Millions of people have now seen last week’s shocking BBC Newsnight coverage of the sickening and squalid conditions that Croydon’s Tory council has chosen to place people in urgent need of housing – the overcrowded rooms, unsafe windows, limited bathroom facilities and traps to catch rats on the kitchen floor.
It is frankly lamentable that local Tory councillors have now come out against their government’s own housing benefit reforms that are adding to housing pressures in Croydon, having only weeks ago in the council chamber so enthusiastically supported the very same policy.
Let’s be clear: the decision to cut housing benefit, to cut the money to build new affordable housing to buy or rent, and not to enforce laws to drive out rogue landlords have all been taken or publicly supported by leading members of Croydon’s Conservative-run council.
However, as we get ever nearer to the 2014 local elections, it is only right that people ask myself and other Labour councillors what our alternative policies would be.
First, we would ensure that the best possible use is made of all of Croydon Council’s existing housing stock. That will involve properly maintaining public-owned properties, including many that have been allowed to stand empty, and seeing that they are occupied as soon as practical by homeless families. But this would just be the start.
As an emergency solution, we would also purchase suitable properties from the private rented sector and use these, and the income from their rents, to house emergency homeless cases in decent, safe and clean conditions. Long-term, there would be no cost for this, because the properties purchased would remain as assets on the council’s books.
We would use powers that already exist to put in place a tough system of licensing for private sector landlords. This would support and strengthen those many decent landlords who invest in and take pride in their properties, but it would also ensure that those who charge rents for squalid conditions are shut down.
And we would work with local housing associations and the government to build affordable housing, to either buy or to rent, and so give Croydon residents a priority position in terms of having a decent chance of obtaining one of these homes.
Labour believes that if we invest in housing, if we use the powers we already have to drive out rogue landlords, we can then make a real difference.
Above all, we will work hard to ensure that the appalling treatment of vulnerable young families, many with small children, who we saw on national television last week, are never repeated in our borough.
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