Putting a roof over people’s heads ought to cap any policy

VOTE 2014 logoFor the final piece comparing the policies of the parties ahead of the local elections tomorrow, WALTER CRONXITE has been window shopping around Croydon’s estate agents 

Issue No4: HOUSING

THE ISSUE: It was the steaming turd he left on his desk (metaphorically at least) as he made for the exit door of Croydon Council. “There is a housing crisis in Croydon and we’re not going to try and pretend there isn’t,” said Jon Rouse, Croydon’s £248,000 per year chief executive in his last published interview before announcing that he was quitting his job to take on something much less rewarding.

The ConDem government’s £500 per week per family benefits cap introduced last year has only compounded the problem for our council as it attempts to find suitable homes for those unable to afford to live in the borough. Do a quick check on the online housing websites, and see what the “market” demands for a three-bedroom home in Croydon suitable for a family: £1,000 per month rent is at the bottom end of landlords’ expectations.

Yet the number of “affordable” homes (which of itself is a misleading description, since the affordability is set at 80 per cent of the astronomically high market rent) being built in Croydon has more than halved in the past four years, since David Cameron moved into Downing Street.

Croydon Council went 22 years without building any new council homes until Sumner Gardens were completed in 2010

Croydon Council went 22 years without building any new council homes until Sumner Gardens were completed in 2010

And while the supply-side of the housing market gets ever-tighter, Cameron’s neighbour comfortably accommodated at No11, Gideon Osborne, has been fueling the demand-side of the housing market by offering generous inducements to purchasers. It is the height of economic idiocy.

In Croydon, that has seen the council take out an emergency loan to allow it to buy-up some empty properties and make them available to the homeless (commendable), and to open up sheltered housing for long-term homeless families (questionable, even in extremis).

Our council is a serial offender when it comes to keeping whole families in emergency accommodation, often with four or more people in a single room in frequently squalid conditions, for longer than the six-weeks maximum allowed by law. By last year, there were 170 families enduring such a plight under Croydon Council’s creaking housing department.

THE BACKGROUND: More than 30 years of Thatcherite housing policies, including during the Bliar years when key Tory policies were left in place, saw vast swathes of council homes sold off on the cheap and never replaced. It has all helped fuel the demand for homes that has seen three – or is it four now? – house price bubbles, with sale prices and rents in London rising to levels unaffordable for ordinary, hard-working people.

And our current Conservative-run council’s solution? To give free-rein to multi-national developers to build tower blocks, some of which are marketed exclusively to buy-to-let “investors”, many based in the Far East, with no requirement for providing social housing or even the misleadingly titled “affordable housing”. Yet Croydon’s Tories at the Town Hall try to pass this off as providing thousands of homes for local people.

The IYLO tower: a monument to all that is wrong about Croydon's recent housing policies

The IYLO tower: a monument to all that is wrong about Croydon’s recent housing policies

For example, two-bed flats at the notorious IYLO tower, now called “The Island”, are being offered for sale in Hong Kong for more than £300,000 each. And yet florid-faced Mike Fisher’s “efficient” Tory council paid nearly £1 million to the same site’s owner when they complained that they could not afford to fulfill the planning permission requirement to deliver a certain number of affordable homes. Trebles all round!

In past recessions, governments and local authorities have built their way out, providing jobs in construction and houses for the homeless. The receipts from this public capital have been used, over time, to help to pay for the developments.

The difficulties for any party in charge of Croydon Town Hall from Friday include the council’s £1 billion debt accumulated under Mike Fisher’s Tories over the last eight years; government restrictions on what councils are allowed to do – and the additional funding cuts about to be applied; and the devil in the details of the terms of the £450 million CCURV urban regeneration vehicle joint venture with builders John Laing, which Fisher’s council entered into and have kept secret for nearly five years.

THE 2014 CROYDON MANIFESTO PROMISES:

  • Conservative: The Croydon Tories don’t have a borough-wide manifesto, so it’s hard to say whether they have any policy on housing. They appear to want to let Tory party donors develop high-end, luxury apartments for Yuppies and overseas property speculators.
  • Labour: Have made housing a major plank of policy for these and next year’s General Election, especially for those in the rented sector. A register of landlords is a low-cost way of policing against rogues in the sector, and they make a promise to build homes for sale and rent that will be genuinely affordable. 
  • LibDems: With their strength in Coulsdon, the LibDems have been very active over Cane Hill, where £250 million of public land has been given to Barratt’s, but little social housing or smaller properties are being built.
  • UKIP: As UKIP does not have a party whip, even if they do manage to get a handful of councillors elected to the Town Hall, once there they are free to vote as they wish. So anything they promise now is virtually worthless. Giving “local” people priority over “others” for council housing is illegal under EU law. But they’re UKIP, so what do they care?
  • Greens: Firmly against “speculative investors from overseas” dominating local developments. They hold to a requirement for 40 per cent of new developments needing to be affordable.

INSIDE CROYDON’S ELECTION VERDICT: Keynesian housing policies have worked before, and need to be used again so that nurses, policemen, council employees, firemen, teachers and other local workers can actually afford to live in the borough, and our young people -many weighed down with extra student debt thanks to the ConDem government – are not forced to move out of the area.

Croydon Labour’s landlord register is a genuinely useful innovation, if it can be properly applied and enforced, while longer term rental contracts as a national policy would also provide greater security of tenure for tens of thousands of tenants.

Inside Croydon’s recent coverage of the local elections:

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in 2014 council elections, 2015 General Election, Cane Hill, Coulsdon, Croydon Council, Croydon Greens, Housing, Jon Rouse, Planning, URV and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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