Tony “Soprano” Newman’s cunning plan for winning the 2018 local elections is to out-UKIP UKIP, with a housing policy that will restrict those qualifying for council homes to those who have lived in Croydon for at least three years.
Newman, the Labour leader of the council, wants to introduce a “Are you local” test straight from The League of Gentlemen for anyone applying for social housing in the borough.
In future, those seeking a council home will be required to have lived in Croydon for at least three years.
Politically, it is a populist stunt which may play well with some of the electorate. Even the new Tory Housing Minister, Gavin Barwell, might like it. But housing professionals believe that the measure is clumsy, ill-considered and liable to cause massive social problems in the borough if introduced. They also warn that the policy has undertones of discrimination about it.
Croydon, especially under the previous Tory administration, already had an appalling record for housing some of the borough’s most vulnerable in sub-standard and unsafe temporary accommodation, often for unlawfully lengthy periods of time.
Many families have had to endure temporary accommodation in Croydon for more than three years. There are even examples of some being in a council-paid B&B for a decade. The housing professionals Inside Croydon has spoken to – senior figures in London housing associations – reckon that those disqualified from council housing lists under the proposed new residency rules will instead be forced into temporary accommodation – which is more expensive and paid for by the council.
“If there was any measure which seems certain to make an already dire situation worse, then this is it,” said one of the housing officials.
Croydon Council spent £5.4 million on temporary accommodation in the last financial year, up by £600,000 on the previous year. The council was housing nearly 3,000 families in different forms of temporary accommodation according to figures made public in March.
The current residency requirement for council homes in Croydon is one year. By tripling it, Newman’s Labour group think they can con the public into believing that, overnight, the borough’s housing waiting list has been drastically reduced.
Set all this in the context of some abject performance in building homes – just 12 new council houses were built during the first 18 months of Newman’s administration. The new residency rule would help to disguise such under-achievement, because it would wipe hundreds of applicants off the housing list at a stroke.
There is a further aspect of timing where the proposal has insidious undertones: when, if ever, the council’s planned 1,000 new council homes do get built, their first occupants will be those who have lived locally for three years, regardless of whether there are others – some who may have been in Croydon for two years and 11 months – who have greater priority status for housing.
“Residency is a very blunt tool for determining who qualifies for housing,” said one housing association official. “It is not something you would introduce to help the housing crisis. It is something you’d do if you’re a politician desperate to pick up some extra votes.”
The council consultation document reads: “We want to ensure that applicants for social housing have a close association with Croydon through their length of residence in the borough.
“Social housing is a scarce resource, and we think it is important to make sure it is available to local people.”
A number of exemptions to the residency qualification already exist, including in the cases of recently discharged members of the armed forces and vulnerable elderly people.
But while under the proposals law-abiding citizens are disqualified if they have not lived in Croydon for 36 months, those who have “been away” in prison and have just been released don’t need to worry, because Tony “Soprano” Newman’s plans have an exemption from the three-year residency rule for ex-cons whose last known address was within the borough. How thoughtful.
Speaking about the proposal in general, one housing professional said, “Sadly I think this is quite common in many authorities following measures contained in the Localism Act.
“On the one hand local authorities have a challenge to manage a scarce resource, on the other they have a statutory duty to house people on the basis of priority housing need. Building more genuinely affordable homes is the only long-term solution.
“Councils should have to assess housing on need rather than some arbitrary test or residency. I guess it says something about political ‘local homes for local people’ messaging. That’s not to underestimate the scale of the challenge of housing the growing number of people in need (as a combined result of government policy) and living in emergency temporary accommodation, including B&Bs.
“All this does is allow them to cut their waiting lists at a stroke, and heap up even more bills for the council in temporary accommodation. I just think they could be smarter with their housing policies.”
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