Southwark housing debate goes on

by Anood Al-Samerai on 25 July, 2016

It feels like we have the housing debate in Southwark so many times. But every time we do have the debate, there is more evidence and experience to inform it.
And the evidence and experience shows that Labour’s whole strategy is simply wrong.

It is misleading,
It is unjust,
And it is doomed to fail.

I desperately don’t want us to have a strategy doomed to fail. I desperately want us to tackle the housing crisis. Almost as desperately as do the families in my advice surgery every week.
But it is the job of the opposition to make sure the council is not trying to trick us all with spin and statistics. And it is our job to say hold on, it’s not working, some honest re-thinking is needed.

So why is a policy of 11,000 council homes over 30 years misleading?

 

– The council seems to spend more time counting the homes than building them. Council officers’ own figures show that 68 new council homes have been built since 2010. They try to add in temporary accommodation units, built to replace existing units.
But the fact remains that they have built 68 new permanent council homes since 2010 and sold or demolished 1,973. So actually we’re going backwards.
– And they are double counting in 2 ways. Firstly, the new council homes are being paid for with money which should have been spent on affordable homes in new developments.

And, secondly, because they can see that this won’t build enough new homes, they are now buying the on site affordable homes which housing associations would be managing otherwise. This means that the new council homes are simply replacing homes which would be there anyway.

 

– And we now discover that all the new homes are being let at ‘target rents’ which are 10% higher than council rents

So it is misleading to fudge the figures and double count. But even worse than being misleading it’s also unjust.

 

Why is it unjust?

– We have talked about the importance of mixed communities so often. I can never say enough times that having 100% private developments and 100% social housing developments will permanently damage the character, diversity and future of this borough.

It is also simply wrong for developers to get away with no social housing at all on their private land, while our residents have the social housing squeezed onto green spaces, TRA halls and boatyards. Without proper and fair consultation. Just ask residents at the Mayflower, the Pumphouse or South Dock Marina.

And if it wasn’t so upsetting that people are being mislead about a policy which is fundamentally unjust, it must bother Labour that it simply isn’t working.

 

Why isn’t it working?

– The council’s grand event for developers to take on parcels of council land and build council homes there resulted in zero bids for the first lot, lot A.

– Residents are starting to stand up to the council, saying they will not be railroaded into having new flats squeezed onto their existing estates while developers get away with 100% luxury private developments.

– And, finally, the policy simply doesn’t get us enough homes to tackle the housing crisis. 68 homes in 6 years means that we’ll have to wait 971 years to see these new homes. Even then, the council has always admitted that it was perfectly possible that more than 11,000 council homes would be lost while they built the 11,000. So it doesn’t actually help anyone.

 

What is the answer?

The answer is to secure genuinely affordable homes in the planning process from developers who have sites, are making huge profits and are building homes right now, not in 30 years’ time.

And then 68 new council homes would be a bonus, instead of evidence of a misleading, unjust policy doomed to fail.

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