“A home of our own” is now a fading dream for so many people. It had formerly been the very bedrock of our society that drove the post-war consensus that if you studied, worked hard and “did the right thing”, going on to own your own home would be part of the “deal”. This is a dream that now lies in tatters for so many.
It is also equally true for many of today’s generation that they have lost the choice of being a proud tenant of a house the council built. Council homes in too many areas across the country are available only for those in most dire need – not as choice, or as part of a wider housing offer.
For too long and in too many areas, supply has completely failed to keep up with demand. In other areas of low demand and market failure, plans to demolish entire neighbourhoods have proven not to be the answer. In these areas, the creation of new employment opportunities has been painfully slow.
It therefore seems incredible that, with the general election dust now well and truly settled, the government apparently intends to press ahead with its scheme to force housing associations to sell off their homes. If this was not outrageous enough, to pay for this the government also intends to compensate housing associations by dramatically reducing the already depleted supply of council homes by forcing councils to sell their most valuable properties.
The aspiration for many people to own their own home remains as strong as ever. It is that desire that current government proposals exploit by reigniting the right-to-buy debate in terms of housing associations, and doing little to address the ongoing decline in the supply of new homes across all tenures. For previous generations, renting in the private sector while saving for a deposit to buy a home was the norm. Today in London, where average rents in the private sector have just topped £1,500 per month, that plan is clearly no longer feasible for the vast majority.
So, at best, this policy is a diversion that will do absolutely nothing to address the housing supply crisis, and, at worst, it is a deliberate attempt to attack the role of affordable social housing in society.
The vast majority of those who have looked at the detail of this policy, including those from all sides of the political spectrum and the housing industry, agree that it will do nothing to address the growing housing supply crisis we face. Under these current government plans, Oxford could lose 25% of its social housing stock and Southwark could lose 30% at the rate of 500 homes per year. In essence, over time and in areas of high demand and high value (including inner London), only those earning salaries significantly higher than the average will be able to live there. Dame Shirley Porter herself would be proud.
However, as with so many other policy areas, we no longer have time to look to or wait for Whitehall to come up with the answer. So, as the leader of London’s largest borough I am proud that Croydon is committed to building more than 9,000 new homes within the next five years, that we are working in partnership with the Mayor of London, and that the Treasury is to deliver Croydon’s Growth Plan. I am also proud that the first policy decision this administration took in June 2014 was to increase the affordable requirement of developers in Croydon to a minimum of 30% and that we are on course to deliver.
Whether it is a more flexible and local approach to right to buy, greater fiscal devolution or increasing the Housing Revenue Association borrowing cap, housing policy and delivery is surely somewhere we can turn the devolution debate into reality and let local government and our partners get on and deliver the new homes our country so desperately needs.
Cllr Tony Newman
Leader, Croydon Council
LGA Labour Group Housing Lead