence of the social injustice that lies at the heart of the Housing and Planning Bill.
How many of the 14,000 applicants on Bristol’s Housing Register know that whenever a housing association home is bought under the Right to Buy, two properties will be taken out of social housing? This Bill will not only diminish their chances of being rehoused but will also crush the hopes and aspirations of future generations who need affordable housing.
In the twelve months to September 2014, homelessness in Bristol increased by 74% according to statistics published by the Department for Communities and Local Government. Two years ago there were about 15 homeless families in bed & breakfast in Bristol – now there are about 300 families in bed & breakfast and huge numbers of young people are ‘sofa surfing’ or sleeping on the streets. What will homeless people say if they realise that councils are being forced to sell off the homes that they need so desperately?
The Housing and Planning Bill will make this situation worse. It removes the current obligation on developers to provide, or pay for, units of social housing in order to obtain planning permission for new housing schemes. Housing association tenants with an income of £30,000 or more will either have to buy their house or pay a market rent. And to top it all, the Government is imposing rent reductions on housing associations, which will make it difficult for them to develop new housing, despite a voluntary agreement to replace any homes sold under The Right to Buy.
The Government’s message is clear: we are going to be a nation of home owners (whether we like it or not) and people on housing waiting lists really don’t matter. In these circumstances perhaps the most useful thing that Labour can do is to enable those who are being dispossessed to have their say.
Labour councillors can raise awareness of this social injustice by:
- a) asking for details (including the address and price) of any council housing in their ward that BCC has sold off or will sell off instead of renting to a new tenant;
- b) asking what is the average number of applicants bidding for council and housing association properties in their ward;
- c) being photographed with Housing Register applicants or homeless families outside a property that has been or will be sold off by BCC;
- d) publicising this in the local media, on Facebook or in their monthly column, and
- e) encouraging people to say what they think about the Government’s approach to housing while the Housing and Planning Bill is still being debated in parliament.
If it is difficult for people in housing need to obtain a deposit bond for a private tenancy from BCC, this could perhaps also be contrasted with the massive discounts (up to £103,999 in London and up to £77,999 elsewhere) soon to be offered to housing association tenants who want to exercise their Right to Buy. How can this be justified as an appropriate and equitable way to spend public money?
What exactly is fair or equitable about how this Government is choosing to spend our money?